Heritage hot spots: History, nature, art, environment
What is it?Emo Court, in Emo, Co Laois, is the only country villa in Ireland designed by the 18th-century architect James Gandon. Its garden contains a rich variety of trees, the most famous of which are the wellingtonias – giant redwoods – planted along a mile-long avenue up to the house in the 1850s.
Why visit?The house and gardens are an oasis of calm, only a few kilometres off a busy motorway. The house is a fine example of a classically designed 18th-century villa. It took over 60 years to build, passing from the first earl of Portarlington to the second to the third before finally being completed. From 1930 to 1969 it was owned by the Jesuits, who radically altered the interior for their needs. Its next and last private owner, Major Cholmeley Harrison, restored the house to its former glory, even adding features that Gandon originally intended. Harrison left the house and gardens to the State in 1994.
Why now?Although the house is closed for the winter, the Catoca Cafe is open daily from 10am until 5pm or 6pm throughout the year. This is a good time to see the wide variety of trees in the gardens and parkland, such as Californian Monterey cypress and pine, a 450-year-old oak tree, silver and Japanese maples, a Himalayan spruce, a Western Australian Douglas fir, handkerchief trees and a tulip tree.
How do I get there?Emo Court is about five kilometres from the M7 motorway, taking the exit for Mountmellick. It is up a long avenue in the village of Emo. The gardens are open all year during daylight hours. The house is open from Easter to the end of September, 10am-6pm. Access is by guided tour: €3 adults; €1 children and students. Dogs not allowed in the gardens; 057-8626573, emocourt.netor heritageireland.ie.