Fodor's Expert Review Emo Court and Gardens

Portarlington Historic Home Fodor's Choice

History, architecture, and nature merge in a happy commingling at Emo Court, a quintessential landmark of Irish Palladian elegance and one of the finest large-scale country houses near Dublin that is open to the public. During 2020 and for the early part of 2021 the house remained closed to the public as it underwent a major conservation and restoration program, and a deep clean. It is scheduled to reopen around Easter 2021 although the extensive grounds may still be visited free of charge. To come upon the house from the main drive, an avenue lined with magisterial Wellingtonia trees, is to experience one of Ireland's great treasure-house views. Begun in 1790 by James Gandon, architect of the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, Emo (the name derives from the Italian version of the original Irish name Imoe) is thought to be Gandon's only domestic work matching the grand scale of his Dublin civic buildings. Construction continued on and off for 70 years, as family money troubles... READ MORE

History, architecture, and nature merge in a happy commingling at Emo Court, a quintessential landmark of Irish Palladian elegance and one of the finest large-scale country houses near Dublin that is open to the public. During 2020 and for the early part of 2021 the house remained closed to the public as it underwent a major conservation and restoration program, and a deep clean. It is scheduled to reopen around Easter 2021 although the extensive grounds may still be visited free of charge. To come upon the house from the main drive, an avenue lined with magisterial Wellingtonia trees, is to experience one of Ireland's great treasure-house views. Begun in 1790 by James Gandon, architect of the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, Emo (the name derives from the Italian version of the original Irish name Imoe) is thought to be Gandon's only domestic work matching the grand scale of his Dublin civic buildings. Construction continued on and off for 70 years, as family money troubles followed the untimely death of Emo's original patron and owner, the 1st Earl of Portarlington.

In 1994 Emo's English-born owner, stockbroker Major Cholmeley-Harrison who brought the house back to life in the 1970s, donated it to the Irish nation. His vision has become a reality and his china and silver has been laid out on the dinner table to show how the family lived. The ground-floor rooms have already been beautifully restored and decorated and are prime examples of life on the grand scale. Among the highlights are the entrance hall, with trompe-l'oeil paintings in the apses on each side, and the library, which has a carved Italian-marble mantel. Artworks—some dating from the 17th century—filled with classical grandeur and featuring portraits of Cholmeley-Harrison's ancestors are on display. But the showstopper, and one of the finest rooms in Ireland, is the dome rotunda—the work of one of Gandon's successors, the Irish architect William Caldbeck—inspired by the Roman Pantheon. Marble pilasters with gilded Corinthian capitals support the rotunda's blue-and-white coffered dome. A permanent exhibition of photographs featuring the work of the Jesuit priest, Father Francis Browne—best known for his images of RMS Titanic—is on display in three rooms. For the first time ever several upstairs rooms are now open to the public following renovation and during 2020 continued fabric conservation has taken place in other upstairs rooms. These include bedrooms with original features such as sash-style windows, cornice, and ceiling rose, while another room contains the architectural archives. One room has been turned into a gallery and is used to exhibit work from local and visiting artists. Guided tours are held hourly in summer from 10 to 5. Emo's 55 acres of grounds include a 20-acre lake, lawns planted with yew trees, a small garden (the Clocker) with Japanese maples, and a larger one (the Grapery) with rare trees and shrubs. Other fabulous trees include the Bhutan Pine, the Handkerchief and Blue Atlas Cedar, while walnut trees provide a rich source of food for red squirrels foraging in the canopies. Three of the 10 Irish species of bats have been recorded here: Leisler's bat, the brown long-eared bat and the evocatively named Soprano pipistrelle. Make time for a 3-km (2-mile) stroll around the attractive lake walkway, which includes two footbridges. Afterward, visit the tearoom serving tasty snacks and light lunches, and the gift shop. In the café choose from Jeeve and Jericho, black loose tea with a perfumed aroma, or try the Laois Apple Juice, straight from Emo's own orchards.

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Quick Facts

Emo, Co. Laois  Ireland

057-862–6573

www.heritageireland.ie

Sight Details:
Rate Includes: Gardens free, house €8, House closed Oct.–Mar.

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