Emo Court, County Laois was under Jesuit ownership from 1930 until 1969. Now in the hands of the Office of Public Works, the history of Emo dates back to the Earls of Portarlington in the eighteenth century. The first earl, John Dawson, commissioned the building of Emo Court in 1790; it is one of only a few private houses designed by the architect James Gandon. The Portarlington’s sold Emo in 1920 to the Land Commission and the Jesuits purchased the property in 1930, to be used as a novitiate (house of first formation). The Jesuits found Emo in a dilapidated state, with grass growing up through the floorboards. They made significant structural changes in order for it to function as a novitiate rather than as a family home. Many items were removed however they were stored in the basement (fireplace wrapped in blankets). Renowned photographer, Fr Frank Browne SJ, was one of the first Jesuits to take up residence there and he took many photographs of Emo Court.
In 1969, the Jesuits sold Emo to Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison. He restored the house, sparing no expense, and donated it to the Irish State in 1995. In 2012 the Office of Public Works opened a permanent exhibition on Fr Frank Browne SJ at Emo Court.
The papers of St Mary’s, Emo concern the management of the Emo estate (1900-1995), establishment of the Jesuit community (1928-1930), maintenance, upkeep and expenditure (1931-1970), forestry and the sale of Emo (1969-1970; 1995). There is some material on the Jesuit community (1934-1962) and novitiate (1930-1969) however there is very little in the way of information on individual novices. Material is in the form of handwritten letters, ledgers, architectural plans, maps and photographs.
Rector of St Mary's, Emo:
Master of Novices, St Mary's, Emo:
John Neary October 1934