The Leslies are a significant family in Irish history, and in particular in the province of Ulster, where they had landholdings of tens of thousands of acres. Corravahan House, just outside Cavan, was home to one branch of the family over the course of three generations and one-hundred-and-twenty years. The Leslies of Corravahan, or “Coravahn” (as they preferred), were regionally important, being socially connected with the local elite such as the Burrowes family of Stradone, the Maxwells of Farnham and the Crichtons at Crom. They had a significant local influence, not least as landlords and employers to the populace of the Drung and Ballyhaise area, but also in their roles in the magistracy, militia and the various charitable boards on which they sat. In the broader realm, two generations of Corravahan Leslies contributed their services to the British military, and the family’s marriage ties connected them to the great and good in British society.
The Leslie family
Originally Scottish settlers, the Leslie family came to southern Ulster in 1665, when John Leslie (1571-1671), Bishop of Clogher, known as “the fighting bishop” for his resistance to the Irish Rebellion of 1641, acquired the estate at Glaslough, Co. Monaghan. Four generations later another John Leslie (1772-1854), being the second son of Charles Powell Leslie (1731-1800) and unlikely to inherit his father’s title and estates, did the next best thing and took himself into the Church, being assured that as a member of a family of wealth and influence he was bound to rise through the ranks of the clergy. As Dean of Cork, he married Isabella St. Lawrence (1784-1830), of the Howth dynasty, and the daughter of the then-Bishop. They raised a family of four sons and five daughters. Rev. John duly became Bishop of Dromore, and was then translated to Elphin in 1819, before becoming the first Bishop of the united dioceses of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh in 1841. By this time his own eldest son, Charles (1810-1870), had been ordained, and appears to have served as his Chaplain at Kilmore (and possibly for Bishop Beresford prior to that). Rev. Charles became Rector of Killesher, near Florencecourt, in 1851, and Vicar of Drung in 1855. The Anglo Celt newspaper reported that Rt. Rev. John Leslie died in July 1854, aged 81, from “an attack of erysipelas” (a severe skin infection). He was buried in a vault at Kilmore.
In 1828, Rev. Marcus Gervais Beresford (1801-1885) was appointed by his father, Bishop George Beresford (1765-1841), as the Vicar of Drung, a rural parish in Co. Cavan. With the existing “old lofty thatched” Parsonage of 1728 found to be in poor condition, Rev Beresford initially rented a house on the edge of the parish, Clonervy House, owned by his cousin, the 3rd Earl Annesley. When in 1836 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners condemned the existing parsonage, the Beresfords engaged the services of the architect William Farrell, who had recently completed the new See House at Kilmore (1836) for Bishop George, to construct a fine new rectory of c.9000 sq. ft. at Corravahan, that would be befitting of their status as members of Ireland’s premier family. Rt. Rev. George was the grandson of Marcus (1694-1763), 1st Earl of Tyrone, and was a cousin of Most Rev. Lord John Beresford (1773-1862), Archbishop of Armagh, who was the son of George de la Poer Beresford (1735-1800), 1st Marquis of Waterford, and a wealthy benefactor to the Church. Following the appointment of Marcus Beresford as Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh in 1854, in succession to John Leslie, the ownership of Corravahan passed to Rev. Charles Leslie, and continued to serve as the rectory of Drung until 1870.
The Leslies of Corravahan
Rev. Charles Leslie brought with him to Corravahan House in 1855 his family, of five sons and a daughter, by his second wife Louisa Mary King (1803-1883) whom he had married in 1837. His first wife, Hon. Frances King (b. 1809), daughter of General Robert Edward King (1773-1854), Viscount Lorton of Boyle, had died, possibly in childbirth, in 1835, just a year into their marriage. Oddly, Frances has been reported as buried at Drung, although the Leslies had no obvious connection with the parish at that time [the Parish Register does not support this hypothesis either]. In 1836, Charles went on a tour of Europe with the Viscount and some members of his family, including his late wife’s cousin, Louisa, who he would marry the following year. Their early years of marriage appear to have been spent largely at the See House in Kilmore, but their move to Corravahan was sadly marked by the death in that October of their only daughter, Mary (1840-1855), who apparently succumbed to a long-suffered pulmonary illness. Rev. Charles served as Vicar of Drung until April 1870, when he was, in turn, appointed Bishop of Kilmore. He died, ultimately of a lung infection, just three months later, still in residence at Corravahan, at the relatively young age of 59. Like his father and daughter, he was buried in the family vault at Kilmore. Following his death, his widow and sons retained the house as a private residence, while providing a new, more modest rectory for the parish on nearby land.
Charles’ eldest son John Henry Leslie (1838-1913) was born at The Palace, Kilmore (the See House), educated, as were his brothers after him, at Berkswell College preparatory school (near Coventry) and Harrow School in Middlesex, before entering the 71st Highland Light Infantry in 1857 as 2nd Lieutenant. Seeing active service during the Indian Mutiny, for which he received a medal, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1859. In 1862, he married Isabella Papillon, his first cousin, by whom he had a daughter, Frances. Isabella was the daughter of his father’s elder sister Frances (“Aunt Fanny”), who had married at Elphin in 1840 the Rev. John Papillon, later rector of Lexden in Essex. The Papillons, Hugenots who came to England from France in 1588, became extraordinarily wealthy merchants, and owned numerous estates in Leicestershire, Essex, Kent and Sussex. It was at one of the latter that John and Isabella would live in retirement, John having left the army as captain in about 1870. The family tradition held that “Uncle Johnny” was “tiresome” and had left home under something of a cloud; however no evidence for this has yet been found, and he is recorded as a frequent visitor to Corravahan and he was apparently on good terms with his father at the time of his death, quite apart from the fact that his father had officiated at his wedding to Isabella.
Charles Robert Leslie (1841-1904), through a combination of circumstances, ran the estate for his father, and became master of the house upon the death of his mother in 1883. He had joined the 25th King’s Own Borderers in 1858 upon leaving Harrow, and was Captain by 1864, having served tours of duty in Gibraltar, Malta and Canada (1865-7), where he was actively engaged in repelling a Fenian invasion from New York state, for which action he received a medal. While garrisoned back in Glasgow, sudden illness befell him (possibly polio), and he was effectively invalided out of the army, being recorded in subsequent censuses as an “Officer on half-pay”. His disability, and retirement to Corravahan, led to a number of modifications in the house and gardens, including the installation of a lift! Charles died unmarried in September 1904, having retired from the army some years earlier with the honorary rank of Major. He was the last of the family to be placed in the vault at Kilmore. Charles was an avid reader and diarist, and his writings are an abundant source of information on the house, the family and the wider world. Upon his death, ownership of Corravahan passed to his younger brother, Cecil.
The third brother, Cecil Edward St. Lawrence Leslie (1843-1930) was educated at Oxford, returning to live permanently at Corravahan, and served periodically on the judiciary in Cavan, otherwise living off his investments and rental income on lands he owned. In 1876, he married Emily Louisa Massy-Beresford (1854-1890), a first-cousin-twice-removed of Rt. Rev. Marcus Gervais Beresford, the builder of Corravahan. She was the daughter of Very Rev. John Maunsell Massy, Dean of Kilmore, who had wisely added the name Beresford (by royal licence) subsequent to his equally wise marriage to Emily Sarah Beresford, daughter of Rev. John Isaac Beresford of Macbie Hill, Peebles-shire, who was the grand-niece of George, Bishop of Kilmore and great-great-granddaughter of the Earl of Tyrone. Cecil and “Loo” had two sons, Charles and Cecil George, the last children raised at Corravahan before the present. Charlie died tragically of pneumonia, at the age of 13, just days after returning to Arnold House School in Wales, in February 1891. His father had kept the brothers at home after the Christmas holidays, suffering with chest infections, for fear of the same fate befalling them as had befallen their mother who had died one year before. Loo and Charlie were both interred in the vault at Kilmore.
Cecil George “Choppy” Leslie (1879-1919) survived his illness, recuperated at his grandmother’s house in Clifton, and was shortly afterwards moved to Harrow School. From there, via Sandhurst Military College, Choppy joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, seeing service in South Africa in 1902-07, just after the Boer War. A fine horseman, he transferred to the 3rd Dragoon Guards, as a Captain, in time for the outbreak of the Great War. He was badly wounded in May 1915, when the 3rd Dragoons (as part of the 3rd Cavalry Division), were engaged in The Battle of Frezenburg Ridge (11 – 13 May, a phase of the Battles of Ypres 1915 (“Second Ypres”)), including the loss of his right eye. Upon his return to duty, Choppy was seconded to the Seine Divisional H.Q. for the duration of the War. He was awarded the Military Cross, and later promoted to the rank of Brevet-Major. He was awarded the “Croix de Guerre” by the Belgian authorities. However, having never regained full health, he died of TB in Nordrach-on-Dee Sanatorium, Banchory, Aberdeenshire in August 1919. Bringing home his second son for burial at Kilmore was undoubtedly another source of heartbreak for his poor father, who would die in 1930, at the grand age of 86.
A fourth brother, Henry King Leslie (1844-1926) was also educated at Oxford. He married Ruth Hungerford-Eagar, through whom the Leslies are related to the Tenison family of Lough Bawn, Co. Monaghan. He served as a land agent to numerous estates, and it was while he was living at Kilnahard, Mountnugent, possibly working for the Nugent family of Bobsgrove, or Farren Connell, that Ruth gave birth to their son, Frank King Leslie, in 1885. Henry and Ruth also had two daughters, Madge and Joan, who we will return to presently. Educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, Frank King Leslie was recruited to the Royal Fusiliers City of London Regiment, seeing service in India. Attaining the rank of Captain, he was killed subsequent to the Helles landings on the opening day of the Gallipoli campaign in April 1915. His remains were never recovered. Henry and his family were burnt out of the agent’s house, Glenburne, on the Dartrey estate in Co. Monaghan in 1922. Following a short time occupying Rathkenny House at Tullyvin, near Drung, at that time vacated by the Lucas-Clements family, Henry, Ruth and the girls moved to Aghavea Glebe in Brookeborough, where Henry died in 1926 and Ruth in 1927. Perhaps subsequent to this, Cecil moved to Aghavea, for it was here that he died in 1930.
The youngest of Rev. Charles’ five sons, Arthur Trevor Leslie (1847-1886) joined as Ensign the 3rd East Kent Regiment of Foot (or “The Buffs”) in 1867. He saw active service, in the rank of Captain, on the Perak Expedition in the Malay Peninsula in 1875-76 and in the Afghan War of 1878-80, for both of which campaigns he was awarded medals. He became a Major in 1882. His unit, the 1st Battalion, fell victim to a notorious cholera outbreak in Bengal, India in 1867, and if he was present and survived, this may have contributed to the illness that dogged him in later life, causing his death, at Corravahan in October 1886, at the age of 39.
By 1930, then, all of Rev. Charles Leslie’s five sons had died, and in consequence of the First World War, the only survivors of the subsequent generation were Henry’s daughters, Margaret Ruth Leslie (1886-1972) and Nancy Joan Leslie (1888-1972). Thus, upon Cecil’s death in 1930, it was to his nieces that he left Corravahan, along with the accumulated wealth of the previous generations. Cecil’s estate, in England,was then valued at £38,000, the equivalent of £2.5 million today. The sisters remained unmarried, again perhaps as a result of the War, when a disproportionate number of eligible young men had died in the conflict, the junior officers being habitually the “first over the top” of the trenches. The sisters, to their credit, took in their late brother’s fiancée, Ms May Haire-Forster, and the three women lived together at Corravahan for four decades. The sisters gently nudged the house into minimal standards of modernity, but essentially preserved the fabric of the building, perhaps as they had remembered it as youngsters. Active in local and regional society, much as earlier generations had been, the ladies were popular locally across all traditions, and continued to give employment to generations of locals. Madge was interested in the history of the house, and it was her friend, Lady Dorothy Lowry-Corry of Castle Coole, a noted historian and archaeologist, who suggested to her in a letter that Corravahan House was likely to have been built by the Beresfords. Following their deaths, within a few weeks of each other, in 1972, the house passed, at least temporarily, into the ownership of the Lucas-Clements family of Rathkenny, in the person of Madge’s god-daughter, Elizabeth (1923-2012). This was the end of the line for this branch of the Leslie family, and their association with Corravahan.
The lives of the Leslie family and the history of Corravahan house are inseparable, each being integral to the other. The survival of the house depended on the Leslies, and it was their careful maintenance over the years that ensured that the fabric could sustain long periods of vacancy during subsequent decades. The many relationships that link the Leslies to the numerous families mentioned ensure that Corravahan and the Leslies retain important roles in the history of Irish society. The foregoing only touches the surface of a much more in-depth story.
(c) Ian S. Elliott 2014
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