GEMMA GRANT continues her series on the castles of Ireland
One of the few castles of Ireland to have avoided siege and bombardment, Castle Leslie, prestigious and self-aware, is a relatively new acquisition to a family that trace their lineage back to Atilla the Hun.
Resting comfortably on 1,000 acres of lush green, countryside and tranquil lakes in Co. Monaghan, the castle has been home to the Leslie family since its acquisition in 1665. The family love to tell of their rich family history and eccentric lineage, the more eccentric the better for Leslie tastes.
The first Leslie, the family inform, came from Scotland, a Hungarian nobleman named Bartholomew. It was due to his actions that the family motto came into existence. While helping Queen Margaret of Scotland to flee from her enemies, the queen fell from Bartholomew’s horse and landed in the river.
Instructing her to grip fast, to his belt, Bartholomew pulled her to safety. The queen instructed him to adapt ‘Grip Fast’ as the family motto and the buckle as their Coat of Arms, which hangs with pride in the castle.
The Leslie connection with Ireland came in with Bishop John Leslie. The bishop built Raphoe castle in Donegal before acquiring Glaslough and Demesne in 1665, where the present day Leslie Castle now stands.
Described as the fighting Bishop, due to his opposition to Cromwell, the bishop was granted the tidy sum of £2,000 by King Charles ll for his loyalty to the Crown. The bishop lived to the ripe old age of 100 and died in 1671. The original deeds to the castle is still in the family archives.
The succeeding Leslies had a wide and varied interest in things political. Charles, we are told, was fiercely critical of the Penal Laws, earned the ire of King William and was arrested for high treason. Managing to escape, he fled to France where, eventually he was allowed to return to Ireland following the death of king William in 1702.
Keeping on the political path, Charles Powell Leslie opposed the Act of Union of 1800, while John, a century later, rose to the rank of Colonel-in-Chief of the Ulster Volunteer Force in Co. Monaghan.
Changing sides again, a Leslie son was found supporting Seán MacBride’s political party, Clann na Poblachta. MacBride was chief of Staff of the IRA during the thirties and Minister for External Affairs for three years from 1948.