By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — There was tight security and a huge media presence this week around the estate of the baronial-style Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, where about 300 friends and celebrities joined ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and former model Heather Mills for the biggest show business wedding of the year.
The singer-songwriter and his bride-to-be flew into the grounds by helicopter on Sunday, three days before the celebrations, which were to take place today, according to McCartney’s official spokesman Geoff Baker.
The castle at Glaslough, just south of the border with Northern Ireland, has been besieged for days as the picturesque grounds remained sealed off, three marquees were erected and joined by covered walkways, and other preparations made.
Spokespersons at the castle — now run as an upmarket hotel — had been denying all the activity had anything to do with McCartney’s magical marital mystery tour. However, the uncle of the castle’s owner, Sir John Leslie, 85, let the cat out of the bag last week to reporters laying siege in Glaslough.
Sporting a peacock’s feather in his beret, he said last week: “We are told vaguely it is next Tuesday . . . but it is all secret, I have to keep it dead secret. They might do something at the last minute or change it, you never know.”
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Some celebrity watchers had predicted the event might have been scheduled for the Hamptons in New York or in Scotland’s Skibo Castle, where Madonna married last year.
Rock legend McCartney, 59, one of two surviving members of the Beatles, met Mills, 34, a campaigner for the disabled, three years ago and they became engaged last July. She lost her leg when she was hit by a police motorcycle in 1993.
McCartney’s marriage to Mills will be his second, after the death in 1998 of his first wife, Linda, from breast cancer.
The former Beatle, who received a knighthood from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 1997, has a son, two daughters — including fashion designer Stella — and a step-daughter.
McCartney visited Castle Leslie last year during a trip to trace his Monaghan roots. The family of his mother, Mary Mohin, are believed to have come from Tullynamalrow, Co. Monaghan, and, on his father’s side, the McCartneys are also believed to have emigrated from Ireland.
The estate, with its helipad and three lakes, has been the home of the colorful Leslie clan since the 1700s. The current castle dates from the 1870s, when it was entirely rebuilt on its lakeside setting for the first Leslie baronet.
It is currently run by Samantha Leslie and previous guests have included Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, the Westlife group and the Swedish royal family.
The family, who are cousins of British wartime leader Winston Churchill, claims to be able to trace their ancestry back to Attila the Hun and to have arrived in Ireland via Hungary and Scotland.
Three successive patriarchs were MPs in the 18th and 19th centuries.
With their motto, “Grip Fast,” the family has had more than its far share of eccentrics.
The estate, which at one stage ran to 44,000 acres, had originally been established by the “Fighting” Bishop John Leslie in 1665.
Samantha’s uncle, Sir John, has recently received widespread publicity for his late conversion to rave music and disco dancing. A former war veteran and German POW, he featured in a TV documentary last month about his love of clubbing and what he calls “boom boom” music and his visit to the Manumission Club in Ibiza.
Sir John’s father, Shane, was a writer and passionate nationalist who became a Catholic and at one stage entered a monastery. Suffering ill-health as a result of his wartime incarceration, Sir John made the estate over to his sister Anita and went to live in Rome until the mid 1990s.
Anita had a distinguished war career and was awarded two Croix de Guerre by General Charles de Gaulle for service in occupied France. She in turn made the estate over to another brother, Desmond, who died last year.
Desmond had variously been a British fighter pilot, best-selling author, enthusiast for electronic music, filmmaker and spiritualist. He was an early promoter of flying saucers and UFOs and co-authored one of the first books on the phenomenon in the 1950s. He struggled to make the estate pay and set up a nightclub, Annabel’s on the Bog, modeled on the famous Annabel’s of London. It was an idea before its time in remote Monaghan and it subsequently failed.
Weddings in old Irish churches and fairytale castles are popular with publicity-shy celebrities. In July 1999, England soccer captain and Manchester United midfielder David Beckham and Spice Girl Victoria “Posh” Adams tied the knot and had a lavish reception at the French-owned Luttrellstown Castle retreat for the rich in Castleknock, Co. Dublin.
In August 2001, Navan-born James Bond star Pierce Brosnan and former model Keely Shaye-Smith married in the 800-year-old Ballintubber Abbey in County Mayo and had their reception in the nearby 13th century Ashford Castle hotel in Cong.
Both ceremonies had been shrouded in secrecy after international picture magazines had bought up the rights.