Castle Leslie’s playground for horse lovers

The relaxed independence of Castle Leslie Estate, in Co Monaghan, is a paradise for horse lovers, who can even bring their mount on holiday with them

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 01:00

The young horse is concentrating, trying to make sense of the lake when he is suddenly distracted by a bird that begins to tread nimbly along the surface. It leaves a trail of dancing white spray which so intrigues the horse that he too, high steps, knees up and immediately out-splashes the bird. Suddenly, out of the calm, a pike darts surprisingly close to us. There is water everywhere, in his mane, in my eyes and nothing matters, only the moment.

On cue, a heron glides across the sky. The lazy evening sun is casting yellow light causing the splendid Victorian house dominating the view to look even more special. But then Castle Leslie Estate in the undulating Co Monaghan landscape is unique, a grand mansion that has played its part in Irish social history and respects its own colourful past without being oppressed by it.

Messing about in boats is good, claimed the rat in The Wind in the Willows, and kayaking is another of the many outdoor activities on offer at Castle Leslie Estate as are hot air ballooning and falconry, but messing about on horses, in a lake, is even better.

There is a relaxed independence of spirit about the entire estate and it is very much at one with Glaslough village of which it is part. There is no “them and us”; the local community is proud of Castle Leslie Estate and the way it has survived through hard work and imagination and the family confidence of doing things the Leslie way.

There are many good stories about this working estate, one of which is recorded in A History of Gardening in Ireland and dates from 1866, about the time John Leslie had decided to build a new house on the lands where his family had first settled in 1664. Leslie had hired a Mr Broderick Thomas to clear the site. Mr Thomas, whose fee was five guineas a day, spent a week painstakingly placing visiting cards on the trees that were to be felled.

When Lord Powerscourt asked Leslie had he had the marked trees cut down, Col Leslie replied: “No sooner was Thomas off by train then I went around and took all the visiting cards off again.”

It seems typical of a family that believes in following instinct. Most of the surrounding trees survived and Leslie was certainly aware that a fine home needs a beautiful setting. Five years later, the wonderfully eccentric castle-like mansion designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn, was completed. It has a baronial feel about it and the grand entrance hall with its barrel-vaulted ceiling conveys a hint of the Middle Ages. There are also Italian decorative flourishes throughout, in the plasterwork, the fireplaces and the paintings. The drawing room is elegant yet lived-in as are the library and the billiard room, with its many portraits of horses and dogs, access to which is through the Long Gallery.

The Blue Room, as it has been called since 1907, should actually now be called the bird room as the walls have since been covered in individual hand-painted studies. There are 20 bedrooms in the main house, each with a personality of its own.

Currently in contention for eight awards, including Hotel and Catering Review Gold Medal award “Value for Money Hotel of the Year”, Castle Leslie Estate has mastered the art of making meticulous attention to detail and quality service appear relaxed and natural; the staff is happy and welcoming. Guests are treated more like family friends. Dogs are welcome in the Old Stable Mews, and as this is one of the top 10 equestrian destinations in the world, so is your horse. There are an additional 29 bedrooms in the Lodge and 12 Old Stable Mews as well as the 11 village cottages in a square by the main gates.

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