James Blennerhassett Leslie, Ecclesiastic and Historian

Rev Canon James Blennerhassett Leslie, MA, D.Litt, MRIA, died at his home, Tigh Beg, Haddington Park, Glenageary, Co Dublin on Sunday 20 April 1952.  He was in his 87th year.  Rev Canon Leslie had enjoyed a distinguished career as cleric:


He obtained his BA at the Royal University of Ireland in 1888, and his MA in 1889.  In 1891 he was ordained deacon, and priest in the following year.  His first curacy was at Christ Church, Belfast, where he remained from 1891 to 1894, when he became Senior Curate at Portadown.  He remained at Portadown until 1899, when he was appointed Rector of Kilsaran, Armagh, to which he remained attached until his retirement on January 1st 1952 when he moved to Dublin.  He was Prebendary of Mullabrack (Armagh Cathedral) from 1925 to 1928, when he became Treasurer of the Cathedral, and in 1934 he was appointed Chancellor.  He relinquished this post in 1943, when he was appointed by the Lord Primate to be Prebendary of Yagoe and representative Canon of Armagh in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin until January last, when he retired.[1]


And as scholar:


He obtained an MA at Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1908, and his D.Litt at the same university in 1931.  He had a distinguished Divinity Course in Trinity College, Dublin, winning among other distinctions the Bishop Forester’s Divinity Prize and an ecclesiastical history prize, and secured a first-class Divinity Thesis.  He became a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1925.


Rev Leslie devoted much of his life to historical research, and the publication of same.  His early works include The Mission of St Patrick; Was it from Rome? (1901), Irish Churchwarden’s Handbook (1901) and History of Kilsaran Union of Parishes in the County of Louth (1908).[2]


His interest in church records deepened and he began production of biographical succession lists for the dioceses of the Church of Ireland.  In all, eight or more volumes were published[3] but he left an incredible nineteen volumes of unpublished typescripts for seventeen dioceses, and Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.[4]  Lack of finance appears to have been the main limiting factor in publishing the lists.[5]  In addition, he was editor of the Irish Clergy List (1910) and of the Irish Church Directory (1928-40), and was the first honorary secretary of the ecclesiastical records committee of the Church of Ireland.  He calendared and edited the correspondence of Lord John George Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh and the miscellaneous manuscripts in the Armagh registry.


In terms of output, the name of James Blennerhassett Leslie ranks with Dr John O’Donovan and Rev John O’Hanlon who conducted monumental studies in Irish history.


Rev J B Leslie, Kerryman


James Blennerhassett Leslie was born at Clouncannon, Faha, Co Kerry on 28 May 1865, a district about midway between Milltown and Killarney.  He was the third son of James Leslie (1826-1902), Collector of Inland Revenue, and Mary Anne Blennerhassett (1827-1926), daughter of Thomas Arthur Blennerhassett (1783-1868) of Blackbriar, Currans, Co Kerry.[6]


James was one of six children, three boys and three girls.  The eldest of the family was William James Leslie JP (1859-c1952) who operated Leslie’s Railway Hotel, Cahersiveen (later O’Connell’s Bar) with his wife Mabel.[7]  W J Leslie is credited with the establishment of the Ring of Kerry tourist route in the late nineteenth century.


Second eldest, Jane Leslie, was born in 1863, and married Richard Hillgrove (or Hilgrove) McCarthy, JP, of Woodford House, Listowel, who worked as a Game Dealer and General Hardware Merchant at The Square, Listowel.[8]  The marriage took place on 6 September 1883 at Aghadoe Church of Ireland.[9]  They had at least ten children.[10]  Their eldest son, William Hillgrove Leslie McCarthy, was born in 1884.  In 1907, he was a student of Trinity College, Dublin when he was congratulated on his successful and brilliant collegiate career:


He entered that celebrated educational establishment four years ago, and the first year captured the much coveted Reid Scholarship, and since then he has passed in a most brilliant manner several other examinations, and on 31st October was presented with a gold medal for composition, as well as the Society’s silver medal for aesthetics.  Since then this able young gentleman, who is only 23 years of age and intends following the medical profession, has still further annexed the gold medal for an essay on the philosophy of genius along with being a Senior Moderator and BA.  This is indeed a record of magnificent literary achievement, and not only he and his esteemed parents, Mr and Mrs Richard H McCarthy, the Square, Listowel have alone to feel proud but the county of his birth ought to be congratulated on having produced such a scholar.[11]


He later gained the rank of Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps Special Reserve Attached 1st Field Ambulance in the First World War.  He was awarded the Military Cross[12] in 1916 and the Bar to the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 18th April 1918 at Givenchy’:


Hearing that the Aid Post at Pont Fixe was filled with wounded who could not be evacuated by the normal route owing to the enemy bombardment, this officer led a party of stretcher bearers from the ADS Harley Street through heavy shell fire and reorganised the evacuation.  He dressed four of his men in the open who were wounded on the way up, and made several journeys during the day.  His coolness and initiative set a fine example to his men and undoubtedly saved many lives.


He later married and was employed as Coroner to the Royal Household.[13]


Rev John Herbert Leslie (1867-1934), Dean of Lismore, was younger brother of James.  He also achieved a distinguished career in the church.[14]  He married in 1898 Miss Mary Richardson, daughter of Mr and Mrs Augustus Smith, Clonmult, Midleton and Sion Lodge, Waterford, and granddaughter of Jonathan Joseph Richardson, MP, Lisburn.[15]  They had two daughters, Mary Isabelle (1899-1978) and Jean Annette (1903-1936).[16]  Mary Isabelle, the eldest, was a Doctor of Philosophy, poet and author, who wrote under the name Temple Lane, or Jean Herbert.  Her literature includes The Trains Go South (1938) and Fisherman’s Wake (1939).[17]


Fifth child, Susan B Leslie (1869-1963) appears to have remained at home with her parents. retiring later in life to Kingston College in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, where she died unmarried on 11 February 1953.


Youngest child Mary Anne Leslie, ‘May,’ born in 1871, married the (last) station master of Cahersiveen, William D Miller, at Aghadoe Church of Ireland in 1896.[18]  They had three children, Hubert L, Evelyn, and Marion Edith.[19]  Eldest son Hubert ran a shop at Faha Cross in the 1950s.  He married Susanne Frizzelle and they had two sons, Ronald and Desmond.  Ronald Miller continues to reside at the family home, Clouncannon.[20]


Clouncannon, Faha, birthplace of James Blennerhassett Leslie.  In the centre, William James, Mary Anne and Rev James Blennerhassett Leslie.  Images courtesy Gavin Miller.  On the right, an old postcard of Leslie’s Railway Hotel, Cahersiveen


James Blennerhassett Leslie, third child of the family, married Mary, eldest daughter of William Bulfin of Dublin.  The marriage took place at Glenageary, Monkstown, Dublin on 9 August 1893.  They had two daughters, Muriel Mary Elizabeth Leslie, born in Antrim on 31 May 1894, and Kathleen Margaret Bulfin Leslie, born in Armagh on 9 August 1897.


Rev James Blennerhassett Leslie, whose death occurred on 20 April 1952, was laid to rest in the cemetery of St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Kilsaran, Co Louth, to which parish he had so long been identified:


There was a big gathering at the funeral at Castlebellingham on Tuesday.  Ven Archdeacon Rennison, Ballymascanlon, representing the Primate, Most Rev Dr Gregg, read the lessons.  Rev J E McKeon, Rector, Kilsaran and Dunleer, conducted the service and Canon W Bothwell, BD, Rector, Drumcar, gave the address.  Other clergy present were Rev E L Keane, St Peter’s, Drogheda; Rev J M Jennings, Ardee; Rev R Whitehead, Carrickmacross; Rev D N Bowers, Secretary, Colonial and Continental Church Society.  The attendance at the arrival of the remains included Very Rev O McEvoy, PP, Kilsaran; Rev E Murphy CC, do; and Rev D McIvor, CC, Ardee.[21]


A modest headstone at Kilsaran records the deaths of Rev Leslie and his family:


In Loving Memory
Beloved Wife of
Rev Canon James B Leslie
Born 20 July 1861
Died 22 July 1949
Also of the Above
Rev Canon James B Leslie
Born 28 May 1865 Died 20 April 1952
Rector of the Parish 1899-1952
And of Their Daughters
Born 31 May 1894 Died 18 February 1971
Born 9 August 1897 Died 4 December 1973


[1] Londonderry Sentinel, 22 April 1952. 

[2] A copy of The Mission of St Patrick; Was it from Rome? (1901) is held in the archive of Castleisland District Heritage (IE CDH 21).

[3] The published volumes included Armagh Clergy and Parishes (1911), Clogher Clergy and Parishes (1929), Ossory Clergy and Parishes (1933), Ferns Clergy and Parishes (1936), Derry Clergy and Parishes (1937), Ardfert and Aghadoe Clergy and Parishes (1940), Raphoe Clergy and Parishes (1940) and Supplement to Armagh Clergy and Parishes (1948).

[4] ‘Leslie, James Blennerhassett by W. J. R. Wallace,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography. The copyright of the unpublished lists is held by the library of the Representative Church Body in Dublin.

[5] The Church of Ireland in Co Limerick a record of church and clergy in the nineteenth century was reproduced by Janet Murphy and Eileen Chamberlain in 2013.  See also The Church of Ireland in Co Limerick Edited Research Correspondence January 2012 to December 2013 (2014).

[6] James Leslie, appointed Collector of Inland Revenue in 1879, was the third son of Thomas Leslie (born in 1801).  James married Mary Anne Blennerhassett in 1858.  His brother Thomas Leslie married Mary Williams of Ballycarbery, Co Kerry in 1850.

[7] William James Leslie married Mabel Gertrude M, youngest daughter of (late) John Smith, Warminster, at the parish church, Cahirciveen on 15 February 1906.  The ceremony was performed by Rev J B Leslie, assisted by Rev Canon Halloran, MA, rector of the parish.  Mabel died at Sunnyside, Caherciveen on 8 August 1955, ‘widow of late W J Leslie, funeral from Cahirciveen Church, He giveth his beloved sleep.’  Sunnyside was put up for sale in 1955. 

It is worth noting that Mabel’s sister, Kate Rosa, second daughter of (late) John Smith, Warminster, married chemist, David S Bennett, MPSI, PhC , of Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, at ‘the minster’ Warminster, on 4 June 1900.  The ceremony was performed by Rev H R Whytehead, assisted by Rev E W Legg.  Mrs Kate Rosa Bennett died at Avoca, Caherciveen, on 19 December 1944.

[8] Woodford House, sometimes referred to as Woodford Glebe, was the former Duagh Glebe House at Inchymagilleragh West which was sold by the Representative Church Body in 1874.  It was destroyed by fire in 1925: ‘Late on Friday night or early on Saturday morning, the Glebe House, Woodford, Listowel, was found to be almost completely destroyed by fire.  The house had been owned and in the possession of Mrs McCarthy, widow of the late Mr Rd McCarthy, Square, Listowel, and had been recently sold by that lady to a farmer named Dore for it is understood a considerable sum of money.  No reason is assigned for the fire’ (Kerry News, 8 June 1925).

[9] Richard Hillgrove McCarthy (1841-1908), son of John Hillgrove McCarthy, Head Constable of Police, Listowel, appears to have been twice married, first to Elizabeth Leslie (born 1851), daughter of Thomas Leslie, Caherciveen.  This Thomas, who married Mary Williams of Ballycarbery in 1850, appears to be the eldest son and older brother of James Leslie (1826-1902).  The marriage of Richard and Elizabeth took place at Cahir Church of Ireland on 18 October 1870.  A daughter, Catherine Mary McCarthy, was born in 1871.  Other issue John Leslie McCarthy, born 1873 who, in the Census of 1901, was studying for MD. 

[10] The known children of Richard and Jane were:

William Hillgrove Leslie McCarthy (1884-1962).  William married Belfast born Evelyn Marshall Porter (1901-1959) in Holy Trinity Church, Upper Chelsea, on 1 February 1921.  Evelyn died in Nice, France, on 24 May 1959.

Hilda McCarthy (born c1887).  In the Gleasure Letters (23 May 1908, https://gleasureharberletters.blogspot.com/search/label/Hilda%20McCarthy?m=0), we read that ‘Hilda McCarthy is getting married in July to a Dr in Dublin they are to be married in London.  It is a swell affair.’

Hillgrove McCarthy (born c1888), Evelyn McCarthy (born c1891).  In March 1910, Miss Evelyn May Leslie McCarthy, daughter of ‘late Richard Hillgrove McCarthy, JP of Glebe House, Woodford, Listowel’ married Mr Joseph Harvey Brain of Buckhurst Hill, Essex and Manor House, St Ives, Huntingdonshire at St Peter’s Church, Aungier Street, Dublin.  The ceremony was performed by Rev John Herbert Leslie, uncle of the bride, and she was given away by her brother, Dr W H McCarthy.  The couple were resident at the White House, Shotesham, in 1912, when Evelyn’s brother, Hillgrove McCarthy, age 24, an undergraduate and a Divinity student at Magdalen College, Oxford, took his life during a visit with his sister.  See report of inquest in Kerryman, 9 November 1912.  Mrs Harvey-Brain, who later resided overseas, was mother of yachtsman Vere Chamberlain Harvey-Brain, author of Seychelles Saga (1982) and My Seychelles Years (1987). Further reference, ‘A North Kerry Boy at Heart: The Incredible Adventures of Vere Chamberlain Harvey-Brain, Master Mariner’ on Castleisland District Heritage website.

Leslie McCarthy (born c1892), residing with his mother at Inchymagilleragh, West Trienearagh, Co Kerry in 1911.

Muriel McCarthy (born c1894).

Clara Aileen McCarthy (born c1895) residing with her mother at Inchymagilleragh West, Trienearagh, Co Kerry in 1911.  ‘The marriage arranged between Reginald C Brighton of Haputale, Ceylon and Clara Eileen McCarthy, daughter of the late R H McCarthy Esq JP and Mrs McCarthy, Woodford House, Listowel, Co Kerry, will take place in Dublin early in January’ (Irish Society, 25 December 1920).

James Penrose McCarthy (born c1897) was residing with his mother at Inchymagilleragh, West Trienearagh, Co Kerry in 1911.  James Penrose McCarthy Esq, Manager of the National Bank of Egypt at Khartoum, was awarded MBE in 1941.

Beatrice McCarthy (born c1898) was resident with James Spencer and Hilda Sheill in Harcourt Street, Dublin, in 1911; she was described as ‘niece.’  

Norman Roberts McCarthy (born c1900) was residing with his mother at Inchymagilleragh, West Trienearagh, Co Kerry in 1911.

Richard H McCarthy died on 8 October 1908, and was buried at Finuge: ‘Mr McCarthy’s demise removes from Listowel one of its most respected and prosperous merchants, as well as one of the most popular justices that ever sat on the bench, as was very eloquently testified to by our esteemed townsman, Mr Gerald McElligott, at the Petty Sessions on Saturday last.  The termination of Mr McCarthy’s existence was too sad.  Only a short time ago he was ascending a ladder to his fowl loft, when he accidentally fell to the ground, sustaining injuries to the head and body from which he could not have hoped to recover, and which were the cause of his death.  The deceased gentleman was a very great temperance advocate, and was never tired giving the youth of his town very practical and wholesome advice in that direction.  The funeral was, needless to say, of very large proportions, and comprised every class of the community, because Mr McCarthy was popular with no special stratum of society, but with all.  Though the deceased gentleman differed from the majority of his fellow townsmen in religion, being a Protestant, it was a most pleasing feature of the sad occasion to witness the presence of our revered Parish Priest, the Very Rev T Canon Davis, and the no less respected Rev John Dillon, CC, at the head of the melancholy cortege.  The police under Head-Constable Donovan, formed a prominent part of the funeral procession.  The very greatest grief is exhibited on all sides at the demise of the deceased who was a kind and practical friend of the poor and a citizen whose name will long be remembered and respected in Listowel.  The chief mourners were Mrs McCarthy (wife), sons Dr W H L McCarthy (Dublin), H McCarthy, L McCarthy, daughters Misses Evelyn, Ethel, and Murial; brothers-in-law W J Leslie,  T J Leslie, J Millar (sic), W Millar (sic), sisters-in-aw Mrs W J Leslie, Mrs W Millar (sic), Miss Leslie.  Other mourners, Mr Marshall Hill, Mrs Hill (niece), Mrs McGillicuddy, Mr P Leslie, Mr R Millar (sic), Mr Blennerhassett, and the Messrs Talbot’ (Killarney Echo, 24 October 1908). William J Leslie, hotel proprietor, was executor of the will.

The following may be of genealogical interest: In 1909: ‘Mr Thomas Leslie and Mrs Jane McCarthy, Listowel, proceeded against Mrs Mary Lavery, Ballybunion, for the possession of a licensed premises in that town.  Mr H J Marshall, solr, made the application on behalf of the applicants, the representatives of the late Mr R H McCarthy, the Square, Listowel, for the possession of the licensed premises of Mr O’Sullivan, son-in-law of defendant.  He (Mr Marshall) said that the defendant held under a caretaker’s agreement made with the representatives of the late Mr McCarthy.  Mr R H McCarthy, son of the deceased, proved as to the caretaker’s agreement’ (Kerryman, 20 November 1909).

[11] Kerry Evening Post, 16 November 1907.  Further reference to the Reid Scholarship or Reid Bequest on this link http://www.odonohoearchive.com/the-master-lights-up-a-kerry-gem/

[12] ‘The many friends of Lieut Leslie McCarthy AMC will be pleased to learn that he has been promoted to lieut-colonel and is now in charge of a unit at the front where he has been serving since August 1914.  He had been twice wounded, mentioned twice in despatches, and awarded the Military Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty in the field.  Lieut-Col McCarthy is the eldest son of Mrs McCarthy, Woodford House, Listowel, and nephew of Mr Wm J Leslie, JP, Caherciveen’ (Kerry Evening Post, 20 December 1916). 

[13] ‘The death occurred at Blonay, Switzerland, of Lt Col William Hilgrove Leslie McCarthy, DSO, former Coroner to the Royal Household.  He was born in 1885 and was educated at Trinity College Dublin’ (Sunday Independent, 23 September 1962).  The engagement of Lieut-Colonel Leslie McCarthy DSO MC of Woodford House, County Kerry and 16 Little Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, to Evelyn Marshall Porter, daughter of Drummond Porter of Belfast and niece of Mrs Annesley-Austen, of 19 Lambolle Road, Hampstead, took place in October 1920.  The marriage took place at Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, in January or February 1921.  A photograph of the couple on their wedding day appeared in The Sketch, 9 February 1921.

[14] Curate Waterford Cathedral 1893-8, Rector of Clogheen 1898-1910, Rector of Clonmel 1910-30, Precentor of Lismore until 1930, Dean and Rector of Lismore 1930-1934.  Representative Canon of Cashel and Waterford in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin 1910-1934.  Domestic and Examining Chaplain to Dr O’Hara, Bishop of Cashel, member of the General Synod, Diocesan Secretary of the Board of Education, member of the Board of the Incorporated Society and Erasmus Smith Schools.

[15] John Augustus Smith was the son of John Shaw Smith (1812-1873) who died tragically; see inquest, Irish Times, 31 January 1873.

[16] Youngest daughter Jean Annette Leslie died by drowning; see tribute in The Nationalist (Tipperary), 28 November 1936.

[17] Mary Isabelle Leslie died in a nursing home in Ballybrack, Co Dublin in March 1978.  She was interred with her parents in Lismore Cathedral Cemetery. 

[18] William was the son of Edward F Miller.  It is thought the Miller family hailed from Bagnelstown, Carlow. 

[19] Evelyn Miller married in 1947 Thomas Talbot of Killalee, Fossa, Co Kerry; a son was born in 1949.  Evelyn Miller died on 1 May 2004 aged 91 years.  Thomas, who died on 22 April 1969, and Evelyn were buried in the cemetery of the (now disused) Aghadoe Church of Ireland.  Marion Edith Miller died on 27 April 1921 aged 21 Years.  She was buried in the cemetery of Aghadoe Church of Ireland with her father, William D Miller, who died on 15 September 1912 aged 75 years. years. Her mother, May Miller, who died on 30 September 1955 aged 84, is also interred there. 

[20] Ronald Miller married Iris Anne Stephens in 1961 and has three children, Colin, Heather and Gavin.  Iris Anne Miller died on 4 January 1989 aged 54 years and was buried in the cemetery of Aghadoe Church of Ireland.  Sincere thanks to Gavin Miller for assistance with genealogical research. 

[21] Dundalk Democrat, 26 April 1952.