The Walkers in New Territory

The Walkers in New Territory


The great thing about the outings with the St Columbanus Walkers is that most of us often find new pastures. This one was the gem of the Benburb Valley Park with its numerous trails along the River Blackwater and the Ulster Canal and on the second Saturday in June fourteen of us gathered at the Servite Priory in Benburb. Some of it was familiar to Robbie who had kayaked on the Blackwater before, but for the rest of us it was a new experience.

The Servite Priory was a beautiful old Manor house built by the Bruce family in the 1880’s. It has had several owners before becoming a priory and centre. It was, in its long history, the private residence of the Bruce family, an English and American Army hospital during the Second World War, and since 1947 a priory and conference centre run by the Servite Order. They very kindly let us ‘use the facilities’ and my goodness, the ‘Ladies was very plush (as you will see from the photo!) We were promised soup and sandwiches on our next visit (we’ll be back) and they are opening a café in six weeks. Worth a visit.

Ladies in the Nose–powdering Facilities

Brian had done the research on the walk so off we set downhill passing Benburb Castle. It’s a plantation bawn built in 1611 by Sir Richard Wingfield and sits on a cliff above the River Blackwater. Benburb itself was the site of a famous battle between the Irish Confederate Army under Owen Roe O’Neill and the Scottish Covenanters and an Anglo–Irish army under Robert Munro. The battle ended in a decisive victory for the Irish Confederates and put paid to the Scottish hopes of conquering Ireland and imposing their own religious settlement there.

River Blackwater
First weir on the River Blackwater

After the rain the week before the 56 mile long Blackwater was in some parts in full spate, fast flowing and making a great noise over the rapids and in others, tranquil and quiet. It rises near Fivemiletown and flows along the Clogher Valley forming the border between the North and the Republic and enters Lough Neagh North West of Portadown. The river banks were lush with vegetation and trees and full of birdsong. There was much evidence of the linen industry, with the remains of mills and mill races. Now and again we glimpsed the Ulster Canal, in a sorry state, overgrown and sometimes impossible to see.

The Canal does not recognize state borders and approximately 50% is in Northern Ireland and 50% in the Republic. In the early 19th century the idea of linking the lowlands around Lough Neagh with the Erne and the Shannon was conceived. Its 46 miles was finished in 1842 but it was an ill–considered venture, with the locks built narrower than the other Irish waterways, preventing through trade, and an inadequate water supply. It was an abject failure commercially. It finally closed in 1931.

Of course none of this detracted from our enjoyment of the four mile walk which took us to the turning point at Milltown where we saw the linen mill which turned out black linen for lining men’s suits for Harrods! Heading back on the other bank we saw an old mill with its waterwheel still intact, finishing up back at the Priory from where the view stretches 30 miles to the Mournes, past the cathedrals of Armagh and the sacred Gullion

We ended up at the Linen Green for refreshments which some of us thought we wouldn’t have, but did!


Added by: RobbieJackson
Added on: Tuesday 13th June 2017

Category: Walkers

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