A Landlord’s Legacy

The striking remains of Bellegrove, County Laois, which has remained a ruin ever since being accidentally gutted by fire in 1887. The core of the house dates from the early 19th century: in 1814, when owned by Thomas Trench, Dean of Kildare, it was described as ‘newly built in a superior style.’ However, the Italianate villa seen today was created much later, in the early 1870s, its architect thought to be William Caldbeck, although other names (among them James Franklin Fuller and Sir Thomas Newenham Deane) have also bee suggested. By this time Bellegrove was occupied by John George Adair, his mother having been one of the dean’s daughters. Much given to buying up estates and then either raising the rents or ejecting the tenants, Adair was one of the most reviled landlords of the period; when collecting rents in Laois, he had to be given a police escort. Eleswhere in the country, in County Donegal he acquired 28,000 acres and there in the late 1860s built the Scottish Baronial-style Glenveagh Castle on land that had been cleared. By this time, Adair had married a rich American widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie, and together they profitably invested in a large Texan ranch (the JA Ranch, its initial’s being those of Adair) which grew to over 700,000 acres, thereby further increasing his wealth. Two years after his (unlamented) death in 1885 Bellegrove was, as mentioned, destroyed by fire but not restored by his widow. What remains today is only part of a formerly larger building, since a substantial winter garden (to the right of the house in the photograph below) designed by Sir Thomas Deane & Son in 1865 has since been taken down; some of the columns in its grand arcade – inspired by the cloister of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome – were rescued and can be seen elsewhere in the county.

3 comments on “A Landlord’s Legacy

  1. Lawrie Weed says:

    who owns the property now?

  2. Bob F says:

    Thank you Robert, an interesting piece.
    The windows do have an air of Fuller about them. The Italianate hood mouldings are quite reminiscent of his work at St. Annes, Raheny. He definitely is a contender as the widow of John George (‘Jack’) Adair ( a wealthy American heiress) commissioned Fuller to design a church in memory of her husband in the same locality c1875, so perhaps Fuller might had a hand in some superficial alterations/window dressing?
    Adair had a half-interest in the JA Ranch, his partner being Charles Goodnight. Adair was the ‘seed’ that led to several members of the British aristocracy investing is cattle ranches in the US, notably in Wyoming, e.g. the ill-fated Powder River Cattle Company.

Leave a Reply