Although there is over 1000 years recorded of Leslie family history, today, the 10th of May 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of Castle Leslie Estate operating as a thriving business. The last 30 years has seen the estate regenerate from a leaking seasonal Tea Rooms with a handful of part time staff to the current operations with a team of 200 members. Sammy celebrated this momentous occasion yesterday with our CEO, Brian Baldwin, staff and invited guests over a delightful Afternoon Tea in the Castle Pavilion. Our 1,000 acre estate is one of only a handful of Castles and Estates in Ireland still home to its founding family. It is the only one operating on such a scale and it has now become one of the most individual and best loved places to stay in Ireland. When asked about the last 30 years, Sammy Leslie said; “Our family’s ethos has always been one of creativity and curiosity, openness and sharing, of innovation and entrepreneurship, of sensitivity and working with, of involvement and teamwork. With 1000 years of Leslie family history recorded, and 30 years in business, it is my great honour to be the one tasked with bringing a unique and important part of Ireland’s living heritage through to the future.” About the future Sammy remarked; “Like my father I strongly believe that we neither inherit nor own lands, we are just guardians doing our best for future generations. It is my hope that Castle Leslie Estate will provide more decades of employment for those who live locally and continue to be a sanctuary for all our guests”. Sammy added “I would like to say a huge thanks to every member of our incredible team (both past and present), all our loyal customers and our wonderful suppliers. I would also like to acknowledge the extended Leslie family and the work of The Castle Leslie Trust. In 2017 we established The Leslie Foundation. The foundation was founded to ensure that the wide social and economic benefits created by Castle Leslie Estate will continue and expand for generations to come. The Leslie Foundation’s priorities are – people, place, planet, and peace. Here’s to the next 30 years!”
The original dream for Castle Leslie Estate was great horses, good food and good old-style hospitality. It is safe to say that this is flourishing with over 50 national and international awards under our belt.
Sammy’s ambition was to bring the Estate back to life, gain sustainability through tourism and work symbiotically with local communities. She also wanted to have fun in the process! Her desire was to restore the Castle in the style and manner it was built, to enable guest entertainment on a grand scale.
Sammy started small and on 10th May 1992 the Tea Rooms were opened in the old conservatory of the Castle. Afternoon Teas were served and tours of the Castle and the occasional ghost tour too. Scones were baked and teas brewed in the old Butler Kitchen and served in the conservatory. The entrance was down the tunnel via the Victorian central heating boilers and popping up out in the gardens.
Funding was supported by a grant of £5k from Monaghan County Enterprise Board, (now LEO). Sammy didn’t have the matching £5k to be able to draw down the grant, so she sold her father’s car, to gather up the matching money. Later that year we won the National Enterprise Awards for our endeavours.
With the roof mended between 1995 and 1997, Sammy could now refurbish fourteen of the Castle bedrooms and bathrooms, each in its own unique style, 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.
In June 2002, Castle Leslie Estate hit centre stage when it hosted the wedding of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills. Over 800 million people worldwide saw the event on TV which had a huge impact on the progression of Castle Leslie Estate and the local border counties.
In 2004, after 20 years in external ownership, the Estate’s Equestrian Centre and Hunting Lodge were re-purchased. Having secured euro cross-border funding, Sammy set about restoring and regenerating the Castle at Castle Leslie Estate. The redevelopment of the Long Gallery Wing in the Castle enabled the Estate to offer business and corporate facilities. The addition of six further guestrooms brought the room total in the Castle to 20.
With 78,000 square feet of historic buildings, miles of famine wall and the Hunting Lodge back in the fold, funding was sourced for reinvestment in the Estate. Inspired by Poundbury, the town Prince Charles built in England, Sammy Leslie worked with a team of Irish architects to extend the village of Glaslough back over the Estate where it had been, prior to a fire in the 1850s. A seamless extension to Glaslough village, the Village Cottages and houses are built around a Village Square and Green. Sammy wanted to ensure that the development would be sympathetic to the current style of the existing village, so she called in specialists in conservation, heritage and architecture to design the development. All proceeds from the sale of the houses were re-invested to fund the continual regeneration of the Estate. Local residents and the Estate Team were given a chance to purchase a home two weeks ahead of being released onto the market to ensure as many houses as possible were retained locally.
Located at the gates of Castle Leslie Estate, the Hunting Lodge and Equestrian Centre underwent extensive refurbishment and renovation before re-opening in May 2007. Both had been in the Leslie family for many years until 1984 when Desmond Leslie sold them. It was during the Irish troubles and his daughter Sammy had just qualified as an intermediate instructor. Undeterred, Sammy set up a yard in the old Estate farm buildings. Here Sammy bought, sold, and broke horses until 1987, vowing to re-purchase the Hunting Lodge when she could. She achieved her goal in 2004.
In January 2006, work started on the multi-million refurbishment to expand and improve the existing facilities – the 29-bedroomed Lodge and the new state-of- the-art Equestrian Centre. The project was supported by grant aid and part-financed by the European Union under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, administered by Fáilte Ireland.
In 2019, an additional 21 bedrooms were added to the Lodge, bringing its total capacity to 50 bedrooms. Additionally, a new conservatory was added for dining. This extension was based on the demands of the business.
But never one to rest, Sammy has already identified several future projects that she has begun and will announce later this year.