Shane’s Heritage Room
Shane (born John) was the eldest of the four Leslie sons of Sir John Leslie, 2nd Bt., and Leonie Jerome. In this room, inspired by views of the lake, and many years before his grand-daughter Sammy designed and installed the great gothic bath, Shane wrote many of his best books and poems. The scenery which so inspired him has now resulted in Castle Leslie becoming one of the most popular hotels in Monaghan. His novel about Cambridge `The Cantab’ was suppressed by the Home Secretary, by mistake! Today Shane’s biographies and works are considered collectors’ pieces and are eagerly sought after.
At King’s College, Cambridge, Shane published the earliest poems of Rupert Brook in a college magazine and unsuccessfully tried to exorcise the college ghost. He also changed his name from John to the Irish version, Shane, and converted to Catholicism in 1910. He wanted to become a monk until he was involved in a mild car crash with a beautiful American, Marjorie Ide of Vermont, USA. After carrying her, unconscious, from the wreck he was so enamoured that he proposed marriage, and she accepted. As a father, he seemed rather puzzled at having children and was never quite sure what to do with his daughter Anita and two sons, Jack and Desmond. Once, on meeting little four year old Desmond on the stairs, he asked `Hello, who are you?’
When deafness came in old age, the family presented him with the latest in electric hearing aids. He hurled it away in rage saying `They can hear me. I do not choose to hear them.’ He would have made a good politician. He did in fact campaign as Nationalist MP for Londonderry, a seat the Dukes of Abercorn tended to regard as their personal property. The Duke was shocked when Shane lost on a recount by a mere 59 votes. Furthermore Shane became fluent in Irish, and would make his speeches in that lovely tongue.
As a member of the Gaelic League, founded by Douglas Hyde in 1893 to preserve and promote the Irish language in Ireland and abroad, Shane travelled to America in 1911 to raise funds on behalf of the organisation, and at one point even compiled a Latin-Irish dictionary, ‘just in case some Ancient Romans should visit the Gaeltacht!’
He also served on the board of governors of St. Enda’s school in Dublin, established in 1908 by two signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Independence, Patrick Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh, who were later executed for their role in the Easter Rising of 1916. Following the aftermath of these events, Leslie, along with other nationalist sympathisers, succeeded in petitioning the British and American governments to show leniency to those involved in the Rising, thus securing the safe release of pivotal figures such as Eoin MacNeill, Éamon deValera, and Constance Markievicz.
As a first cousin of Winston Churchill, Shane had a privileged insight into the workings of Anglo-Irish politics and was a regular attendee and observer at the political salons held at the London home of Sir John and Hazel Lavery for various Irish delegations involved in the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, and the subsequent creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. He became a close acquaintance of Michael Collins, and kept in his possession love letters written by Collins, intended for the beautiful Hazel.
At one time he even had safe custody of Parnell’s love letters to Kitty O’Shea, which he would show to his children as if vouchsafing a glimpse of the Holy Grail.
All of this was slightly too much for his staid Protestant parents. Just as his obsession for inviting droves of elderly clerics to Castle Leslie proved too much for his poor wife when she was trying to hold amusing house parties, he would order the children to entertain the clerics, which also proved too much for them!
Shane loved trees and planted huge numbers of them at Glaslough. He was seldom happier than when working alongside the foresters in the Estate woods. He was also a tremendous walker and could sustain the Red Indian jog trot indefinitely, doubtless due to the supposed Iraquoi Red Indian blood injected by his American mother, Leonie Jerome, into the sleepy Leslies. One night Shane walked the full 60 miles from the old Leslie estate in Pettigo in Donegal to the Castle Leslie Estate which is now a hotel in Monaghan, arriving in time for breakfast.
He loved clowning around and could be devastatingly funny, often to the embarrassment of his wife who failed to be amused when he entertained the children during dull Sunday walks through Hyde Park to Mass at the Brompton Oratory, by climbing up lamp posts and pretending to be a gorilla.
In World War II Shane was active in the London Home Guard, “Dad’s Army”, valiantly rescuing valuable first editions from freshly bombed libraries! Some of these books seem to have made their way to Glaslough which is their permanent refuge.
Following a long and active life, he died in 1971 and was laid alongside his wife in their peaceful garden tomb on the Castle Estate grounds.