2 Best Sights in Portarlington, The Midlands

Coolbanagher Church

Coolbanagher Church, the familiar name for the exquisite Church of St. John the Evangelist, was, like Emo Court and Gardens, designed by James Gandon. On view inside are Gandon's original 1795 plans and an elaborately sculpted 15th-century font from an earlier church that stood nearby. Adjacent to the church is Gandon's mausoleum for Lord Portarlington, his patron at Emo. The church is open only by advance telephone arrangement.

Emo Court and Gardens

History, architecture, and nature merge in a happy commingling at Emo Court, a quintessential landmark of Irish Palladian elegance and a fine large-scale country house. The house is currently closed to the public---expected to reopen in 2023---although the extensive grounds may still be visited free of charge. The main drive is an avenue lined with magisterial Wellingtonia trees and it is a good introduction to one of Ireland's great treasure-house views. Built in the late 18th century and designed by architect James Gandon—it's thought to be his only domestic work matching the grand scale of his Dublin civic buildings such as the Custom House and the Four Courts. Construction continued on and off for 70 years, as family money troubles followed the untimely death of Emo's original patron and owner, the 1st Earl of Portarlington.

In 1994, stockbroker Cholmeley-Harrison donated Emo House to the Irish nation. The ground-floor rooms have already been beautifully restored and decorated and are prime examples of life on a grand scale. Among the highlights are the entrance hall, with trompe-l'oeil paintings in the apses on each side, and the library, which has a carved Italian-marble mantel. Emo's 55 acres of grounds include a 20-acre lake, lawns planted with yew trees, a small garden (the Clocker) with Japanese maples, and a larger one (the Grapery) with rare trees and shrubs. Other fabulous trees include the Bhutan Pine, the Handkerchief and Blue Atlas Cedar, while walnut trees provide a rich source of food for red squirrels foraging in the canopies. Three of the 10 Irish species of bats have been recorded here: Leisler's bat, the brown long-eared bat and the evocatively named Soprano pipistrelle.

Make time for a 3-km (2-mile) stroll around the attractive lake walkway, which includes two footbridges. Afterward, visit the tearoom serving tasty snacks and light lunches, and the gift shop.

In the café choose from Jeeve and Jericho, black loose tea with a perfumed aroma, or try the Laois Apple Juice, straight from Emo's own orchards.