Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure Otto Rauchbauer

Lilliput Press, pp.356, 35

Though he was to live at Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan, Sir John Randalph (later Shane) Leslie, cousin of Winston Churchill, was born at Stratford House, London, in 1885 though baptised at Glaslough with Lord Randolph Churchill as godfather.

Though he was to live at Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan, Sir John Randalph (later Shane) Leslie, cousin of Winston Churchill, was born at Stratford House, London, in 1885 though baptised at Glaslough with Lord Randolph Churchill as godfather. After Eton and King’s, Cambridge, Shane, at Churchill’s bidding, stood as a Home Ruler for Londonderry City in both the 1910 general elections. He lost each time by about 100 votes to the Unionist Marquis of Hamilton, who succeeded to the Abercorn dukedom in 1913, and was first Governor of Northern Ireland 1922-1945.

But Shane also consorted with the likes of Patrick Pearse, executed by firing squad in May 1916, and Roger Casement, hanged in Pentonville for treason in August 1916.Shane at first believed the Casement homosexual diaries were forged. His mother Leonie attended the trial and was an avid collector of Casement garrulities. She wrote to Shane of lunching at Downing Street when ‘Mr Asquith told me of the Diary and he wanted Casement to be proved insane so as to escape the death penalty’.

In 1921, with Winston and Lloyd George invigilating the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Shane wrote to his father:

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Collins asked me what I thought of the proposed oath of allegiance. Naturally I approve as it seems to offer a good loophole for people as different as myself and yourself to remain as citizens of a Free Irish State while not renouncing the allegiance which you in honour and I in preference would rather not give up. The settlement was miraculous and is largely due to Collins, Winston and Birkenhead.

During Winston’s ‘wilderness’ years from 1929 he especially used Shane as a writer and researcher for his own work. In May 1936 he asked Shane for a summary of Parnell’s life (Shane had written a biography). It is in Winston’s 1938 vivacious Great Contemporaries.

Towards the end of the Second World War Shane reminded Winston of Irish soldier VCs who ‘expect no gratitude from England or Ireland and still they come.’ The VE Day speech attacked the neutralist De Valera, and named dead Irish warriors.

In February 1965 Shane wrote to the ultramontane Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin:

It was very thoughtful of you to have prayed for my cousin Winston during his slow collapse.He was not unready to go and seemed to be waiting for the anniversary of his father’s death Jan 24 — a date I remember well in 1895 for I was taken to the funeral from Westminster Abbey. That occasion was considered the close of a ghastly failure. The recent funeral in St Paul’s may be considered as an apocalypse.

I hardly knew whether I was dreaming during the service — all the Kings left in Europe as well as two Queens of England. Almost startling was the appearance of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Papal Delegate amongst the honoured guests.

Shane used to discuss the other world with me. At perilous moments he prayed hard, remarking that when he was in danger God never failed him.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: 20th Century, Biography, History, Ireland, Non-fiction, Northern Ireland, Politics, Terrorism