Sunday 31 March 2013

(22) Adair of Bellegrove and Glenveagh Castle

Adair of Bellegrove
The Adairs of Rath claimed descent from Col. Sir Robert Adair (1659-1745), knighted by King William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, whose ancestors were the Adairs of Kinhilt (q.v.) in Wigtownshire.  Thomas Adair of Clonterry (Leix) died in 1758, and his grandson John (c1731-1809) was apparently the first to settle at Rath (also known as Rathdaire), near Ballybrittas (Leix).  His son George (b. 1784) built a new house on the estate about 1835, which became known as Bellegrove (occasionally Belgrove).  

George's only son, John George Adair (1823-85), originally intended for the Foreign Office, proved to have too fiery a temperament and to restless a spirit for the diplomatic service, and went to America where he made money in brokerage and land speculation.  In 1857-59 he bought up land in Co. Donegal to form the Glenveagh estate, from which over 200 tenants were ruthlessly cleared in 1861.  Here, between 1867 and 1873 he built Glenveagh Castle in a Scots Baronial style to the design of his cousin, J.T. Trench.  He also added a large winter garden to Bellegrove in 1869, to the design of Sir T.N. Deane.  In 1869 he married a wealthy widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie (1838-1921), and they divided their time between Ireland and America, where they lived first in New York and later in Denver.  

In 1874, during a hunting trip, they met a Texas cattleman, Charles Goodnight (1836-1929), who persuaded them to purchase land for cattle ranching on the open range in the beautiful Palo Duro country southeast of Amarillo, Texas, where the cattle had sufficient water, excellent grass in summer and could winter comfortably in the protection afforded by the canyon walls. Adair and Goodnight entered into a partnership, by which Adair put up the money for building a massive ranch in the canyon, and Goodnight would became the manager of the ranch and supplied the initial herd of cattle. Adair financed two thirds of the cost, and Goodnight borrowed his one-third share at 10 percent interest from Adair. Goodnight would also draw a $2,500 annual salary. It was Goodnight’s suggestion that the ranch be named the “JA Ranch” from the initials of his partner.  Goodnight had a free hand in managing the ranch and rapidly increased the acreage through shrewd land purchases.  As a result the undertaking had made a profit of $510,000 by the end of the first five-year contract. Goodnight continued as manager until 1888, by which time Adair had died and been succeeded by his widow.  She was sole owner of the ranch until her death, and it remained in her family, passing to the descendants of her first marriage.  Her grandson, Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth “Montie” Ritchie (1910–1999), worked at the ranch and was the manager from 1935 until his retirement in 1993.  For the history of the ranch, see here.

Cornelia Adair (1837-1921)
Although Cornelia Adair became a British citizen and continued to divide her time between England, Ireland and the USA in her widowhood, her children and grandchildren were and remained American at heart and the Irish estates did not remain in the family long after she died in 1921.  Bellegrove had anyway been burnt out in 1887 and was not rebuilt; it remains a ruin.  Glenveagh was sold in 1929 to another American, Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter.  After he disappeared in mysterious circumstances from Inishbofin in 1933 (an episode which is now the subject of a book, soon to be made into a film), the castle was sold in 1937 to an Irish-American art collector and connoisseur, Henry Plumer McIlhenny (1910-86).  He sold the estate to the Office of Public Works as a National Park in 1975, and gave the castle and grounds to the Irish government in 1981.

Bellegrove, Rath, Leix

Bellegrove in 2006. The greenery has since been removed from the ruins.

A large Regency house of c.1835, built for George Adair round three sides of an entrance court, which was later filled in as a winter garden by J.G. and Cornelia Adair.  This immense conservatory, designed by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane, had Romanesque arcades supported by pairs of ornate terracotta columns, copied from those in St John Lateran in Rome.  Having been burned in 1887 the house was not restored as the Adairs had moved their principal home to Glenveagh Castle in Donegal.  The winter garden was demolished in 1970, but the ruins of the original building were still standing and free of ivy in 2011.  A gate lodge is known to have been designed by William Farrell, who may have been the architect of the house as well.

Descent: John Adair (c.1731-1809); to son, George Adair (1784-c.1850); to son, John George Adair (1823-85), to widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Adair (formerly Ritchie) (1837-1921); sold by her or her executors... in 1935 the estate was acquired and divided among the tenants by the Irish Land Commission.

Glenveagh Castle, Donegal

Glenveagh Castle

A Victorian Baronial castle of rough-hewn granite at the end of a wooded promontory jutting out into Lough Veagh, surrounded by the bare and desolate hills of a deer-forest.  It was built in 1870-73 by John George Adair of Bellegrove (Leix), whose wife was a rich American heiress, and was designed by his cousin, John Townsend Trench.  Construction was interrupted by a fire in 1872 when the house was approaching completion. The castle consists of a frowning keep with Irish battlements, flanked by a lower round tower and other buildings; the effect being one of feudal strength; the entrance lies through a walled courtyard.  

Glenveagh Castle from above.  © Jen Doyle

In the mid 20th century, Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia, whose hospitality was legendary, decorated and furnished the interior of the castle with a mixture of Georgian and Victorian style and modern luxury, in a way that contrasted splendidly with the rugged medievalism of the exterior and the wildness of the surroundings.  
Glenveagh Castle: the library in 1973. 

He also made what is now one of the great gardens of the British Isles: there are terraces with busts and statues, a formal pool by the side of the lough, an Italian garden, and a walled garden containing a Gothic orangery designed by M. Philippe Julian, while the hillside above the castle is planted with a wonderful variety of rare and exotic trees and shrubs.
Glenveagh Castle gardens © Chris Gunns.  Licenced under a Creative Commons licence

Descent: John George Adair (1823-85), who built Glenveagh; to widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Adair (formerly Ritchie) (1837-1921); to son, Montgomery Ritchie (d. 1924); sold 1929 to Prof. Arthur Kingsley Porter (1883-?1933); sold to Henry McIlhenny (1910-86), who gave to the Irish government 1981.

The Adair family of Bellegrove and Glenveagh Castle

John Adair (c.1731-1809) of Rath.  Elder son of Archibald Adair and his wife Jane, daughter of Mark Anthony Chateneuf; born c.1731.  He married 26 February 1776, Rebecca, eldest child of George Maquay of Dublin, esquire and had issue:
(1) George Adair (1784-after 1850) (q.v.);
(2) John Adair (1792-1839), dsp; 
(3) Elizabeth Adair; 
(4) Jane Adair, m. F.W. Fortescue of Miltown Grange (Louth) esq.; 
(5) Mary Adair; 
(6) Sarah Adair; 
(7) Charlotte Adair.
He purchased an estate at Rath (Leix) on which Bellegrove was built by his son.
He died 14 July 1809.

George Adair (1784-1873), of Bellegrove.  Elder son of John Adair (c.1731-1809) and his wife Rebecca, daughter of George Maquay of Dublin; born 13 September 1784.  JP and DL for Co. Leix; High Sheriff of Leix in 1822.  In 1850 he created a model farm on the estate which won him prizes for modern agricultural methods but led to the eviction of some tenants.  He married 16 May 1822 Elizabeth (1794-1823), second daughter of the Very Rev. Thomas Trench, Dean of Kildare, and had issue:
(1) John George Adair (1823-85) (q.v.).
He inherited the estate at Rath from his father in 1809 and built Bellegrove House there in 1835.  He probably made over the estate to his son before his death.
He died on 2 August 1873 and was buried on 6 August at Coolbanagher church (Leix).  His wife died 21 March 1823, two weeks after the birth of their son, and is commemorated by a monument at Coolbanagher.

John George (known as Jack) Adair (1823-85), of Bellegrove and later of Glenveagh Castle.  Only child of George Adair (1784-1873) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Very Rev. Thomas Trench; born 3 March 1823.  Educated at Trinity College, Dublin.  High Sheriff of Co. Leix, 1867 and Co. Donegal, 1874.  He set up a brokerage business in the United States in the 1860s and later became a ranch owner and property speculator.  Although he did not inherited Bellegrove until 1873, he was probably in control of the estate for some years before his father's death.  He married, 30 May 1867 at the English episcopal church, Paris (France), Cornelia (1837-1921), daughter of Gen. James Samuel Wadsworth of New York and widow of Col. Montgomery Ritchie, but died without issue.
Bellegrove was apparently made over to him during his father's lifetime and he was listed as owning 9,655 acres in Co. Leix in 1872.  He was probably responsible for adding a winter garden designed by Sir T.N. Deane 1869.  In 1857-59 he purchased land in Co. Donegal to form a new estate at Glenveagh, where he built Glenveagh Castle to the designs of his cousin, J.T. Trench.  At his death his estates passed to his widow and the Irish properties were sold after her death.
He died 4 May 1885 in St. Louis (USA), and is buried in The Lea Church, Killenard, Leix; his will was proved in Dublin, 2 July 1885 (estate in England, £14).  His widow died 22 September 1921.


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1863; M. Bence-Jones, A guide to Irish country houses, 2nd edn, 1988, pp. 139, 291; E. Malins & P. Bowe, Irish Gardens and Demesnes from 1830, 1980, pp. 56-57;;

Where are their papers?

Adair family of Bellegrove and Glenveagh Castle: no significant archive is known.

Revision & Acknowledgements

This post was first published on 31 March 2013 and was revised 3 April 2015 and 17 February 2017. I am grateful for additional information supplied by Raymond Blair.



  2. Cornelia Adair's ashes lie in The Church of the Ascension, Rathdaire, Ballybrittas, Co. Laois. She had the church built, 1887-1890, as a memorial to her husband, John George, and his father, George. When she died in London,1921, her ashes were brought back to Rathdaire and deposited in the wall of the church.

  3. I have been trying to find out about our family history
    My great grandfathers name is Crate Adair. We are of Scottish & Irish decent.But that's all I know.

  4. John George Adair , his wife and her son are buried in Killenard Cemetery (St Johns) in the village of the same name in County Laois.


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.