In the 2002 Monaghan GAA Yearbook we covered
a large section of the history of the Shirley family of
Carrickmacross and the influence which they exerted on the
life of South Monaghan. An even greater influence on Monaghan
history was exerted by the Leslie family of Glaslough, and
also of Ballybay.
It might truthfully be argued that the Leslies exerted an
even greater influence on Co. Monaghan life than any of
the other landed gentry that controlled our county from
the early seventeenth century onwards.
Unlike most other landlords who were given confiscated lands
in Co. Monaghan following the Ulster Plantations of 1607-10
and the Cromwellian Settlement of 1652, the Leslies did
not come here as Planters. The first Leslie
to arrive in North Monaghan was Bishop John Leslie, sometimes
referred to as The Fighting Bishop. He had been
Bishop of Raphoe Diocese in Co. Donegal but when the diocese
of Clogher became vacant he applied for it as it was much
more convenient to Dublin and to the centre of political
life in Ireland at the time. Another branch of the
Leslie family had previously purchased estates in the Ballybay
area in 1750, but their Glaslough cousins were
by far the more important branch of the name.
Prior to Bishop Leslies arrival, the lands of McKenna
and McMahon in the Barony of Truagh (parishes of Donagh
and Errigal Truagh) had been declared confiscate in 1610
and given to Thomas Ridgeway, who was then Treasurer
at Arms to the English throne in Ireland and, as such,
was probably one of the most influential and most powerful
men in Ireland at the time, exercising control over both
army and finances. Being so powerful, Ridgeway (who later
became the first Lord Londonderry) could pick and choose
what confiscated lands he desired in the country, and it
speaks volumes for the quality of the land in North Monaghan,
and particularly around the Glaslough area, when it became
his first choice.
Ridgeway re-built and extended the old McKenna castle (built
in 1591) in Glaslough, but was then given a new tract of
land in South Tyrone. Leaving Monaghan, he built a new castle
at Favour Royal between Aughnacloy and Clogher, using much
timber from McKennas Green Woods in the
construction of same. He sold his Monaghan estates to a
lady called the Countess of Carlisle who, in turn, sold
them to yet another adventurer. It was at this stage that
the See of Clogher became vacant and Bishop John Leslie
now requiring an estate of his own, purchased the north
Leslie arrived in 1665 and soon extended the existing castle.
He also took possession of the old Church at Donagh (founded
by St. Patrick in the 5th century) but later abandoned this
and built a new church within his walled estate in 1670,
a church which still stands and serves as the Church of
Ireland church for the local Donagh community. Leslie called
it St. Salvators, and it figured very prominently
only a year ago when it was the venue for the famed Paul
The Leslies have been here since that time, three and a
half centuries ago, and have played an important role in
Monaghan history down through the years, particularly in
North Monaghan. Charles Powell Leslie, the first of three
Leslies with those same first names, became an MP for Monaghan
in 1783. He was bitterly anti-Union speaking
vehemently against the proposal for Union with Britain at
the famous Dungannon Convention of 1782, and voting against
it again when it first came before the Irish Parliament
in College Green.
He was also very much anti-United Irishmen and
it was during his reign that three young Irishmen
... Johnston, Hughes and Carbery ... were publicly hanged
at Glaslough in 1797 for being members of the United Irish
Society. He also commanded the infamous Monaghan Militia
at the Battles of Antrim and Ballynahinch during the Rebellion
of 1798. He had retained his seat in Parliament in the 1790
and 1797 Elections but was dead by the time the infamous
Act of Union came into force on January 1st 1801. He was
succeeded by Charles Powell Leslie the 2nd, who also became
an MP for Monaghan in 1801.
Although a very progressive landlord, this Leslie was very
anti-Catholic, and voted against the proposals for Catholic
Emancipation when they came before the London Parliament.
He retained this seat in the elections of 1802, 1806 (twice),
1812, 1818 and 1820 but lost out to Westenra in the famous
Election of 1826, when Daniel OConnell successfully
persuaded the clergy of North Monaghan to organise their
forty-shilling freeholder parishioners to march
into Monaghan town and vote for Westenra, who had vowed
to support the Catholic Emancipation issue, and against
Leslie. That particular 1826 Election served as a water-shed
and a shining example to the rest of the country.
CP Leslie died in 1831 and was succeeded by his son, also
Charles Powell, who successfully contested the election
of 1842 and would hold the seat until his death in 1871.
His brother John then became MP for North Monaghan and was
made a Baronet in 1876. On the death of the latter, the
title Sir was passed on to his son, also John,
who was very much an anti-Home Rule activist and who became
Colonel of the UVF for the entire county of Monaghan. This
John also had a son called John, who would inherit the title
but was a totally different personality and became an out-and-out
The Leslies had always proved to be extremely kind landlords,
particularly during the dreadful period of the Great Famine,
1845-47 and even suspended the payment of rents from hardship
cases in those years. They also organised relief work
in the building of an estate wall surrounding their thousand
acres at Glaslough, a work that surely saved hundreds of
lives, and that particularly wall still stands and is locally
called the Famine Wall to this day. Nor are
there any records of Leslies ever having evicted a tenant
in that or any other period of their history.
It was one of the great comic ironies of the Leslies that,
during the fight for Home Rule period, when Sir John Leslie
was reviewing the Co. Monaghan UVF forces at a major parade
within the Leslie estate in Glaslough in 1912, his young
son, later known as Sir Shane, was slipping out the back
gate to drill with the Nationalist Volunteers committed
to winning Home Rule. Shanes Irish-ness
did not even end there as he always wore the Irish kilt,
asserting that trousers were an English invention.
Shane had also converted to Catholicism, but this stemmed
from the fact that his mother was Catholic. She was one
of the Jerome sisters from New York, her older sister being
the mother of Winston Churchill, thus making Sir Shane Leslie
and Sir Winston Churchill first cousins.
Shane Leslie was a very prolific writer, and countless books,
letters, documents etc, etc., from his pen are treasurer
in the National Library in Dublin. It was he who also handed
over the deeds of Lough Derg (St. Patricks Purgatory)
in Co. Donegal to the Diocese of Clogher and were accepted
by the then bishop of the diocese, Dr. Eugene OCallaghan.
Probably Sir Shanes two best known books were his
widely acclaimed History of Ireland for English Readers
and Long Shadows, which was really his autobiography.
He was also a wonderful collector of folklore and recorded
many of the stories and customs of his native Glaslough
and surrounding areas.
Shane had two sons, John and Desmond. John, who inherited
the baronetcy, found in WW2 but was captured at Dunkirk
and spent the last four years of the war as a German Prisioner
of War. At one stage Hitler had hoped to exchange him for
the captured Nazi, Rudolph Hess, but this failed to materialise.
Because of his long incarceration Sir John fell into ill-health
and had to live in the warmer climes of Italy following
the cessation of hostilities. He returned to Glaslough in
the early nineties and celebrated his 85th birthday
only last year.
Johns younger brother Desmond, who died just two years
ago, had been an RAF pilot during WW2 and was also an acclaimed
novelist and film script writer, as well as producing several
books on UFOs. Their sister Anita had also several well-known
books to her credit, while Sir Shanes brother Seymour
was also a highly regarded writer and historian. In all,
a family that has brought great credit to their name and
who have established themselves as an integral part of Co.
They are still very much a part of that history, and Ms.
Samantha Leslie, daughter of Desmond, has converted the
beautiful Castle Leslie in Glaslough into one
of Irelands superior and leading hotels, which has
been the venue for many major international functions in
recent years. No wonder that former Beatle Paul
McCarthy chose the idyllic Castle Leslie as the setting
for his much publicised wedding just over a year ago.
Taken from Monaghan's Match