Today marks 144 years since the passing of the noted doctor and philanthropist, Edward Benn. Edward (1798-1874) was originally from Tanderagee, and worked in the brewing trade in Downpatrick, County Down.
Later he and his brother, George, moved to the Glenravel estate in the Glens of Antrim where they distilled potatoes. They also made their fortune through iron ore which was mined in the hills at Glenravel.
Edward and George were both active members of the Belfast Charitable Society and were generous with their time and money. In 1870 the Charitable Society received an anonymous letter offering to extend the “old Poor House” to allow it to cope with “the growth of the town and the consequent demands on it.” The offer turned out to be from Edward Benn, and the letter resulted in the construction of two wings to Clifton House in 1872 which bare his name and family crest. The Benn’s were of such influence in Belfast that the street behind the Poor House was named Glenravel Street after their Antrim estate.
Edward had suffered with poor health throughout his life and along with George, established the Benn Skin Hospital in Glenravel Street in 1875; the Benn Ulster Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital; and funded a new building for the Samaritan Hospital. The Skin Hospital was later destroyed in the Belfast Blitz in 1941. Edward’s generous donation also allowed Royal Belfast Academical Institution to open a school of mathematics, and his collection of antiquities was bequeath to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and now form part of the collections in the Ulster Museum. Edward was tremendously generous throughout his life and was regarded highly in Belfast and further afield. Unfortunately, his poor health meant that he was unable to travel from the Glens to Belfast for several years before his death. Edward never viewed the ‘Benn Wing’ additions to Clifton House, and he passed away at Glenravel House on 3rd August 1874. His obituary in the Belfast Newsletter read:
“Mr Benn has left tangible proofs of his interest in the welfare of this town and its inhabitants. Amongst other tokens of this kind we point with gratifying pride to his munificence, out of which has been built two wings to that valuable institution administered by the Belfast Charitable Society; the splendid hospital for diseases of the eye, ear and throat; the Samaritan Hospital on the Lisburn Road; and kindred institutions, which will long preserve his memory and fame.”