Winston Churchill's baby clothes. A 10-foot-tall toilet. UFO abductions. They're all part of Ireland's most eccentric castle.
SIR JOHN LESLIE stops halfway up on the main staircase of his childhood home and points to an item hanging on the wall. The keepsake in question, a tattered red cloth within a frame, boasts a faded handwritten provenance: "Bloody shroud which received the head of James, Earl of Derwentwater, on Tower Hill." It's dated February 24, 1715.
Sir John describes the textile with the air of an offhand understatement, as if every home quite naturally features such decapitation memorabilia. Apparently, the man was executed for treason at the age of 27.
"I traveled to London a few years ago," says Sir John, with a hint of a smile, "and saw the ax and chopping block."
The 90-year-old baronet pauses a moment to let the grisly scenario sink in; then he gestures up the stairs, announces a cheerful "This way!" and adds, with perfect timing, "It's best if I go first."
Ireland prides itself on having a penchant for zany, cheeky humor. Its landscape is dotted with ancient historical castles, most of which typically feature some sort of contrived flavor for the tourists: medieval-themed feasts, suits of armor, actors dressed as court jesters. Castle Leslie doesn't have to bother with props or costumes, though. It's just naturally odd.
The hallways and rooms are filled with strange mementos, like Ireland's largest bathtub, a quill pen once used by Pope Pius IX "during his last days," a bronze bust of the governor general of the Philippine Islands, a 10-foot-tall toilet stall (family crest included), and Winston Churchill's christening dress, displayed in the main sitting room. And somewhere on the property, there's a landing pad for UFOs.