Saturday 28 August 2010

Visit to Emo Court

After Mass in St. Paul's Church, Emo, members and friends of St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association visited Emo Court, a neo-classical mansion designed by James Gandon, best known for several major public buildings in Dublin.

Emo Court was the home of the Dawson Family, Earls of Portarlington, from 1790 to 1920. Given that the consort of the 3rd Earl, Aline, Countess Portarlington (1823-1874), converted to Catholicism in 1867 and was buried in St. Paul's Parish Church, Emo, the house has an early claim to be part of our Catholic heritage.

In 1914, the Portarlingtons left Emo Court, transferring ownership of the estate to the Irish Land Commission. In 1920, the house was abandoned. House and grounds were sold it ten years later to the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, who used it as their noviciate for the next 49 years. During those 49 years, almost 500 Jesuit novices passed through 'St. Mary's, Emo.' Thus, Emo Court has a double claim to the title of Catholic heritage.

During their residence of Emo Court, the Jesuits made several severe alterations to accomodate the needs of the noviciate. The most radical were the opening of the rotunda salon into the library to create a chapel large enough for staff and novices, likewise the decorative pillars were removed from the ballroom or saloon to enlarge it as a refectory. All materials removed were stored in the basement and thus preserved for their restoration at a later date. The unfortunate reputation of the Jesuits as vandals of Emo Court is thus hardly deserved.

Major Cholmeley Harrison purchased Emo Court in 1969 and painstakingly restored the house over the next almost 35 years, when he handed it over to the Irish Nation. He continued to live in a part of the house until his death in 2008 at the age of 99 years.

The Emo Court Project website contains detailled account of Emo Court.


Jemma said...

Wow! I really should have listened and come up for lunch. Next time for sure!

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the opprobrium for the SJs is unmerited. The opportunity to create was passed over for the opportunity to destroy. If one cannot build better than those who have gone before, perhaps one should think again about pulling down. How many fine edifices have been destroyed and litter the Island because those of little imagination and less capacity have rejected the works of their betters?


Deise Girl said...

Splendid house. Where do I find an Earl of Anywhere? ;-0

Donnelly's Hollow said...

Sorry I couldn't make it this time. Praise God it went well.

Shandon Belle said...

When are you going to take a trip to Cork? Time to head up-market! ;-0 back at Sally!

Quis ut Deus said...

I guess the tiger is the best bit of that house! Did any of you get inside? Love to see the pictures.

Louisa Jane said...

It really is a lovely mansion!!!

Cupcake Cafe at Emo Tea Rooms said...


it sounds like you all had a wonderful visit to Emo Court.

The schoolchildren of a number of Laois & Offaly schools participated in a project, the results of which can now be seen at A joint porject between the OPW and Laois Education Centre.

Our new website, for Cupcake Café, will also list current events connected to Emo Court, from time to time. We're at

Best wishes

Cupcake Café at Emo Tea Rooms

Convenor said...

Dear Cupcake (never thought I'd be typing that!),

Thanks for your comment. We had an excellent time again last year but it's a pity to have to wait so long in heritage week for a tour. Hopefully, next August you'll join us for our Mass.

God bless you!