Ireland day 0349. Monday 12 September 2022- EmoCourt

Ireland day 0349. Monday 12 September 2022- EmoCourt
Today’s summary Drove down to Emo Court near Portlaoise to visit the fine Gandon-designed Georgian Emo Court House and grounds.   Run by the OPW and as usual it was good.   Slightly disappointing weather but perfect and quiet when we got there
Today’s weather Overcast and grey all day until late evening.   Drizzly rain most of the day.  Hardly any wind.   About 16C
Today’s overview location
(The blue mark shows the location of our route)
Close-up location
(The green line shows where we walked)
(Click button below to download GPX of today’s walk as recorded, or see interactive map at bottom with elevations corrected):
Emo Court walk OPW

Today was one those rare days when Val wasn’t working, I didn’t have any walking commitments, and we weren’t travelling anywhere.   So we decided to make full use of it by getting up relatively early and visiting another OPW property.   I realised at this point that when I was living in the UK I used to mock in a rather pitying way the recently-retireds who delighted in visiting National Trust properties outside school holidays and weekends, and here we were doing more or less the identical thing.   You only need to substitute “OPW” for “National Trust” and the result is the same.   Oh dear, what have we become?

Anyway, putting out prejudices to one side, today we decided to head down into County Laoise to visit Emo.   Now I know “Emo” is also the name given to a peculiar genre of emotional rock music, but our destination was the Georgian stately home of Emo Court – so named because “Emo” is an anglicisation of the Irish “Ioma“, meaning “bed or resting-place”).   Emo Court was built between 1790 and 1860 for the Earls of Portarlington and the modern-day village of Emo sprung up around the gates of the Emo Court estate.   For those interested in such things, slightly more prosaically, an oil distribution company based in Portlaoise is named after the village.

The interesting thing about Emo Court is that it was designed by James Gandon (as in the Custom House, Dublin, and the Marino Casino – which we visited a couple of weeks ago) for one John Dawson, the first earl of Portarlington.   As my father’s name was John Dawson, I did idly wonder if we were related.   Perhaps after all I might be the rightful heir to this vast estate?   I better get on to straight away (spoiler alert – I’m not).

Putting daydreams to one side and moving on, the house is a Georgian mansion, with Portland stone detailing but mostly actually made of cemented rubble and faced with plaster engraved to look like blocks of stone.   It took six decades from design to completion as the first earl insisted on interfering in the design so it was delayed and he died before the building was anywhere near finished.   The second earl managed to make the building vaguely habitable but lacked the financial wherewithal to finish it.   Only the third earl, in the 1860s, managed finally to push it over the finishing line but even his work was delayed by the devastating famine of the mid-1800s.

Just to complete the story.   The Earls of Portarlington retained the house until after Independence in the early 1920s but then became personas non grata so abandoned the house and fled to Melrose, in Scotland.   The house and its 11,000 acre / 4,400 ha estate fell into disrepair for over a decade until the Government acquired all but 270 acres / 110 ha of the land and distributed it to the local farmers, and the Jesuits acquired the remaining land and house (for the princely sum of £2000) for use as a “Novitiate of the Irish Province”.  The Jesuits sold out to a British ex-army Major Cholmeley Harrison in 1969 who restored the house and remaining grounds, then bequeathed it to the OPW in 1994.   He stayed in a grace-and-favour apartment in the house until he died in 2008 at the age of 99.

Our visit today was especially interesting because Kevin, from the OPW, gave us an outstanding potted history of the site, and because the drizzly weather kept visitors away so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.   Including the tea-shop, which was excellent!   The house itself is closed for restorations at the moment, so we couldn’t go inside.   It was supposed to reopen after three years this year but like so much else, has been delayed by Covid.   Still it may reopen in 2023 which will give us an excellent excuse to pay a return visit.

As well as visiting the café (twice) we had a good look around the walled garden and the relatively modern orchard it contains (we did pick up a few windfalls, I freely admit, as the apples we were gifted last week and which I cooked proved so delicious we have eaten then all and we needed some replacements).   Then we plodded down to the lake in the mist – it has some nice sculptures but was a bit silted up, I think, and then headed back to the house via the weirdly-named Clucker garden and game larder.

At that point it was becoming increasingly gloomy and starting to rain even more, so we jumped back in the yaris and, thanks to the new motorway network, we were back in Malahide in not much after an hour.   Now, over a glass of wine, I’m going to see if I can figure out a cunning way of claiming title to Emo Court.   It’s a long shot I know, but as they say, fortune favours the brave.


Today’s photos (click to enlarge)

I wonder how long it will be before the summer tans begin to fade? Val sporting the very latest in athleisure wear – the much-coveted Dublin Walking Club sweatshirt.   Appropriately enough, she is wearing it on the approach to the teashop
Wellingtonia Avenue, leading down from the house.   It’s named after the trees which line the avenue – Wellingtonias or Giant Redwoods, Sequoiadendron giganteum, (named after the Irish-born Duke of Wellington, who died in 1852) and these magnificent specimens are 180 years old.   It’s the longest Wellingtonia-lined avenue in Europe but the Earls who lived in Emo Court would never have seen them in anything like their intended splendour.   Thank goodness the landscapers – thought to include Gertrude Jekyll – had long term vision. Inside the 2-acre / 1 ha walled garden.   It’s full of apple trees planted by the Jesuits in the 1930s and 40s, which were full of fruit today but said to be nearing the ends of their productive lives.   There are attractive and well-labelled herbaceous borders lining the outer wall.
Large bracket fungus sprouting from the trunk of an old oak tree.   It looked delicious – like a freshly baked bun.   But I’m pretty sure it absolutely wouldn’t be delicious and probably not even edible Game larder, where venison and pheasant were hung before being delivered up to the Earl for lunch.   A grisly spot for the squeamish
Fascinating small mushrooms at the foot of a beech tree.   I’m not sure if they are Magic or not, but I have a suspicion they might be.
Interactive map

(Elevations corrected at  GPS Visualizer: Assign DEM elevation data to coordinates )

Total distance: 4689 m
Max elevation: 105 m
Min elevation: 79 m
Total climbing: 104 m
Total descent: -103 m
Total time: 04:03:39
Download file: Emo House compressed corrected.gpx

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