Aggie’s Heritage Room
Stay: The Castle
Agnes Bernelle (Agi to her friends) was Desmond Leslie’s first wife. She was also a wartime secret agent, cabaret legend, actress, and Ireland’s oldest punk. TBorn in Weimar Berlin, Agnes and brought up in a privileged theatrical milieu. Her father was Rudolf Bernauer, a Jewish Hungarian theatre impresario and satirical songwriter. Agnes’ family fled to London in 1936 prior to the outbreak of World War II.
A penniless refugee, Agnes was recruited by the American OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) to become a seductive presenter named ‘Vicky’ on ‘black propaganda’ radio stations. Her virulent outbursts were designed to demoralise and undermine German confidence. On one memorable occasion, a German submarine commander whose vessel had been lying undetected off the coast of Scotland had surfaced and surrendered without a fight. When he was interrogated about this he claimed that it was ‘Vicky’s’ programme that had made him do so – Agnes had congratulated the commander on air on his wife having given birth to twin boys. Unfortunately, the commander had not had any home leave in over two years!
After a whirlwind romance with RAF Spitfire pilot Desmond, Agnes married into the Castle Leslie family as the Allies celebrated VJ day in August 1945. Mother to Sean, Mark and Antonia Leslie, Agnes settled into Glaslough by running Ireland’s first discotheque in the Hunting Lodge as well as creating ‘couture’ crochet and knitwear designs, setting up a company called Castle Shane Knit Wear which specialised in giant crochet capes and skirts. She had many local women involved in doing the knitting and sold many of these pieces in a shop named ‘Ambush’ on Grafton Street in Dublin, that she was involved with. One of the young lady’s that modelled for her catalogue was none other than a young Mary Robinson! This stylish room has beautiful views of Glaslough lake.
When her marriage broke up, Agnes moved to Dublin to continue her career in radio, theatre, film, television and cabaret. She settled in Sandymount in Dublin with her second husband, renowned architectural historian and author Maurice Craig, where she spent many happy years for the remainder of her life.
Aged 65, she ran away from home to front ‘The Radiators’ who later became ‘The Pogues’. Phil Chevron, Elvis Costello and Marc Almond all produced LPs of her songs, including Bernelle on Brecht and… in 1977, Father’s Lying Dead on the Ironing Board in 1985, and Mother, The Wardrobe is full of Infantrymen in 1988. When she died in 1999, the funeral was a great rock’n’roll event where even the choir sang ‘Mac the Knife’.
Her autobiography, The Fun Palace, was published in 1995.
She was also at one time a Creative Director for the Project Arts Centre. A new dance work in her honour, entitled Agnes, was produced and choreographed in 2014 by David Bolger, who as a child was introduced to the theatre by Agnes, once a neighbour of his, and who triggered his love of all things theatrical.
Agnes acquired a great cult following of fans in her lifetime, and there is even a website dedicated to her life and career. To visit this fascinating website please click HERE.
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The Castle at Castle Leslie Estate exudes old world grandeur and offers complete respite from the world.