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Back to Dublin

The Marker Hotel, Dublin

The spectacular geometric design at the new Marker Hotel in Dublin. Photo by David Lansing.

The circle is complete. We’re back in Dublin where we began. Only now the sun is out. Thank god. Has there ever been a wetter, colder summer in Ireland? All the papers talk about how far behind the farmers are. “The strawberry crop is at least three weeks behind.” I shouldn’t think there will be any Irish tomatoes this year. Not unless you grow them in a hot house. Just not enough season left.

And after all the ancient castles and country homes we’ve stayed in on this trip, we end up in Dublin in one of the newest, sleekest, chic hotels I’ve ever stayed in: The Dublin Marker in Grand Canal Square which just opened a few months ago. Bonus feature: Our bedroom window looks across the street at the penthouse of U2s The Edge. Someone’s staying there at the moment, but it definitely doesn’t look like The Edge. Not unless The Edge has gained a hundred pounds, died his hair blonde, and is now a woman.

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Sir John Leslie

Sir John Leslie. Photo by David Lansing.

The owner of Castle Leslie, Sir John Leslie—or Uncle Jack as everyone calls him—is an odd bird. How could he not be? Born in 1916, he’s a walking, talking, breathing living history museum. His friends and relatives included Winston Churchill (and his mother), Ray Bolger (the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), and Alice Longworth (the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt). All long gone.

I don’t believe there’s a single soul alive with whom Uncle Jack could have a conversation that began, “Remember when we….” What must it be like to live in a world where you can’t have a conversation with a peer? Where you can’t share memories? Everyone he knew has passed on. Only Uncle Jack survives.

Anyway, Uncle Jack gave us a tour of his family home. He seemed equal parts thrilled and exasperated, largely because we didn’t follow along quickly enough. We’d hang back after he’d left a room to spend an extra moment or two looking at some magnificent piece of art his grandparents bought more than a century ago or an odd piano stool whose legs were bronze Victorian boots. He’d fiddle with his beret and say, “Do keep up or you’re going to miss what I’m saying!”

And then, after about 45 minutes of going up stairs and down stairs and showing us such oddities as the loo used by Winston Churchill’s mother, he seemed to lose steam, his palor going more pale than usual and his blue eyes glazing over.

“Jack, would you like me to finish the tour?” whispered one of the young women who help run Castle Leslie.

“That would be lovely,” he said weakly. Then he excused himself, saying he thought it was time, perhaps, for a nap. “But I’ll join you for dinner, if I’m able.”

He turned his back and slowly shuffled off, throwing a weak wave over his shoulder at us. A ghost going back to his room.

The hearth at Castle Leslie. Photo by David Lansing.

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Redbreast whiskey

The Irish whiskey selection at Castle Leslie. The 12-year-old Redbreast single-pot whiskey is perfect for a Dubliner. Photo by David Lansing.

My go-to cocktail is a Perfect Manhattan. Not “perfect” because I make the best in the world (although I pretty much do) but because it’s made with half sweet vermouth and half dry vermouth. I like it because it’s not as sweet as a regular Manhattan.

Still, I always feel guilty in the summer when I order a Perfect Manhattan. I mean, I should probably order a G + T, or a Tom Collins or a margarita. And I will. On occasion. Just not very often.

But in Ireland I never feel bad ordering a Manhattan in summer. Mostly because there is no summer in Ireland. What they call summer we’d call a nasty winter day in California. But the thing is, it’s hard to get a good Manhattan in Ireland. Mostly because they don’t know what bourbon is (not to mention rye). You have to ask the bartender how he makes them because usually it will be with Scotch. I even had a guy in a very nice bar in Dublin thinking he was doing me a favor by making me a Manhattan with Jack Daniels. Gross.

But I’ve found a solution. And that’s to order a Dubliner. The Dubliner cocktail was created by Gary Regan back in 1999 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in NYC. Gary is a character. He’s written a number of books, most notably The Joy of Mixology, and founded the Zen-sounding Institute for Mindful Bartending. I like that. It’s the sort of shit I would do: Zen bartending.

Anyway, Gary (who, for reasons only he would know, now goes by the name gaz regan—yes, it’s lowercase) is a big bourbon guy (he’s got at least three books out about bourbon, including The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys) so it’s not too surprising that the Dubliner is basically just his rif on a Manhattan. To whit, it’s made with 2 shots Irish whiskey, 1/2 shot sweet vermouth, 1/2 shot Grand Marnier, and a dash of his very own Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6. Shake over ice and strain in to a chilled cocktail glass.

I think the original recipe called for using Jameson, which makes sense for St. Patrick’s Day, but I generally ask the bartender to make it with my favorite Irish whiskey, 12 year old Redbreast. Try it. It’s lovely. By the way, gaz also invented the James Joyce Cocktail, which I also quite like. We’ll talk about that on another day.

A Dubliner cocktail.

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Castle Leslie, Ireland

The view of Castle Leslie on our arrival. Photo by David Lansing.

We’ve just arrived at Castle Leslie, situated on the banks of Glaslough, County Monaghan, which is where Paul McCartney married that dreadful woman Heather “Take-The-Money-and-Run” Mills almost a decade ago. But that’s not why we’re here. The daughter of some friends of ours was married here not too long ago and when they heard we would be traveling around Ireland they said we really should stay a night at Castle Leslie. So we are.

Later this afternoon we’re going to get a tour of the castle by the owner himself, Sir John Leslie (who everyone around here calls Uncle Jack). I’ve heard he’s quite the character. For one thing he’s damn near a hundred years old. Must be rather sprite to be giving tours of his castle at that age.

They’ve left a copy of his memoir in our room, “Never a Dull Moment,” which I fully intend to read. Just not right now. Here’s what the flyplate says: “Sir John Leslie, born a New Yorker in 1916, came to Ireland at the tender age of three. This is the story of his adventures across two continents.”

What adventures might those be? Well for one, he was a captain of the Irish Guards during WWII and spent five years in a German P.O.W. camp. That should be interesting reading. And then his bio says this: “At the ripe young age of 78 he returned to Ireland to live year-round in his family home, Castle Leslie…Where, just to keep things interesting, he took up night clubbing, to ‘shake up his liver,’ even going to Ibiza for his 85th birthday.”

A man after my own heart. I can’t wait to meet him.

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Joan Crawford at Glenveagh Castle

The fabulous Joan Crawford in the gardens of Glenveagh Castle, Ireland. Photos by David Lansing.

Ireland is always a surprise. Yesterday I got to hear Dean Martin play “Danny Boy” on the church organ at St. Columb’s Cathedral in Derry. Today I had lunch with Joan Crawford. And I must say, she looks great.

Now, just as it probably surprised you to learn that Dean Martin now plays the church organ at a cathedral in Northern Ireland, I’m sure it will come as a shock to discover that Joan Crawford was, for a couple of years anyway, a flight attendant with Aer Lingus.

I told her I was sure we’d flown together.

She smiled. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m sure of it.”

Anyway, Joan and I were having lunch at Glenveagh Castle, built in the 19th century by an Irishman, John George Adair, who made his fortune in Texas of all places.

There aren’t many who have a good word to say about Adair who was known for his hard drinking and fiery Irish temper. A story Joan Crawford told me was that one day Adair went hunting on land around the castle that he’d rented to tenants, which violated his rental agreements. The locals objected and Adair got pissed off. A year later, he evicted 47 families. More than 150 screaming children and their parents were ordered off the property, most with no idea where to go.

So, not a good man.

But here’s the postscript: He died in 1885 and the night before he was buried, a dead dog was thrown into his open grave by disgruntled locals. At Glenveagh, his wife had the face of a large rock inscribed with his name and the inscription “Brave, Just and Generous.” Which was too much even for god to swallow. Shortly thereafter, lightning in a thunderstorm broke the rock into many pieces which fell into the lake beside the castle.  And two years after his death, his country mansion in Belgrove, County Laois, mysteriously burnt to the ground. It was never rebuilt and the ruins, called “The Burnt House” by the locals, are just as they were.

Glenveagh Castle, Donegal.

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