An 1829 engraving of the entrance facade from "Neale's Views of Seats" that shows the house before the addition of the dome.
The garden facade from a circa 1907 photograph
Earlier Houses: The current house replaced an earlier house named Dawson's Court that was located on a different site on the estate.
Built / Designed For: John Dawson, 1st Earl of Portarlington
House & Family History: Emo is one of the rare pieces of domestic architecture by James Gandon, who was brought to Ireland from England primarily through the efforts of Lord and Lady Portarlington. The famous dome, which defines the house today, wasn't added until the mid-19th century. Inside, under the copper dome, is the Pantheon-like rotunda, a grand room with a coffered ceiling topped by a clear glass oculus. The room is encircled by Siena scagliola pilasters topped with gilded Corinthian capitals and boasts an exceptionally rich and intricate parquet floor of many different woods. Like most of the estates of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence ended Emo's time as a family home at the center of a large agricultural estate. The family sold the house, together with 280 acres of surrounding parkland, to the Society of Jesus in 1930 (the agricultural estate had been sold separately to the Irish Land Commission in 1920). The Jesuits rebranded Emo Court as St. Mary's Emo and opened the house as the Novitiate of the Irish Province. In 1969 the Jesuits sold the house, together with the surrounding land (half of which was the lake), to Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison for £42,000. In 1994 Major Cholmeley-Harrison donated Emo Court to the Irish government as a gift for the people of Ireland. The Irish author Benedict Kiely (1919-2007) spent a year at St. Mary's Emo as a novice and set his 1955 novel, "There was an Ancient House" at Emo. In the late 19th century Emo was considered as a possible Irish home for the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Collections: Two pieces by Adam Elsheimer formerly at Emo are today in public collections in Germany and Scotland: "The Altarpiece of the Exaltation of the True Cross," 1603-05, is in the collection of the Städel Museum, Frankfurt; "The Stoning of Saint Stephen," circa 1603-04, is in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Rembrandt's self portrait of circa 1636-38 is today in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum, California. Sir Anthony van Dyck's 1633 "Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson" is today in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. (We are most grateful to Gareth Williams for this history of the collection at Emo Court.)
Garden & Outbuildings: In 1920 the estate, which spanned almost 20 square miles, was sold to the Irish Land Commission, who distributed much of the land to local farmers.
Architect: William Francis CaldbeckDate: Circa 1860
Architect: Lewis VulliamyDate: 1834-36
Title: Guide to Irish Country Houses, A
Author: Bence-Jones, Mark
Year Published: 1988
Reference: pgs. 119-121
Publisher: London: Constable and Company
Book Type: Hardback
Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
Author: Colvin, Howard
Year Published: 1995
Reference: pg. 387
Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
Book Type: Softback
Title: Irish Houses & Castles
Author: Guinness, Desmond and Ryan, William
Year Published: 1971
Reference: pg. 9
Publisher: New York: Crescent Books
Book Type: Hardback
House Listed: Unknown
Park Listed: Unknown
Past Seat / Home of: John Dawson, 1st Earl of Portarlington, until 1798; John Dawson, 2nd Earl of Portarlington, 1798-1845; Henry John Reuben Dawson-Damer, 3rd Earl of Portarlington, 1845-89; Dawson-Damer family here until the 1920s.. Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison, 1969-94.
Current Ownership Type: Office of Public Works
Primary Current Ownership Use: Visitor Attraction