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Photographer's Note

Pictured here is Emo Court, a grand neo classical country villa near the small village of Emo in County Laois.

This house was designed by James Gandon, an architect famous for many of the great building works he completed in Dublin, including the Custom House and Four Courts. This was the only private residence designed by Gandon.

Construction began in 1790, but with Gandon being so busy with his great works in Dublin, he did not devote much time to Emo Court, and as a result it took many years for the building to be completed.

Originally commissioned for the 1st Earl of Portarlington, the man never saw the completion of his new home. He was killed in the 1798 rebellion and almost 50 years later the structure was still not complete. After the great famine, the house came close to being sold but the grandson of the 1st earl persevered and in 1860 the house came to resemble that which we see here today.

Even though many elements of the house are true to the original designs of Gandon, and he was no doubt involved during the first 20 years of its construction, it is generally accepted that he had little to do with the overall completion of the house. Due to his famous name though, he is still the one mostly connected to the house.

When the first world war broke out in 1914 the family moved to England the house was closed up. In 1930 the Jesuits bought the estate and turned the grounds into a very productive working farm with orchards and playing fields.

Even though the Jesuits had little consideration for the architecture (they made significant changes to the interior of the house to suit their own needs), it is a well accepted fact that without their having bought it, it would have suffered the fate of many great Irish houses of the time and been left to decay and collapse. Ireland is dotted with the ruins of these once great mansions, so it is great that some of them were saved.

The next owner after the Jesuits was Major Cholmeley Harrison who employed a leading Georgian architect from London to restore the house to its former glory. In 1994, Major Cholmeley Harrison gifted the house to the people of Ireland and it was presented to then President of Ireland; Mary Robinson. He continued to live here until his death in 2008 at the age of 99.

Today the house is maintained by the Office of Public works who keep the restored grounds and house in prime condition, and open all year round to visitors. The grounds include formal lawns, a lake and a woodland walk as well as a number of fine statues including Polyhymnia, Winter, Spring, Autumn and Summer, the Huntsman, Ceres and others.

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Additional Photos by Noel Byrne (Noel_Byrne) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 2222 W: 8 N: 4942] (17253)
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