George Leeke (c1833-1908) of Magilligan

GEORGE LEEKE (c1833-1908) was born Magilligan son of George Leeke of Upper Doaghs (1831 census). His father George Leeke died 2nd April 1835 aged 36 years (family headstone St Aidan's Catholic cemetery).

In the 1901 census for Aughtymoyle, Magilligan George Leeke gave his occupation as Grain merchant, Grocer and Publican. He was a member of Limavady Rural District Council for the Bellarena division. 

The coming of the railways to Magilligan and Limavady opened up potential markets throughout Ireland and further afield. Bellarena railway station opened in 1853 and George Leeke soon established a business there selling and exporting local produce and advertised in local newspapers. He exported fish, game and poultry from the station in Bellarena.

Londonderry Sentinel 6 Oct 1863
George Leek
Fish, Game and Poultry Dealer
Bellarena Station

George Leeke was a Magilligan man to the core. He built up extensive business interests and invested in the local infrastructure of Magilligan. We learn from the Derry Journal  that in 1880 George Leeke built and opened 'a handsome new hotel at Magilligan Point' (Derry Journal 12 July 1880). This could be the site of the present Point Bar.  He also owned a hotel at Bellarena Station (Belfast Telegraph 21 Jan 1908). He had new roads made from Bellarena Station to Magilligan Point a distance of 5 miles 'so keenly was he interested in the development of that part of the country' (Belfast Telegraph 21 June 1908). He also pushed hard in the development of the Inishowen (Greencastle) to Magilligan ferry scheme (Northern Whig 20 Jan 1908). 

In the winter season Mr Leeke shipped game extensively while in the summer he had large salmon fisheries (Belfast Telegraph 21 Jan 1908). His fisheries passed to his son George Leeke, junior M.P and was run by two local men Willie and John Butcher who were his tenants. 

In 1887 George Leeke appealed for the construction of a fishery pier at Magilligan (Coleraine Chronicle 2 July 1887) and was described as an enthusiastic 'organiser of fishing industry at the mouth of the Foyle' (L'Derry Sentinel 21 Jan 1908). His business interests extended beyond Magilligan. In 1882 he acquired the well-known hotel at Portrush known as 'Coleman's' and made extensive and expensive improvements (Derry Journal 12 July 1882). It became known as 'Leek's Portrush hotel'. George Leeke also advertised horse racing at Magilligan Strand and was responsible for helping to establish an annual military summer camp at Magilligan (Northern Whig 20 Jan 1908). However, in 1900 he objected to the hospital in the Martello Tower at Magilligan Point 'from being used as a plague hospital'.

George Leeke was married twice firstly in 1867 to Mary Ann Begley of Ballyclose, Limavady daughter of John Begley, a spirit-dealer and merchant. George Leeke's mother in law Ellen Begley (nee Devenny) ran the public house in Ballyclose until her death in 1880. George Leeke was executor of her will and applied for a transfer of the spirit licence to his name for a period of two years as Mrs Begley had a son in Australia who hoped to return (L'Derry Sentinel 13 July 1880). George Leeke's first wife died prematurely of consumption in 1872 and was buried in St Aidan's cemetery.

George Leeke was remarried in 1874 in Magilligan Catholic Church to Mary Lurting (a daughter of William Lurting and Annie Cust) and they had issue in 1881 George Leeke junior who would become the nationalist MP for Derry (in the 1920s and 1930s).  It is interesting to note the English surnames Leeke, Lurting and Cust in close combination and these families were all present in Magilligan in the 17th century due to the influence of the local landlords, the Gage family of Northampton, who rented much of Magilligan from the Bishop of Derry (Tamlaghard was mostly Churchland). Gage encouraged the migration of protestant settlers from England to his estate. By the late nineteenth century the Leeke, Cust and Lurting families in this study had converted to Catholicism. Magilligan was a parish where native Catholic population was strongly embedded and it was probably through mixed marriage arrangements that some of the original planter families became Catholic.

George Leeke died 19 January 1908 and his funeral service was held at St Aidan's Catholic Church. It was reported in the press that his was the largest funeral ever seen in Magilligan. A report in the Derry Journal stated 'practically it might be said that all Magilligan turned out to the funeral, while there was a large representation of the inhabitants of Inishowen and parts of County Antrim, including Belfast' (Derry Journal 22 Jan 1908). The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph reported that the 'remains of this well-known gentleman, whose business brought him into contact with many Ulster merchants but with business men in Liverpool & other English cities were this Tuesday morning in Tamlaghtard burying ground Magilligan' (Ballymena Weekly Telegraph 25 January 1908). The chief mourners were Mr George Leek (son); Mr William Lurton (brother in law) & Mr George Trainor (cousin). 

His wife Mary (Lurting) Leeke would outlive him by 24 years and passed away in 1932. She was the last of the Lurting family of Magilligan and her lineage can be traced directly to a Henry Lurting (born c1630) who was described in 1660 in the Liverpool Poll Book as 'Hen Lurting, Gent, Merchantman, of Londonderry'. It was his son John Lurting (c1660-1736) who chose to settle in Magilligan after marrying Catherine Cust, the daughter of Henry Cust (a Magilligan man who had been at the siege of Derry). Descendants of Henry Cust also settled in Armagh city (see 'Ways to Wealth: the Cust family of eighteenth century Armagh, Jan 1985 Leslie.A Clarkson & E.M Crawford).


George Leeke (died 30 March 1939) was an Irish nationalist politician. 

He was educated at St Columb's College. The family continued to run the family businesses established by their father and had the fishery, the hotel at Magilligan Point and The Portrush Hotel on Main Street of Portrush (run by sisters Jennie, Maggie and Rose). George is also listed as a Grain and General Merchant in Portrush. He was elected to Londonderry County Council for the Nationalist Party. In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, Leeke was elected in the Londonderry seat, although he did not take his seat until 1926. In 1929 his seat was abolished, and he instead won the Mid-Derry seat, which he held until his death in 1939. He was active in the Ancient Order of Hibernians. 

He died at his sister's Mrs McCambridge, Landsdowne Hotel, Portrush on 30 March 1939.


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