TRIBUTE TO SIR JACK LESLIE ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HIS 100th BIRTHDAY
Michael Fisher Northern Standard Thursday 8th December 2016 p.14
It was just what Sir Jack ordered. A party, not a wake, with champagne (prosecco) and orange, tea and coffee, sandwiches and cake. A time to remember this remarkable character who died just eight months short of his 100th birthday, after a colourful life of 36,305 days. He passed away in April aged 99 a few months after he had received France’s highest honour, the Légion d’honneur, for his part in the defence of that country in the Second World War. Four generations of the Leslie family were around him when he passed away peacefully. The magnolia trees were in bloom as the horse-drawn hearse carrying his remains made its way along the driveway at Castle Leslie to his final resting place outside the walls of St Salvator’s church, where Catholic members of the Leslie family are buried.
At Monaghan Museum video footage of the funeral was shown. Mark and Antonia Leslie helped to carry the remains. Tarka King read a message of sympathy from the Brigade of Guards. On Monday night the family members gathered again for what Curator Liam Bradley said was an evening of remembrance and celebration. He described Sir Jack as a very wonderful man and said he had got to know him well in the last few years.
Tuesday 6th December would have been Sir Jack’s 100th birthday. Before he died he had asked for an evening to remember him in a cheerful way and definitely not a sombre mood. His was a life well lived. Liam Bradley then introduced Sir Jack’s niece and two nephews to share their memories of the fourth Baronet of Glaslough and Pettigo. They were followed by former Eurovision Eimear Quinn from Carrickmacross, who sang a medley of songs chosen from different times of the past one hundred years marking different events in Jack’s life.
Tarka Leslie King said his uncle Jack was an example of bravery. From his mother (Anita) he learned that Jack had a really bad start in life when at the age of three he developed an ear mastoid that meant he sometimes screamed with the pain. Anita and Jack became very close. He was younger than her.
Tarka recalled: “When mother died in 1985 he (Jack) was bereft because he had lost his main pillar of support who was always there for him even when he was in the prisoner of war camp (during the Second World War) and they corresponding with letters. Then when she died he was alone in Italy and did not quite know where he was going with himself. He came home and he was given another start and became the Jack the Boyo that we all got to know from the 1990s onwards. He had an inner strength from that really tough start.”
Antonia Leslie said in the last five months of her uncle’s life she had the privilege of being his full time carer. She got to know him as he deteriorated. “Being with him 24/7 over that time as he went downhill he really opened up to me in a way that touched me”, she said. He was great with people telling stories. She went on: “I realised he was a special gorgeous man which he really didn’t know he was. He was one of the sweetest individuals I have ever come across.”
Mark Leslie curated the exhibition on ‘Castle Leslie: Between Two Worlds’ which is now at the Castle in Glaslough. He also redesigned the Monaghan Museum displays in 2004. He told the gathering it was a great honour and an opportunity to thank the people of the county for the wonderful role they had played in Jack’s life. “He was bereft when complications meant he had to abandon his wonderful home in Italy. When he returned here his sister who he adored had died.”
He went on: “Everyone in the room has their own personal Jack story. He knew so much about people. But how did he stay so young and keep his mind so clear? The secret was he never did all the things that trammel our brains like a 9-5 job or got married or rear children. He had his whole hard drive clear for people. He just collected them and filed them away and would remember everything about those he met and their genealogy. We always called him Jack-apedia. When he returned to Ireland he had come back to die. He had lost his purpose in life, his sister and his house in Rome. The craic and fun he got out of the people of Monaghan gave him another 25 rip-roaring years, the best years of his life, whether it was at a disco at The Squealing Pig or supporting Glaslough Villa FC. Monaghan people are great craic and they kept him endlessly amused with a whole supply of stories about the past because he would remember your great grandmother or great aunt or whatever. Well done and thank you to the people of Monaghan for making the last 25 years of his life such a laugh.”
Eimear Quinn’s Medley consisted of eight songs that reflected different periods in Jack’s life. A beautiful note on which to finish the evening.
1. The West’s Asleep by Thomas Davis
When all beside a vigil keep,
The West’s asleep, the West’s asleep-
Alas! and well may Erin weep,
When Connaught lies in slumber deep.
There lake and plain smile fair and free,
‘Mid rocks-their guardian chivalry-
Sing oh! let man learn liberty
From crashing wind and lashing sea…
And if, when all a vigil keep,
The West’s; asleep, the West’s asleep-
Alas! and well may Erin weep,
That Connaught lies in slumber deep.
But-hark! -some voice like thunder spake:
“The West’s awake, the West’s awake’-
Sing oh! hurra! let England quake,
We’ll watch till death for Erin’s sake!”
2. Rossmore’s Demesne (Dúchas Schools Collection Threemilehouse Vol. 0593 p.358-90)
“As I went a-walking
And for pleasure did rove
Down by Rossmore’s castle
And down by the grove
I s[ied a wee charmer
So neatly stepped she,
On the banks of yon river
Near the weeping ash tree.”
3. Abide with Me (sung at times of sympathy)
“Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me…
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me…
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.”
4. Someone to Watch Over Me (Gershwin)
“I’m a little lamb who’s lost in a wood
I know I could always be good
To one who’ll watch over me
Although I/he may not be the man some girls think of
As handsome to my heart
She/he carries the key
Won’t you tell her/him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh how I need
Someone to watch over me.”
5. Lili Marlene (made popular by Vera Lynn during WWII and sung by Eimear against a WWI backdrop from the current exhibition at the Museum)
“Underneath the lantern
By the barrack gate
Darling I remember
The way you used to wait
‘Twas there that you whispered tenderly
That you loved me
You’d always be
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene…
Resting in our billet
Just behind the line
Even though we’re parted
Your lips are close to mine
You wait where that lantern softly gleamed
Your sweet face seems
To haunt my dreams
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene.”
6. Libiamo from La Traviata
“Let’s enjoy the wine and the singing,
the beautiful night, and the laughter.
Let the new day find us in this paradise.”
7. I Feel Love (reflecting Jack;s love of ‘boom-boom’ music)
Ooh it’s so good, it’s so good
It’s so good, it’s so good
It’s so good
Ooh I’m in love, I’m in love,
I’m in love, I’m in love
I’m in love
Ooh I feel love, I feel love
I feel love, I feel love
I feel love.
“O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine”.
SIR JOHN LESLIE Bart born December 6th 1916, died April 8th 2016 (extracts from a Daily Telegraph obituary)
John Norman Ide Leslie, always known as Jack, was born on December 6th 1916 in New York where his father Shane, a writer, diplomat, convert to Rome, and supporter of John Redmond’s moderate nationalist party had gone to counter Irish-Americans trying to keep the United States out of the war. Jack’s mother, born Marjorie Ide, was a well-connected American whose father had been governor general of the Philippines.
Young Jack caught the Spanish Flu in the epidemic of 1918 and was given up for dead when his temperature reached 106. His father, he recalled, asked the nuns next door to pray for him; that night his mother woke with a start to find his temperature had returned to normal. Soon afterwards, however, he developed a mastoid that left him deaf in his left ear.
Jack was almost three when in 1919 he and his elder sister Anita were brought back by their parents to Castle Leslie, to be received by his grandfather, Sir John Leslie, 2nd Bt, and his American wife Leonie, whose sister Jennie was the mother of Winston Churchill. The Leslies had lost their eldest son Norman in the Great War, making Jack the ultimate heir apparent to the title and the vast estates that went with it. But his parents were based in London and, apart from blissful holidays in Ireland, it was there that Jack was brought up.
“My world was populated by lords and ladies,” he recalled, “and naturally I believed that they were the people who ruled England and the enormous British Empire. Although our cousin Winston Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer, I thought the House of Commons was a purely advisory committee.” By this time (aged 15) he was at school at Downside. At Magdalene College, Cambridge, he rowed in the college VIII and joined the officer training corps. On graduation in 1938 he was commissioned in the Irish Guards and enjoyed a short period as a “Deb’s delight” before war intervened.
Ordered to cross to Boulogne after the German invasion of Holland in May 1940, Leslie’s platoon were rendered helpless when their bullets bounced off the advancing German tanks. They surrendered and were marched across Germany to a prisoner of war camp in Bavaria, Leslie spent the rest of the war in captivity.
On release, he returned to civilian life. His grandparents had died and he found himself the major shareholder in the company that owned Castle Leslie. Having planted thousands of trees on the demesne, he embarked on a peripatetic life in Britain, continental Europe and the United States.
In 1953 Leslie settled in Rome in a 16th century house he had restored in Trastevere. As a connoisseur of art, Leslie found much to enjoy in Rome, and as a devout Catholic he relished its religious life and was a pillar of the Order of Malta. He restored an ancient monastery and was rewarded with a papal knighthood.
He returned in 1994 to live in Castle Leslie, which was by then being run by his niece Sammy. In 2001 he celebrated his 85th birthday by travelling to Ibiza to party at Privilege, then the world’s biggest nightclub. In 2006 at the age of 90 Leslie drew on his great memory to write his autobiography, ‘Never a Dull Moment’. In November last year he was among Irish veterans of the Second World War whom the French government appointed to the Légion d’ honneur at a ceremony at the French embassy in Dublin.