Fancy dress at Castle Leslie, 1951: Stalin, Churchill and ‘peace’

Family Fortunes: Our mother presented us as an illustration of détente between East and West

In 1951, Castle Leslie was still the private residence of Sir Shane and Lady Leslie. Each year the family threw open the house and grounds for a summer fete, the proceeds of which were donated to the local Catholic church at Glennan. Attractions at the fete included all manner of sports, boat trips on the lake (my favourite), guided tours of the ancestral home, a children’s fancy dress competition and, finally as darkness fell, a spectacular fireworks display over the lake.

It was a very popular and well attended event at a time when Sunday truly was a “day of rest”. In my recollection, it never rained and the sun always shone for the whole day. We lived in the adjoining village of Emyvale and, like practically everyone else in the village, our whole family, father, mother and three children attended every year.

In this particular year, our mother decided that her three children should enter the fancy dress competition and, in order to improve our chance of winning, she dreamed up a cunning plan. Sir Shane, though himself an Irish nationalist, was first cousin to Sir Winston Churchill who famously had predicted the so-callad “iron curtain” and was shortly to be re-elected as UK prime minister at a time of the developing “cold war” with the Soviet Union. The two lady judges of the competition were known to be members of the Leslie family and thus related to Sir Winston.

For the purpose of the competition, our mother presented us as an illustration of détente between East and West. I, at age 12 and dressed in a cut down morning suit, was Sir Winston. My brother, at age 7 and dressed in a uniform tailored by our mother from old curtain lining, was Joseph Stalin. My sister, at age 10 and dressed in white, was placed between us and represented Peace. My cigar, while probably not of the same quality as Sir Winston smoked, was thoroughly enjoyed by our father later that evening.


Each year, at mass in Glennan church on the Sunday following the fete, Sir Shane presented a cheque for the proceeds of the fete to the parish priest. Unusually in the case of a Catholic church, the Leslie family had its own pew and, even more unusually at a time when only the ordained clergy dared to speak aloud in church, Sir Shane, resplendent in his traditional kilt, gave a short address to the congregation for the occasion.

Incidentally, we won first prize!