Bishop Leslie and his Castle

John Leslie was born into an academic family at Edinburgh University in 1571. He departed to the continent in 1588 and studied in Padua, Leipzig, Madrid, Salamanca and San Sebastian, developing a proficiency in Spanish and Italian. After his ordination in 1621 he became chaplain to James 1, and in 1628 was appointed Bishop of the Isles in Scotland where he served until his appointment in 1633 as Bishop of Raphoe. "The Laggan", as this district is commonly called, was a stronghold of Presbyterianism, since the plantation; undercurrents of resentment among the catholic Irish were beginning to surface, largely fomented by Sir William Stewart of Ramelton, an ambitious land-taker.

Raphoe castle was built in 1636 largely as a fortification. The rebellion of 1641 came about in the eighth year of John Leslie's incumbency. He earned a reputation as a fighter when he came to the aid of Sir Ralph Gore, whose castle near Donegal town came under attack by catholic insurgents. By the time of Cromwell's arrival in 1649, the English church had undergone a transformation. (Local legend has it that Cromwell's horses were watered in the cathedral). Leslie's Lagganeer regiments had turned against him, and took the side of their Colonel, Sir Charles Coote, who played a leading part in the suppression of the Anglican liturgy. Coote laid siege to Raphoe Castle in 1653, and in order to avoid bloodshed, Bishop Leslie surrendered it and his cathedral to the Presbyterians. He and his family went to Dublin, only returning when the Restoration was proclaimed in 1660.

His former pupil, the new king Charles II restored him to the See of Raphoe, and shortly afterwards, he was appointed to the See of Clogher, where he purchased Glaslough Castle in Co Monaghan, the ancestral home to a virtual Leslie clan. The castle was burned in 1689 by King James' forces marching on their way to Derry. It was rebuilt by Bishop Cairncross in 1695. In 1797 Raphoe castle suffered its last serious attack when it was defended from an onslaught by a group of United Irishmen. After the death of the last Bishop, William Bissett, the Raphoe diocese was annexed to Derry and the castle put up for sale. In 1838, the castle came to an end in a disastrous fire, believed to have been caused by live coals falling out of a grate in an upper room and igniting the flooring. The massive walls are all that remains today.

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