Famous cowgirl and buffalo hunter’s Laois retreat for sale

Belgrove’s very own Calamity Jane used to return to this Ballybrittas cottage after her Irish husband passed away

Asking price: €675,000

Agent: DNG Kelly (057) 8663333)​

Locals around Ballybrittas in Laois still talk about the locality’s very own Calamity Jane — the wealthy American rancher Cornelia Wadsworth, whose extensive fortunes became entangled with the area when she met John G. Adair at a ball in New York City in 1867.

The diarist and rancher, whose ancestors had founded the town of Hartford in Connecticut, fell head over heels for the Laois-based landowner.

Cornelia’s father, who was a general on the Union side in the Civil War, owned over 50,000 acres outside Geneseo in New York State and from a young age, she became a capable horsewoman who participated in cattle round-ups on the family ranch.

Adair, known also as Jack, was a Scots-Irish landowner who’d made his fortune buying up estates at knockdown prices in post-Famine Ireland.

The exterior of the property

He and Cornelia were married two years later, and divided their time between Ireland, England and the US. With Adair and the legendary US cattle man Charles Goodnight, Cornelia set up the JA Ranch in New York State.

Adair’s ancestral home was Belgrove House, an impressive mansion on an estate in Ballybrittas, Co Laois, and the couple spent much of their time here. After they married, they renovated Belgrove House and changed its name to Rathdaire House.

It didn’t take much for Cornelia to turn the Laois man into a full-blown cowboy. A trip to the States in 1874 saw them embark on a wild buffalo hunt in Nebraska and Colorado, where they attended a council of US military and Oglala Sioux, detailed by Cornelia in her published diaries.

Cornelia Wadsworth Adair

Adair died in 1885 however, and two years later, their grandiose country pile in Laois was destroyed by a fire, reputed to have been accidental.

Between 1891 and the 1920s, the lands of the estate were broken up and gradually sold off.

But Cornelia had been active in the States and by 1917, she owned half a million acres of land there and 48,000 head of cattle.

Despite also having a luxury home in London’s Mayfair, the twice-married Cornelia continued to return to Ballybrittas after the fire. However, the house had been burnt to a cinder and was uninhabitable.

The couple went on a buffalo hunt in 1874

“She used to stay in Rathdaire Cottage, which had previously been a schoolhouse,” says Paul McGarry, who originally comes from Mount Merrion. He owns the house now with his wife Maria, a textile designer from Laois.

Built in 1824 as a schoolhouse for the children of the estate, the 3,370 sq ft stone cottage originally comprised of just two big classrooms, which are now the kitchen/dining room and the master bedroom.

In the 1970s, a more modern two-storey section, including three bedrooms, a bathroom and a utility room, was added.

Owners Paul and Maria McGarry in Rathdaire Cottage. Photo: Barbara McCarthy

At the turn of the century, the now five-bedroom house was used as a rectory and later inhabited by several local families. Paul and Maria bought it in 2006.

The couple had been living in Kildare and, before that, in the UK and Belgium. They have four grown-up daughters — Grace, Jenny, Martha and Emily — who were living with them at the time.

The cottage was in relatively good repair when they bought it, but given its age, has required maintenance over the years.

“We didn’t change it radically, but we repaired the roof, added insulation to the walls and upgraded the central heating,” says Paul, who has worked for Colgate and Palmolive.

The kitchen/dining room has a distinctly cottage feel. Here, the presses, the Belfast sink and the unusually shaped island in the middle were there when they moved in.

The dining room

The cupboards and island have been painted blue, which combines well with the yellow walls and multicoloured tiles to give it a homely feel.

“The kitchen would have been one of the classrooms originally,” says Maria. “It’s always been the heart of the house and where everyone gathers.”

There’s a high ceiling here and an original fireplace with decorative tiles in the dining section, which has a long wooden pine table and chairs.

There are five reception rooms in the house and the front-hall room is one.

The home office

This was also a classroom originally and retains the original floor tiles and panelling on the stone walls. There’s a long dining room table and chairs here now and the family use it for entertaining.

“It’s a beautiful room at Christmas as it really lends itself to decorations,” says Maria.

The main sitting room has an original fireplace made of Kilkenny marble and the couple added a stove. They use this room mostly to watch TV in the evening.

“The beauty of a house this size is we could be in the sitting room and the kids could be in another part of the house,” says Paul.

There’s a study, which also has an original fireplace and would be suitable for working from home.

The living room

Although now retired, Paul used to work in Citywest and could be there in 45 minutes by car.

“Dublin is an easy commute,” he says. “You can also be in Ballybrittas in five minutes with access to all amenities.”

The house is near to the Electric Picnic site, which means they can hear the music during the festival every summer.

“My daughters used to bring big groups of friends in on their way to the festival,” says Maria.

The house is on a 2.5-acre site and includes a separate field, which is currently not in use, but could be used for farming or keeping horses.

The couple are selling the house now as the children have moved away.

Cornelia ‘Ninia’ Wadsworth Ritchie (right) is inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Photo: Getty Images

“We plan to downsize and are considering our options about where to live,” says Paul. “We love the house and have been happy here, but it’s simply too big for us now.”

Meantime, Cornelia died in 1921 aged 84 and, in accordance with her wishes, was buried with her husband in Ballybrittas.

Today, Cornelia’s great granddaughter, Cornelia ‘Ninia’ Wadsworth Ritchie, continues her ancestor’s trailblazing tradition as boss of the JA Ranch, now located at Colorado.

In 2009, she was voted into the National Cowgirl Museum’s Hall of Fame for ranching trailblazers.

DNG Kelly seeks €675,000.