Formerly the 'second best guest room', the Chinese Room overlooks the front of Castle Leslie. The splendid views of the landscape make it clear why the estate is a popular choice among hotels in Monaghan. This room was often reserved for distinguished male guests, but was also a welcome refuge for sculptor Clare Sheridan, whose bust of Shane Leslie can be found on the top floor Nursery landing.
As a daughter of the oldest of the Jerome sisters, Clara, Jennie and Leonie, this made her a first cousin to Shane Leslie, as well as the famous Winston Churchill. Clare often played on the magic factor of Winston’s name as a means to open otherwise closed frontiers and as a young woman, was able to travel to Moscow to sculpt Lenin, Trotsky and other Soviet leaders of the Revolution with no problems. When she sculpted Mussolini however, she had to flee Italy in great haste, as the podgy dictator could not imagine any attractive woman not having more than mere artistic designs on him!
Traditionally the Chinese (or Oriental) Room of any grand house would be used to display oriental curios collected by the family or to ‘show off’ any connections the family had to that fascinating part of the world. Long before she married Shane Leslie, Marjorie Ide had enjoyed an unconventional and exotic upbringing. She and her sister Anne spent much time living abroad and immersing themselves within the idyllic settings of Samoa and the Philippine islands, owing to the thriving diplomatic career of their father, Henry Clay Ide, who served as Presidential Commissioner and Chief Justice to Samoa in the 1890s, Presidential Commissioner and Governor-General of the Philippines from approximately 1901-1906, and as US Ambassador to Spain in the early 1910s.
Such a privileged existence not only afforded Marjorie the opportunity of exposure to the native cultures of these paradise scenes, their inhabitants made up of a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, English and American blood, but also afforded her access to a very exclusive social circle made up of American diplomats, aristocrats and politicians, thus elevating herself and her family to the upper echelons of US political and governmental life. Marjorie counted Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, amongst her good friends and had once even enjoyed a birthday dinner organised in her honour by President Taft and his wife during their tenure at the White House.
In her memoirs, Girlhood in the Pacific, published in 1942, Marjorie recalls travelling to China with her sister, Anne Bourke Cockran, and a select US delegation to accompany Alice Roosevelt as one of her ladies-in-waiting, on a diplomatic goodwill visit a few years after the defeated Boxer Rebellion of 1901. The delegation was guest to a formal audience with the Empress Dowager Cixi at the Summer Palace in Peking (Beijing), where Marjorie remembers:
‘There in her throne, on a dais at the end of the large, dark room, absolutely motionless, clad in gorgeous embroidered robes, her tiny feet in jewelled, satin shoes, resting on a satin cushion, sat the Empress. Her piercing black eyes, under her high Manchu head-dress, looked quietly at us for several minutes, then she turned to the Mandarin interpreter, who was standing at her left, and spoke a few words in Chinese.’
Later the same day after a grand luncheon, the delegation were brought back to the reception room to await the return of the Empress. She followed shortly afterwards:
‘…followed by a long line of attendants bearing gifts for us. She went slowly down the line, took our hands and gazed long into our faces, then gave each of us a spray of orchids, a large embroidered blue silk handkerchief, to the unmarried girls a wide, gold, embossed ring, mounted with a large, round pearl, and to the married women a jewelled bracelet. Small as she was, there was something unutterably majestic about her. With her calm, unhurried movements and piercing eyes, you felt the dynamic personality underneath, running like electricity up and down your spine’.
A seasoned traveller and great collector, Marjorie amassed an impressive trove of Asiatic treasures over the course of her adventures in the South Pacific and Asia, most of which are now stored in the Fairbanks Museum in her hometown of St. Johnsbury in Vermont, USA.