Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan

Contact: Samantha Leslie Tel: 047-88091

www.castleleslie.com

(Tourist Accommodation Facility)

Open in 2020 (but check due to Covid-19 restrictions): all year, National Heritage Week events August 15-23

Fee: Free

photo by Chris Hill of Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.
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“A brooding pile of rock faced limestone and russet sandstone, the exterior blends the irregular massing and elongated proportions typical of the High Victorian era with details inspired by the Renaissance and Tudor periods.” [1]

As a treat for Stephen’s birthday we booked ourselves in to Castle Leslie for two nights at the end of November. What luxury! I assumed we could not afford it as I only heard of it when Paul McCartney married there in 2002. But it is amazingly reasonable! In Christmas regalia, its beauty and opulence took my breath away, as did the generosity of the owners, allowing us to wander every nook and cranny and to sleep in a bed that was made in the year 1617!

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The Drawing Room: “Among the suite of lavish reception rooms, each one a showcase for the skill of the carpenter and stuccadore, is the Italian Renaissance-style drawing room where polygonal bay windows give unsurpassed views overlooking manicured terraces and the wooded Glaslough Lake.” (see [1])

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Above, our bed from 1617.

DAY 1: Our Castle Tour and the history of the Leslies

We had to make sure we left Dublin in time for the tour at 1pm, which does not run every day but several days a week. Our tour guide, Enda, shared only the tip of the iceberg of his knowledge of the castle and family in a tour that lasted an hour. We were able to mine him for even more tidbits later and still I felt we only scratched the surface!

The castle is a relative youngster at just 130 years old, a “grey stone Victorian pile” as Mark Bence-Jones calls it [2], or in Scottish Baronial style, according to Maurice Curtis and Desmond Fitzgerald [3]. It was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn, built ca. 1870 for John Leslie, MP, incorporating part of an earlier house. William Henry Lynn (1821-71) was a Belfast based architect and the Castle is considered to be his masterpiece. It is set in a 1000 acre estate (much reduced from its original size) overlooking a lake, and the castle is near another residence, the Lodge (formerly the Hunting Lodge), which houses the bar and restaurant. The Lodge was designed by one of the Leslies, Charles Powell Leslie II and was built before the present castle. The hotel includes an excellent Equestrian centre on its grounds – a perfect way to explore the huge estate of lakes, forest, parkland and streams. The Estate has three lakes, Glaslough (Green Lake), Kilvey Lake and Dream Lake. [4] There is more accommodation in the restored Old Stable Mews, or in holiday cottages in the village.

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the Lodge

We drove through the picturesque village of Glaslough to reach the “crow stepped gabled gate lodges” marking the entrance to the Castle Leslie estate. (see [1])

Our tour began in the front hall of the Castle, soon after we arrived, so we left our suitcases at the front desk, to check into our room afterwards. The front hall contained arms from the Leslie family.

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The bust is of Charles Powell Leslie III. The animal heads, which you can barely see at the top of the photograph, were shot by Norman Leslie, whose bedroom we slept in!

Originally Hungarian, the first of the family moved to Ireland in 1633. They have lived at Castle Leslie since 1665. Our guide traced the family back to 1040. Their genealogy reaches even further back to Attila the Hun (he died in the year 453).

According to the Castle Leslie website, Bartholomew Leslie, a Hungarian nobleman, was the chamberlain and protector of Margaret Queen of Scotland, who was wife of King Malcolm III (he lived 1031-1093). One day, fleeing from enemies, Queen Margaret rode behind Bartholomew on his horse. When fording a river, the queen fell off and Bartholomew threw her the end of his belt and told her to “grip fast” the buckle. He saved the Queen’s life and from that day onwards she bestowed the motto “Grip Fast” on the Leslies. [5]

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Our guide told us that King Malcolm’s sister Beatrice married Bartholomew Leslie. They moved to Aberdeenshire in Scotland.

Five hundred or so years later a descendent John Leslie was born in 1571 in Aberdeenshire. He received his Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge and was Privy Councillor to Kings James I and Charles I. He was promoted to become Bishop of the Scottish Isles, and in 1633 transferred to Donegal to the Bishopric of Raphoe.

When Oliver Cromwell came to Ireland, John Leslie, friend of the monarchy, raised a private army to battle against Cromwell, as so he earned the moniker “The Fighting Bishop.” His troops beat Cromwell in the Battle of Raphoe. When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he rewarded the Bishop with £2000 – note that the Bishop was ninety years old by this time! Despite his age, he became Bishop of the Diocese of Clogher in 1661.

With the £2000, in 1665 Bishop Leslie bought the estate at Glaslough with an existing castle which had been built in 1608 by Sir Thomas Ridgeway. Bishop Leslie died at the age of one hundred, and left the estate to his wife, Catherine Cunningham (or Conyngham) of Mount Charles in Donegal (an ancestor of the present Lord Henry Mount Charles of Slane Castle), and children. He had married at the age of 67 the 18 year old Catherine and sired five (according to our guide) or 10 (according to Wikipedia, [6]) children! Only two of his children survived to adulthood and only one has descendants.

Due to the limitation of the tour’s length our guide jumped forward to the 1880s. I am guessing that it was he who wrote the history of the Leslies on the Castle’s website, so I will defer to that to fill in the gaps. We moved from the front hall into the hallway of the grand staircase, where our guide told us about the people in the various portraits. We then moved through a room with a large table, to the drawing room and the dining room, where the guide spoke about more of the family and their portraits.

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the Drawing Room

Below is the throne of Bishop John Leslie, the “fighting Bishop.” He also built the church on the estate, in 1670.

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the Drawing Room, with the throne of Bishop John Leslie, the “fighting Bishop.”
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the Dining Room

The Bishop’s son John, another cleric, the Dean of Dromore, inherited the estate. He never married so when he died, the estate passed to his brother, Charles, at 71 years of age. Charles was a theologian and defended the Catholics, opposing the penal laws which prevented Catholics from participating in political life. King William III had him arrested for high treason, but he escaped to France. The next king, George I, pardoned him, saying “Let the old man go home to Glaslough to die.” (see [5], which provides most of my narrative)

Charles married Jane Griffith, daughter of the Very Reverend Richard Griffith, Dean of Ross [7] had three children: Robert, Henry, and the unusually named “Vinegar” Jane. Robert and Henry were friends with Jonathan Swift, who wrote the following about the family:

“Here I am in Castle Leslie

With rows and rows of books upon the shelves

Written by The Leslies

All about themselves.”

I’m not sure what was written at that stage, but certainly when we stayed, there were plenty of books by the Leslies! I had a good browse through them – more on them later.

Robert wedded, in 1730, Frances, daughter of Stephen Ludlow. Their son Charles Powell Leslie (c. 1738-1800), took over the Estate in 1743. He devoted himself to the improvement of farming methods in the district. He was elected MP for Hillsborough in 1771 and MP for Monaghan in 1776. Like his grandfather, he supported the Catholics. At the time, due to Poynings Law, all Irish legislation had to be approved by the British Privy Council. Henry Grattan and others, including Charles Powell Leslie, sought legislative independence. Once this was achieved, Grattan fought in parliament for Catholic Emancipation from the Penal Laws, so that Catholics could be treated as equal citizens of Ireland. In his election speech of 1783, Charles Powell Leslie stated ”I desire a more equal representation of the people and a tax upon our Absentee Landlords”.

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portrait of Charles Powell Leslie I

In 1765 Charles Powell married Prudence Penelope Hill-Trevor, daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. They had two sons, Charles Powell II and John. After his first wife died, Charles Powell Leslie I married, in 1785, Mary Anne Tench, and had a third son. The heir, Charles Powell II, also represented Monaghan in parliament.

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Charles Powell Leslie II

Arthur Hill-Trevor’s elder daughter, Anne, married Garret Wesley, the 1st Earl of Mornington, of Dangan Castle County Meath, and their son grew up to be the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napolean at Waterloo. According to the website, Charles Powell Leslie gave his impoverished brother-in-law, Lord Mornington, the money to educate his son Arthur, in Eton and then military school in France (Stephen and I found it ironic that the Duke of Wellington, who beat Napoleon, hence France, received his military training in France!). Arthur, the Duke of Wellington, married Kitty Pakenham of Tullynally, County Westmeath.

Charles Powell Leslie II, an amateur architect, designed the present farm buildings and the gate lodge. (see [8] for more about Charles Powell Leslie II). He died in 1831 and his wife Christiana took over the running of the estate. She managed to feed the needy during the great famine of 1845, setting up soup kitchens, and gave employment by having a wall built around the estate. The population of County Monaghan was 208,000 before the Famine. It went down to 51,000 during and after the Famine and is now only 61,000 – still far less than its pre-Famine population. It is said that nobody perished on the Leslie estate. As well as the soup kitchen, Christiana suspended rents.

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Farm buildings: perhaps these are ones designed by Charles Powell Leslie II.

Her son Charles Powell III (1821-71) also enjoyed architecture, and had flamboyant taste. He designed the entrance lodges at the main gates of the estate. He had many other grand building plans but died, choking on a fishbone, and it was his brother John (1822-1916) who built the new castle – to a much more modest design than Charles’s. Charles never married so John succeeded to the estate, in 1871.

John Leslie married Constance Dawson Damer, the daughter of Mary Seymour who was allegedly George IV’s daughter by Mrs. Fitzherbert.

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a portrait of Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, which Stephen and I discovered upstairs on our way to the cinema room in the castle!
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Maria, born Smythe, was a Catholic. She married a wealthy Catholic landowner when she was just 18 years old. He died tragically, and she married a second time, but her second husband died when she was just 24! Her uncle decided to bring her out into society, and brought her to the opera. There, she met King George IV. He pursued her, and a marriage between them is recognised by the Catholic church, but not by the Monarchy. He moved her to Brighton and the Royal family took care of her, although George was married off to European Royalty, Princess Caroline.

Maria had two children, reputedly, with George IV. The daughter was adopted by a friend of George IV, Hugh Seymour. It was this Mary Seymour who married George Dawson Damer, and her daughter Constance married John Leslie. Constance burned all the evidence of her background, as it was not approved by the Royal Family. It is therefore not a definitive history, just, shall we say, rumour. Her descendant Shane Leslie wrote a biography of Mrs. Fitzherbert.

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a portrait of Lady Constance in later life.

It was the portrait above, of Lady Constance, which a nurse, who had been attending the dying Leonie (wife of Constance and John’s heir, John), recognised as the lady who had visited Leonie’s deathbed – despite Constance having been dead for nearly twenty years!

Before his brother died, John brought Constance to live in the old castle. Constance must have wanted a place of her own so in 1860, they moved into the Hunting Lodge in order to live separately from Charles Powell III and his mother.

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a room inside the Lodge
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front hall and welcoming room of the Lodge
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a small private dining room in the Lodge

However, once they inherited the old castle, not content with her Lodge or the old castle, it was Constance who insisted that John build the new castle. While it was being built she and her husband went on a Grand Tour and collected much of the present furniture in the house including the blue and white Della Robbia chimneypiece in the drawing room, and a mosaic floor in the hall which is a replica of a two thousand year old Roman villa floor. Constance was a connoisseur of fine art and antiques.

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Della Robbia chimneypiece in Drawing Room, purchased by Constance and John Leslie

Their travels influenced the style of the Castle, built by Sir Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn. An Italian Renaissance cloister (said to have been copied from Michaelangelo’s cloister at Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome, according to Mark Bence Jones (see [2]) joins the main block of the castle to a single-storey wing containing the library and former billiard-room.

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The Italian Renaissance style Cloister
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Behind the cloister runs a long top-lit gallery divided by many arches, with pre-Raphaelite style frescoes of angels and other figures, including portraits of members of the family, painted by John Leslie, a talented artist. One of his paintings was hung in the Royal Academy in the same year. He later become 1st Baronet of Glaslough.

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Frescoes painted by Sir John Leslie.
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I think it was this painting that hung in the Royal Academy

The next to inherit the estate was the 2nd Baronet, Sir John Leslie (1857–1944). He married Leonie Jerome, one of the three beautiful daughters of Leonard Jerome of New York. Her sister Jenny married Lord Randolph Churchill and was the mother of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Winston did not get on well with his mother but was very close to his aunt Leonie. The young Winston Churchill paid visits here to his uncle and aunt, except when he was temporarily banished by his uncle on account of his espousal of Home Rule! Leonie’s correspondence with Winston is in Blenheim Castle in England, the estate of the Churchills. When his beloved aunt died in August 1943, Winston couldn’t attend the funeral due to the war, but he telephoned Eamon de Valera to request permission for the flyover of an Royal Air Force Spitfire plane. It was her son, Desmond Leslie, who was in the RAF, who flew the Spitfire and dropped a huge wreath from Winston Churchill to the funeral.

I was touched by the presence of Winston Churchill’s christening robe in the drawing room:

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Sir John Leslie died in 1944 and was succeeded by his son Sir Shane Leslie (1885–1971). Shane was one of four brothers: he was christened John, and changed his name to Shane in 1921 when he embraced Irish nationalism; the other brothers were Lionel, Norman and Seymour. Shane grew up to be an ardent nationalist (he joined the Irish Volunteers, a group founded in response to the Ulster Volunteers in Northern Ireland who opposed Home Rule – he thus rejected the support his father gave to the Ulster Volunteers!) and Irish speaker, and converted to Catholicism, under the influence of Cardinal Henry Newman, when he was in Cambridge. He hoped to retreat to a Monastery but instead married another American beauty, Majorie Ide of Vermont. According to the history of the Leslie family recounted on the website, Majorie’s father, Henry Clay Ide, was Chief Justice of Samoa, a tropical paradise where he and his daughters became great friends of fellow islander Robert Louis Stevenson. He was also Governor General of the Philippines. Later in our stay, our guide told us that before she married, Majorie and her sister accompanied U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter on a trade mission to China. The President considered the women to be suitable ambassadors because the current monarch of China was an Empress (the last Empress of China). There are many Chinese objects in Castle Leslie which Majorie brought with her.

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Sir Shane, as a poet and Nationalist, was not fond of running the estate so transferred it to his son John Norman Leslie (1916-2016), who became 4th Baronet. Shane Leslie travelled to London when Michael Collins was negotiating the Treaty granting Ireland its independence from the United Kingdom. Shane’s brother Norman on the other hand fought in the British army, and was killed by a sniper. The bedrooms in the Castle are now named after the family, and Stephen and I stayed in “Norman’s Room”!

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Shane had three children: Anita, John (Jack) and Desmond. Jack transferred the estate over to his sister Anita, owing to ill health after five years in a prisoner of war camp. He had been Captain in the Irish Life Guards in WWII. He moved to Rome where he lived for forty years, finally returning to Castle Leslie in 1994. He died only a few years ago, at 99 years old, inheriting the hardy genes of the Fighting Bishop, and is obviously much missed in the castle which houses many of his mementos and memorabilia.

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“Jack’s bed,” in which he used to sleep, now in pride of place on the upper landing, although the bed would have been a squeeze for his over six foot frame!
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portraits of the family including several of Jack. Jack wrote of his life in Never a Dull Moment.

Later in our stay, Enda the guide told us more about Anita, as we were admiring the paintings of Anita, Jack and Desmond at the bottom of the grand staircase (see the staircase in the photograph below).

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Anita married Pavel Rodzianko, a dashing soldier from Russia, Equerry to Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra. Anita was just 23 years old but bowled over by the 47 year old Pavel. The marriage lasted only three years. This marriage explains the presence of the paintings of Nicholas and Alexandra which Stephen and I had noticed in the bar area.

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Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra
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a poignant picture of Alexandra and her children, all of whom were assassinated only two days before Pavel Rodzianko was able to rescue them.

Pavel tried to rescue the Tsar and his family. He followed with other soldiers loyal to the Tsar, as the Royal family was moved from place to place by those who had overthrown the Tsar. When they caught up with the family Pavel and his companions were too late: the family had been shot in the basement and their bodies burned. Pavel found little Alexi’s dog Joy still alive. Pavel saved the dog and brought her to his home next to Windsor Castle in England, where Pavel lived after leaving Castle Leslie, where Joy lived the rest of her life. Pavel went on to train the Irish show-jumping team, who won the Agha Khan trophy in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Horse Show.

During World War II Anita joined the French army as an ambulance driver and married Bill King, a submarine commander. In the 1960s she moved to Oranmore in Galway (Oranmore Castle is a Section 482 property so I hope to visit it!) and transferred Glaslough to her younger brother Desmond (the Spitfire pilot). In 1991 he handed the Estate over to his five children and Castle Leslie Estate is now run by his daughter Samantha Leslie.

I mentioned earlier that many Leslies have written books. I browsed through books by Shane Leslie and Jack. Anita Leslie wrote about her time in the army in The Train to Nowhere. Desmond’s wife Agnes Bernaur is also a published writer. I copied the family tree from Shane Leslie’s book, and notice that the sister of John Leslie 2nd Baronet, Theodisia, married a Bagot! She married Josceline Fitzroy Bagot, of Levens Hall. I may be distantly related to this Bagot, as we are rumoured to be descended from the Bagots of Staffordshire! I confess I have not found the link.

After our tour, we were shown to our room. We were thrilled with it, and especially with our 1617 four poster oak bed. The bed was so high that it required steps to get up to it:

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We had a table and chair, and a lovely wardrobe and chaise longue! I started writing this entry on the chaise longue.

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According to the website, Sammy started her ambition of bringing the Estate back to life by establishing tea rooms in the old conservatory. This had been a painting studio for John Leslie, as it was created to have lots of light.

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The website continues:

Between 1995 and 1997, Sammy refurbished fourteen of the Castle bedrooms and bathrooms, each in its own unique style, in an effort to maintain the individuality and uniqueness of the property. Dinners were served by candlelight in the original dining room, just as it had been in the old days, with pre-dinner drinks served in the Drawing Room or Fountain Garden. The Castle at Castle Leslie Estate was soon rewarded with The Good Hotel Guide Caesar Award for being ‘utterly enjoyable and mildly eccentric’.” [9]

Perhaps one of the mildly eccentric details referred to are the beautiful old fashioned porcelain toilets such as the one in our en suite:

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After the tour, we still had so much of the castle to explore! The tour had only taken in a few of the rooms! We were tired after the tour and lay on our wonderful bed for a nap before dinner. While we were reading, we heard a knock on our door. The staff had brought us a much appreciated, delicious strong cup of coffee! Perfect!

We emerged for dinner. We chose to eat in the bistro rather than the fancier restaurant. The reception staff offered us a lift over to the Lodge, but we chose to walk the short distance up the drive, as it was a beautiful crisp night.

We did a little exploring back at the castle after dinner. We discovered more beautiful rooms to sit in, and a lovely library, and it was only now that we found the bar and the long painted gallery!

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Many new features have been added to the estate, including a spa, a bar and restaurant, and a cookery school.

A new pavilion, adjacent to the long gallery of the main house, facilitates conferences, weddings and other large events – see the pathway leading to the pavilion in the photograph below.

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The website tells us that five new sub-ground floor bedrooms were added to the castle in 2005: the Desmond Leslie room, the Agnes Bernelle Room, the Helen Strong Room, Sir Jack’s Room and the only room in the castle not named after a family member, The Calm Room.

DAY 2: Horse riding! And exploring the Lodge

Stephen and I only saw the castle in daylight the next day, as we had been too tired to explore outside after the tour. It was only then that we saw the cloisters, and the lake! We wandered outside in the evening. Earlier in the day, we decided to avail of the Equestrian Centre, since Stephen confided that he had never sat on a horse!

We booked a one hour walking session, a gentle wander through woods on the estate, hand-led by a guide. I felt safe enough walking without a guide at the reins, as I endured two years of weekly riding lessons when I was young! I say “endured” as I was scared of the horses and fell often! The horses we rode during my lessons in Australia were a more cantankerous brood than those that bless Castle Leslie!

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Below shows me in Australia at my horse riding lessons with my sister when I was young!

Caballo Stables, Jen and Siobhan riding
Jen and Siobhan ready for riding lesson
me and my sister Siobhan in Perth, Western Australia, ready for our riding lesson

And now:

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Our guide, Chris, told us a bit more about the estate as we relaxed onto the hip swinging gait of our horses, and we passed one of the lodges. I knew Stephen would be imagining himself back in the 1700s, familiarising himself with the atmosphere of the former mode of transportation. We both lost our balance as we slid off our horses, Stephen doing the full topple onto the sand, but we were elated! You can see a map of the estate on the castle website. [10]

After lunch in the Lodge, we explored. I took some photographs inside the lodge.

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Dusk fell by the time I took photographs outside behind the castle.

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Sammy’s most recent project (begun in 2015) is renovating the walled garden. I’m sorry I reached it so late in the day, compromising my photographs. These were built in 1860 by Charles Powell Leslie III.

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According to information posted in the walled garden, they cover about four acres, and contain two forty metre greenhouses heated by individual underground boilers fed by rainwater collected from the glass roofs. The flues were built originally under the paths to chimneys hidden in the surrounding garden wall! Ingenious ancestors! Charles Leslie consulted with Joseph Paxton, the Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener, who created the “Crystal Palace” of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in London for Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Alfred.

Outside the Walled Garden was a third large greenhouse, a Tropical House. Charles Powell Leslie III, according to the information boards in the garden, wooed an opera singer with weekly hampers of bananas, melons and mangoes sent from Castle Leslie to her dressing room in Covent Gardens in London!

The Pump House, built from approximately 1848, was one of the first water systems to be constructed for a village and estate. One can still see the ornate cast iron fountains in the village, along with the statue of Charles Powell Leslie III.

Day Three: A walk to the stables and goodbye to Castle Leslie!

The next day dawned bright, a crisp November day. We followed our map of the estate to see the Stable Mews, for a bit of exercise before we had to depart.

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[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/places-to-visit/monaghan/glaslough-castle-leslie/

[2] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses.[originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978; Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.]

[3] Curtis, Maurice and Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed. Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork 1970.

[4] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Monaghan/Castle-Leslie.html

[5] https://www.castleleslie.com/life-the-way-its-supposed-to-be-2/historical-castle-ireland/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Leslie_(bishop_of_Clogher)

[7] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Monaghan%20Landowners

Note that this website states that Charles and his wife had only one child whereas the Castle Leslie website claims that they had three children.

[8] see [7]. CHARLES POWELL LESLIE II, JP (c1767-1831), Colonel, County Monaghan Militia, High Sheriff of County Monaghan, 1788, MP for County Monaghan, 1801-26, New Ross, 1830-1, who espoused firstly, Anne, daughter of the Rev Dudley Charles Ryder, and had issue, three daughters.

He married secondly, in 1819, Christiana, daughter of George Fosbery, and had further issue,

Charles Powell (1821-71);
 JOHN, his heir;
 Thomas Slingsby;
 Prudentia Penelope; Christiana; Julia; Emily.

[9] https://zs35w2fzekug05wf2mckg53k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Regeneration-History.pdf

[10] https://zs35w2fzekug05wf2mckg53k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/E-Map-Only-2017.pdf

Slane Castle, County Meath

Contact: Alex Conyngham
Tel: 041-9884477

www.slanecastle.ie

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid restrictions: April 19-29, May 2-20, 23-27, 31, June 1-3, 7-10, Aug 14-22, Sept 29-30, Oct 1-2, 4-7, Sundays 12 noon-5pm, Monday – Saturday 11am-3pm 

Fee: adult €14, OAP/student €12.50, child €8.40 

Today (Saturday 27th April 2019) we made our first official blog trip, my husband Stephen and I.  We started in the “ancient east,” going to Slane Castle. The land around the Boyne River is beautiful, rolling and fertile. It took almost exactly one hour to drive from our home in Dublin, taking the M1 which I find easier than the M2 through the city’s north side, with which I’m less familiar. Our timing was perfect, we arrived at 2:10pm, in time for the 2:15 tour – there are tours every hour on the quarter hour. [1]

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The view of Slane Castle from just inside the gate, driving in.
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coming closer to the Castle.
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The view over the beautiful River Boyne.

The castle is three storeys over basement, in the Gothic Revival style. There is a bow on the back side of the castle, facing the river, and the basement serves as the ground floor on this side due to the steep slope down to the River Boyne. The bow forms a round tower, but you cannot see it as you approach the castle as the river is behind.

The Building of Slane Castle

Our tour guide was a young very pleasant man named Matthew, who seemed very knowledgeable about the castle and its history and the history of the Conyngham family, who have owned the castle since it was built in 1785 for the second Lord Conyngham, to the design of James Wyatt (1746 – 1813). Wyatt also designed another house on the section 482 list this year, Curraghmore in County Waterford, and a house not on the list, unfortunately, as I would love to see inside, Abbeyleix House (incidentally, my father grew up in Abbeyleix and we used to enjoy the gardens which used to be open and which were reknowned for the bluebells. Also, coincidentally, according to wikipedia, Wyatt spent six years in Italy, 1762–68, in company with Richard Bagot of Staffordshire, who was Secretary to the Earl of Northampton’s embassy to the Venetian Republic. My family is rumoured to be descended from the Staffordshire Bagots, although I have not found the connection!). Our guide told us that the castle was reconstructed and enlarged by William Burton Conyngham. It was built on the foundations of a medieval castle of the Fleming family, replacing an earlier house. William Burton Conyngham was a classicist and the front hall features Greek columns and key patterns on the walls and many marble Greek sculptures, including a sculpture of King George IV of England, donated by the king himself. William Burton Conyngham argued with his architects, Matthew told us, so ended up having three architects for his castle: James Gandon, James Wyatt and Francis Johnston. According to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Francis Johnston completed the house for the the second Lord Conygham’s son, although our guide told us the 2nd Lord Conyngham never married and the castle was inherited by his nephew. It was this nephew, who later became the 1st Marquess Conyngham, who completed the building. Other architects were consulted at various times, including James Gandon, who most famously designed the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, and Emo Court in County Laois. Francis Johnston designed the General Post Office in Dublin, and Townley Hall, a grand house in County Louth. Another architect consulted was a favourite of King George IV, the English Thomas Hopper.

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Stephen in front of the Castle.
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The intertwined “C” is the symbol of the Conyngham family.

The Flemings of Slane

The Conynghams bought the land in Slane after it was confiscated from the Flemings. In 1175, Richard Le Fleming built a castle at the western end of Slane hill and, three generations later, Simon Fleming was created Baron of Slane. [2] The Flemings had their land confiscated as Christopher, 17th Baron Slane (1669-1726), backed James II in his battles against William of Orange. He served in the Irish Parliament of King James II in 1689, and as colonel in James’s army in Ireland 1689-91, fighting in both the Battle of the Boyne and in Aughrim, where he was taken prisoner by William’s forces. Released, he emigrated and fought in the French and Portuguese armies, as did many of James II’s followers who were attainted and lost their estates, as they needed to be able to earn a living. He was later reconciled with Queen Anne of England (daughter of James II) and returned to Ireland, to live in Anticur, County Antrim.

Before moving to Slane, the Conynghams came from Donegal, and before that, they came from Scotland. They did not acquire Slane directly after it was confiscated from the Flemings – Terry Trench of the Slane History and Archaeology Society writes that the estate changed hands, at least on paper, seven times between 1641 and 1703. The estate had been taken from the Flemings before Christopher’s time, in 1641, when William Fleming, the 14th Baron, joined the Catholic Irish forces in rebellion against the British. He remained loyal to the king, but objected to the laws that the British parliament passed to make the Irish parliament subservient to the British parliament. The estate was restored to William’s son Randall under the Act of Settlement and Distribution of Charles II’s reign, by decree dated 27th March 1663. [3] Many estates that had been confiscated by Cromwell’s parliament were restored when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Conynghams of Slane

The Conyngham motto, Over Fork Over, recounts the way Duncan hid from Macbeth (familiar to us from Shakespeare). Matthew told us that Duncan hid in straw in a barn, having it forked over him. After that, he managed to defeat Macbeth and to become king. So the Conynghams are descendants of a Scottish king!

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The Conyngham coat of arms, with its motto, Over Fork Over.

Alexander Conyngham moved from Scotland to Ireland when he was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister to Enver and Killymardin the diocese of Raphoe, County Donegal. He was appointed dean of Raphoe in 1631. He settled at Mount Charles, an estate he leased from John Murray, earl of Annandale, the owner of ‘a vast estate’ in Scotland. Conyngham subsequently acquired the Mount Charles property through his marriage to the earl’s grand-neice, Marian, daughter of John Murray of Broughton, in Scotland (see [3]). Alexander’s grandson Henry purchased the land in Slane in 1703. Brigadier Henry Conyngham’s father Albert had fought with William III’s troops in the Battle of the Boyne, against Fleming and James II’s troops. Albert married Mary, daughter of the Right Reverend Robert Leslie, Bishop of Raphoe – this Bishop is the ancestor of the Leslie family of Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, another property on the Section 482 list that I will be visiting. Albert was killed by Irish Royalist rebels, and succeeded by his only surviving son, Henry. Henry Conyngham built himself a residence, Conyngham Hall, on the foundations of an older castle formerly belonging to the Flemings.

Henry fought first in James II’s army, but then persuaded his regiment to transfer their loyalty to William III. Henry’s son William inherited the Slane estate. William became an Member of the Irish Parliament and was raised to the peerage in 1753 to the title of Baron Conyngham of Mount Charles, and later became Viscount and eventually, Earl. He died without a son so the Barony passed to his nephew, Francis Pierpoint Burton (his sister Mary had married Francis Burton). On inheriting the title and estate, Francis took the name Conyngham [4]. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of amateur architect Nathaniel Clements, whose work we will see later in other houses on the section 482 list of heritage properties. For himself, Nathaniel Clements built what is now the Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of our President, Michael D. Higgins, in Phoenix Park in Dublin.  It was Francis Conyngham who continued the building of Slane Castle which his uncle William had begun.

The castle and estate passed to Francis’s son Henry. Henry served as politician and moved quickly up the ranks of the peerage and was Lord Steward of the Royal household  between 1821-30.

In 1821 King George IV spent time in the Castle with his lover, the wife of Conyngham, Elizabeth Denison. In return the king made Conyngham a Marquess [5]. One of the rooms of the castle, the Smoking Room, has two cartoons from the period mocking the King and his consort Elizabeth, drawing them as overweight. In one, she aids her son when he has to move from the Castle of Windsor where he was Royal Chamberlain. It was he who announced to Victoria that she was Queen, upon death of the previous monarch. He was let go from his position when he tried to move his lover into his rooms in Windsor. His mother came to fetch him, with several wheelbarrows, the story goes, and she took all the furniture from his rooms. Somehow she brought a grand piano back from Windsor to Slane Castle where it sat in a specially made arbor for music in the Smoking room, until it was destroyed by a fire in Slane Castle in the 1990’s. One of the Punch style cartoons is of Elizabeth with a wheelbarrow fetching her son from Windsor. I can’t quite remember the other – it had King George IV and herself in a carriage. The Irish were very annoyed that when he came to Ireland he spent his entire time at Slane Castle!

The Irish Aesthete writes of the visit:

“Neither the king nor his inamorata were in the first flush of youth, and both were equally corpulent. These circumstances however did nothing to dampen their ardour. As was written of them at the time, ‘Tis pleasant at seasons to see how they sit/ First cracking their nuts, and then cracking their wit/ Then quaffing their claret – then mingling their lips/ Or tickling the fat about each other’s hips.’ And according to one contemporary observer, Lady Conyngham ‘lived exclusively with him during the whole time he was in Ireland at the Phoenix Park. When he went to Slane, she received him dressed out as for a drawing-room; he saluted her, and they then retired alone to her apartments.’” [6]

Our tour started with a video of Charles Conyngham, now known as Lord Mount Charles, telling of his childhood in the Castle, growing up in a very old-world upper class manner.  He did not join his parents at the dining table until he was twelve years old, dining until then in the Nursery. His nurse, Margaret Browne, came to the Castle at 16 years old, and he held her in such regard that he named his bar after her. We had lunch in the bar after the tour. The food was delicious! Stephen had bread with buttery mushrooms and creme fraiche, and I had Thia carrot lentil soup. With good strong Americanos our meal came to €24 with tip, the same price for entry for two adults to the Castle Tour.

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The menu in Browne’s Bar, which gives an explanation of the name, telling of the housekeeper.
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The music theme of Browne’s Bar is reflected in the gramophone horn lampshade.
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Me in Browne’s Bar.
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Entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant.
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Outer entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant.

But, back to our tour! Lord Mount Charles described how he started out, when he had to take over the Castle, with a restaurant, which is now the Gandon Restaurant. To further fund the Castle maintenance, Lord Mount Charles started concerts at the venue, beginning with Thin Lizzy in 1981. To seal the deal, the next show was the Rolling Stones! With such august imprimateur, the Castle’s concerts became world-famous and featured many top performers including David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Queen.

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Album covers of musical performers at the Castle, in the bar: Van Morrison, Santana, Bruce Springstein, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Chris Rea, Bob Dylan, U2 and Bon Jovi.
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Lovely picture of Phil Lynnott of Thin Lizzy carrying a child at Slane.
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Memorabilia from music events: I think the guitar was signed by Phil Lynott (it was signed, anyway).
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However, there was a disasterous fire in the castle and roof and one third of the castle was destroyed.The magnificent library with its intricate ceiling and impressive wooden chandelier was saved by two firemen fighting the fire from within the room, battling for nine hours. The smoke was so thick that one couldn’t see the ceiling. I think they deserve a plaque in the room to recognise their effort! Meanwhile the family saved as many priceless historic paintings and antiques as they could, including a huge portrait of King George IV that is now hanging again in the library, by cutting it from its giant gilt frame then taking the frame apart into four pieces in order to get it out through the doors. Lord Mount Charles now suffers with his lungs, probably partially as a result of long exposure to the flames and smoke. It took ten years to reconstruct the castle, but it has been done excellently so traces of the fire barely remain.

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newspaper clippings about the fire, in the entry to pub and restaurant
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a bit of history, on the walls going to the dining area
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We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, as usual with these properties. There is a picture of the ornate roof in the library on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [7].

Mark Bence-Jones describes the room in his 1988 book (published before the fire, but this room remained intact!), A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…the great circular ballroom or library which rises through two storeys of the round tower and is undoubtedly the finest Gothic Revival room in Ireland; with a ceiling of Gothic plasterwork so delicate and elaborate that it looks like filigree. Yet this, too, is basically a Classical room; the Gothic ceiling is, in fact, a dome; the deep apses on either side of the fireplace are such as one finds in many of Wyatt’s Classical interiors, except that the arches leading into them are pointed; they are decorated with plasterwork that can be recognised as a very slightly Gothicized version of the familiar Adam and Wyatt fan pattern.”

Of the tales on the tour, I especially enjoyed the story of the funeral of a soldier’s leg. Apparently it was quite the custom to have funerals for body parts – his leg had to be amputated on the field of battle and the soldier brought it back to be buried with a full-scale military funeral. It must have been to do with the fact that a person’s body is to be resurrected on the Last Day, so it’s good to know where all the parts are! Cremation used to be forbidden in the Catholic church, as somehow it would be too difficult for God to put the ashes back together – never mind a disintegrated body!

There is an adjoining distillery in what used to be the stables, and a tour of that can be purchased in combination if desired. Lord Charles’s mother bred horses before the stables were converted. The stables were designed by Capability Brown.

According to the Irish Aesthete:

“Henry Conyngham, grandson of General Henry Conyngham who purchased the property, around 1770 invited Capability Brown around 1770 to produce a design both for the landscaping of the parkland at Slane, and also for a new stable block. In the collection of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin a drawing survives of Brown’s proposal for the latter. It is not unlike the finished building, but more elaborate than what we see today.” [8]

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the stables, designed by Capability Brown, now a whiskey distillery
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I noticed this on the wall on the lower level outside the Castle – I don’t know its origin or age

I found a blog by the Irish Aesthete on a portrait now in Slane, of Lady Elizabeth wife of the first Marqess’s daughter, Lady Maria Conyngham. Reportedly Lady Elizabeth looked very like her daughter – which one would not guess from the unflattering cartoons of her! [9]

[1] https://www.slanecastle.ie/tours/castle-tours/

[2] https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/1323/the-flemings-barons-of-slane

[3] http://slanehistoryandarchaeologysociety.com/index.php/famous-people/13-the-flemings-and-the-conynghams

[4] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Meath%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-06-15T13:05:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=7&by-date=false

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Conyngham,_Marchioness_Conyngham

“She probably became his [George IV’s] lover in 1819, when he was Prince Regent, but finally supplanted her predecessor, Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford, after he became king in 1820. He became besotted with her, constantly “kissing her hand with a look of most devoted submission.” While his wife Caroline of Brunswick was on trial in 1820 as part of efforts to divorce her, the king could not be seen with Lady Conyngham and was consequently “bored and lonely.” During his coronation, George was constantly seen “nodding and winking” at her.
“Lady Conyngham’s liaison with the king benefited her family. Her husband was raised to the rank of a marquess in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and sworn to the Privy Council, in the coronation honours of 1821. He was also given several other offices, including Lord Steward of the Household and the lieutenancy of Windsor Castle. Her second son was made Master of the Robes and First Groom of the Chamber.”

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/12/when-royalty-comes-to-call/

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/24/vaulting-ambition/

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/10/27/after-the-horses-have-bolted/

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/03/21/ireland-crossroads-of-art-and-design-vi/

Irish Historic Homes