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Doyle-Schechtman: Greeting From Uncle Jack

03/16/10 5:55PM By Deborah Doyle-Schechtman
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(HOST) Tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day, and commentator Deborah Doyle-Schechtman is thinking about a promise made in a Ireland, that has surprising roots in Vermont.

(DOYLE-SCHECHTMAN) As you might expect, St. Patrick's Day in the Doyle house was always a celebration.  After supper, with jars and drams of  libations in hand, the adults regaled us with strangely poetic tales of - well, whatever they fancied really.

Sometimes we'd hear stories about our ancestry, but not often enough for my taste.  Like many expats, my family seemed to think that the past was best left right where it was. I knew precious little about The Doyles, except that we hail from Oilgate, Co. Wexford, and that my ancestors left their homeland, along with millions of others, during the Great Famine of 1845 through '52.

I knew even less about my mother's Irish roots. My cousin, Shannon, did extensive research on the McQuaids a few years back, but the exact location of our familial home remained uncertain. So, eventually, I started investigating on my own, which led me to some very surprising discoveries - including a place called Castle Leslie, in Glaslough, Co. Monaghan.

Turns out, the McQuaids worked the land on which the castle sits long before it became the Leslie Estate in the mid 1600's.  Today, the property straddles the border between Northern Ireland and The Republic.  And it's home to Sir John Leslie, 4th Baronet.  Everyone - including me - calls him Uncle Jack.

Now, I'm not really related to him at all, but as a Vermonter, I can claim a little piece of him if I want to.  That's because Sir John, the 93-year old disco-loving free spirit who outed the secret location of Sir Paul McCartney's two-thousand-and-two wedding to Heather Mills, is the second child of one of St. Johnsbury's own.

His mother was Marjorie Ide, youngest daughter of Henry Clay Ide, the Vermont State Senator from Caledonia County who later became a foreign diplomat in both the Harrison and McKinley administrations.  Uncle Jack's father was Shane Leslie, author, poet, politician, and a first cousin of Winston Churchill.  He was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism while at Cambridge, with the intention of becoming a monk.  But that was before he ran, quite literally, into Marjorie.  According to the family, the two were involved in a minor car crash, and "After carrying her, unconscious, from the wreck, he was so enamored that he proposed marriage."

A few months ago, while in Ireland, I stayed at what is now the Castle Leslie Hotel, where Uncle Jack still resides, and I had the pleasure of meeting him.  During a conversation with him at breakfast he said proudly, "You know my mother's people are from St. J. in northern Vermont.  Grand place. Haven't been there in 40 years, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.  Doubt if I'll make it back at my age."  

And then, with a twinkle in his eye, he says, "Will ye give her a tip of the hat fur me when ye get home lass?"    

"I will, says I."

So here it is, albeit a wee bit early.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, from our very own Uncle Jack.
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