© Alex Watson 2017 All rights reserved.
Raymond Saville Conolly de Montmorency Lecky Browne Lecky of Ecclesville
Raymond has been described as "theatrical" and "flamboyant", he was an amateur actor, musician and noted female impersonator known as “TIBBY”, he was often seen in Fintona and Omagh, in his chauffeur driven two toned green Austin 16 motorcar. His favourite colour was mauve, he is remembered wearing a velvet cloak and Tyrolean hat, his fingers were covered in diamond rings and he had a gold chain attached to his spectacles.
Raymond lead a privileged life, he did not have to work for a living, as he had a substantial income form his family estate, he liked the finer things in life and had a natural talent for the arts, he learned to play the piano and studied singing, his great love was performing, during the ‘Season’ in Dublin guests were frequently invited to attend his ‘at home’ performances. At Ecclesville he converted an outbuilding into a private theatre, it was from here that he invited local dignitaries and other Ascendancy families to his charitable performances were he raised a great deal of money for local and national causes.
Unfortunately there have been a few misleading accounts about Raymond’s early life, and his mother having dressed him “as a girl after the age when this was customary” due to her “longing for a daughter” (Mark Bence-Jones, Twilight of the ascendancy, Constable, 1987).
Raymond was born in 1881 he was the second child of Anna & Conolly Browne-Lecky, his sister, Isabella Caroline Annie was born in 1879, she married 1st Kenneth Warden, they divorced and she then married Charles Ernest William Bland of Colsterworth House, Lincolnshire.
Another account claims that Raymond became a resident in his own home, after Ecclesville became a nursing home (Picnic in a Foreign Land by Ann Morrow, Grafton Books 1990).
Raymond left Ecclesville in his will to the Government of Northern Ireland, who in turn leased the house to a lady from Belfast who ran a Nursing home until about 1978 when the house was demolished.
There is a rather amusing story from “The figure in the cave” by John Montague & Antoinette Quinn, Syracuse University Press, 1989,
“Old Browne-Lecky was as sceptical about his compulsory American visitors, the officers who had taken over his stately home. He told me in his quavering voice that they had disturbed his great-aunt by their bad manners. Although dead many years, she made a nightly tour of the Georgian mansion and greatly resented being challenged by a sentry. One night as she sailed past on her tour of inspection the baffled poor man fired right through her. According to Raymond, an actor of the old school as well as an aristocrat, she turned on her well-bred heel, and came back towards the sentry. “Young man, she said, waving a fleshless finger, “whoever you are, and wherever you are from, you have no savoir faire. One simply does not fire on anyone, especially a lady, and especially dead, in their own home.”
Raymond’s sister Isabella Bland died at her home, Colsterworth house, Lincolnshire in 1956, she wished for her ashes to be deposited in the grave of her father and mother in the old Church yard at Fintona. A small memorial stone can be seen at the foot of her parent’s grave. Following Isabella’s death Raymond made a new will, In life he had been flamboyant and theatrical, in death he desired “to be buried in the same grave as my Father and Mother in the old Churchyard at Fintona and that the Funeral arrangements shall be of a simple character.”
Raymond died on 11th November 1961, Remembrance day, aged 80. His beloved home Ecclesville was according to his will to be:
“handed over to the Government of Northern Ireland or such other public body as the Government may desire my Mansion House and Lands known as Ecclesville upon the following conditions:-
(a) That my estate shall be indemnified or relieved from payment of any death duties on the said property and that the said property shall not be aggregated with the rest of my estate so as to increase the rate of duty on such estate.”
The treasure trove of antiques, paintings, silver, jewellery etc that had been collected by successive generations of the Eccles family over the past nearly 300 years, were to be sold at an auction held by John Ross & Co of Belfast, it was to be held in the house at Ecclesville. The sale attracted buyers from around the world and raised a record amount of money for the time £23,500.
Newspapers advertised the sale of the House and contents, it would appear that the house did not attract a buyer and subsequently it was leased for many years until 1978 when it was demolished.
Moira Douglas from the Belfast Telegraph reported the following:
“Mrs. May Knox-Browne, widow of Mr. Mervyn Knox-Browne, of Aughentaine Castle, who has been living at Ecclesville for the past five or six years.
It was Mrs. Knox-Browne who told me about the beautiful Amy Eccles, who sold her family home to her Uncle by marriage, a Lecky-Browne-Lecky. Amy’s portrait hangs in the music room. She married a McClintock and went to live at nearby Seskinore. “A wonderful girl. Very rich – and she spent the lot.”
Amy’s portrait would appear to have been sold in the auction, it was however actually bequeathed by Raymond in his will as follows:
“To Hand over to the Dean and Chapter of Londonderry Cathedral all my family portraits (except the portrait of Mrs. McClintock which I hereby bequeath to her granddaughter who is my second cousin, Xeina Johnstone Wreeford),” [sic]
If anybody knows the whereabouts of this portrait, please get in touch, Xenia would very much like a copy of it!
There were several other bequests, after which Raymond directed his Trustees:
“to hold all the remainder of my estate Upon Trust as to one half thereof for the Trustees of the Charity in aid of members of the theatrical profession now located at Denville Hall, Northwood, Middlesex, to be applied by them for the purposes of said Charity, the receipt of the Treasurer or Honorary Secretary thereof for the time being to be a good discharge to my Trustees and as to the remaining one half of my said estate Upon Trust for the Musicians Benevolent Fund c/o St. Cecilia’s House, Carlos Place, London, W.1., the receipt of the Treasurer thereof for the time being to be a good discharge to my Trustees.”
Raymond had inherited property in Londonderry from his Great Grand Uncle Conolly McCausland Lecky of Castle Lecky, Co. Londonderry. Eventually the title to the remaining properties became vested in the two charities in 1993.
In 2006 nearly fifty years after the death of Raymond Browne-Lecky, I discovered that not only did Xenia not receive the portrait of her Grandmother left to her by Raymond, the two charities that he wished to benefit from his estate did not know what had eventually happened to the trust.
I asked the charities if I could investigate what had happened to the residue of Raymond’s estate, they were happy for me to do this.
After several visits to PRONI and the Land Registry in Belfast, the residue of the trust was identified, then in 2010 the file for the Trust was located at the Musicians Benevolent Fund, this confirmed my calculations of unpaid ground rent which amounted to almost £10,000. going back to shortly after the title was vested in the Charities names in 1993.
I met with Julie McCullough a reporter from the BBC in Northern Ireland in August 2011 and explained the situation, Julie agreed to investigate further. Julie’s report aired in November 2011, it can be seen below:
A scrapbook at PRONI, covers a period of his theatrical life, he clearly understood the position that his birth had placed him in and he was keen to put his talent to entertain to good use, to raise money for people less fortunate than himself. There are many news clips about performances that he held: “annual concert for the poor of the town of Fintona” Irish Society, Sept 1910, “concert for the winter coal fund at Warrenpoint” Irish Independent, Oct 1910, “concert for the Woman’s Health Association”, Tyrone Constitution , Sept 1911.
There were several dramatic and musical evenings held to raise money for the Titanic disaster relief fund in 1912, “The Soldiers’ and Sailors families association” in 1914 and many more causes.
In the Abbey theatre in Dublin, Raymond held a dramatic evening on the 9th March 1914, the patrons of the event were the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn and the proceeds were in aid of the poor in Fintona, unfortunately Raymond was unwell due to a cold and unable to perform himself however the night was a success as the newspapers of the time show:
“The attendance at the Abbey Theatre on Monday night must have established a record, and seldom has so smart an audience been seen there. Even the back seats in the pit and gallery were gladly taken by society folk who had not booked early. Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky may well feel proud of his success as promoter of the entertainment”.
There have been several accounts written about Raymond, they show a man with a very quick wit and flair for being a bit of a drama queen;
“About 1960, when he was nearly eighty, Tibby gave a tea party at which one of the guests was Miss Helen Bonaparte Wyse, a member of a County Waterford Ascendancy family descended in the female line from Lucien Bonaparte, After tea Miss Bonaparte Wyse, who appeared to be a typical Ascendancy spinster of a certain age in tweeds, went out to her car and returned carrying a suitcase from which she produced some sheaves of manuscript and a Napoleon hat. Donning the latter, she proceeded to give very long and very stirring Napoleonic recitations of her own composition. Tibby, in his mauve velvet jacket, began to shift about uneasily. If anybody was to steal the stage it should be himself. He turned to one of the male guests and in his high-pitched voice said: “Rather amateurish, don’t you think?”
Miss Bonaparte Wyse was impervious to such asides. On she went: Austerlitz, Jena, la Grande Armee, the retreat from Moscow, the Old Guard; no detail was missed. “Rather Amateurish, don’t you think?” repeated her host, in an even more penetrating voice. But Miss Bonaparte Wyse went on. When at last her recitations were over, they turned out to have been only the first part of the performance, for she sat down at the piano and crashed into Rachmaninoff. Her chords were not enough to drown the voice of Tibby as he turned yet again to his neighbour. “Rather amateurish, don’t you think?” (Mark Bence-Jones, Twilight of the ascendancy, Constable, 1987).
On Tuesday, November 25th, most excellent amateur theatricals were given by Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky in Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone. “The Ghost,” a play in one act, by Charles Pender, and “Her New Dressmaker” being the plays presented. In the former piece Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky appeared as the ambitious would-be Member of Parliament, “Horace Overend,” and scored a distinct success. Miss Margaret Waring made a very charming “Ethel Desmond,” and acted throughout with great judgement, she wore a most becoming dress of grey and white ninon, the skirt draped “en Panier,” swathed in “ciel” blue satin and a very attractive black velvet hat. Mr Cristie made quite a “hit” as “Frank Wakeley,” and won great applause for his finished rendering of by no means an easy part. Mr. Wilson Guy deserves special praise for his excellent rendering of the part of “Peter” (an old servant), which was most admirably played. In the sketch, “Her New Dressmaker,” Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky fairly brought down the “house,” appearing in the role of a young widow, “Mrs. Forbes,” his “make-up” and disguise being so perfect that many of the audience were completely mystified, and refused to believe that the charming lady was, after all only a “mere man.” Mr. Raymond Browne-Lecky’s gown was as follows:- The “jupe” very full, “en cloche” draped with a “Volant” of “point d’Alencon” ; the “corsage” in “crepe de chine,” encircled with a “cincture of passementerie,” “manches en gigot,” veiled with a “Volant de dentelle,” the Rev. J. Hunter was equally successful, and played his part splendidly; both actors received quite an ovation at the fall of the curtain.
XMAS NUMBER 1913.