The large neo-classical mansion of Emo Court is arguably one of Laois’ most famous buildings.
It was designed by the architect James Gandon in 1790 for John Dawson, the first Earl of Portarlington. It is one of the few houses to have been designed by Gandon, another including Roslyn Park, Sandymount and Abbeville, Charles Haughey’s former home in Kinsealy.
The nearby Coolbanagher Church was also designed by Gandon.
The house had many owners throughout its history, including the Jesuits. Its former owner Major Chomeley-Harrison presented the property to the State in 1994.
It is now managed by the Office of Public Works and is open to visitors.
Ballyfin House and Demesne
Nowadays a world famous hotel, Ballyfin’s rich history saw it as a home to the O’Mores, the Crosbys, the Poles, the Wellesley-Poles and the Cootes. The House is a neo-classical mansion built by Sir Charles Coote (1792–1864) in the 1820s to designs by the leading Irish architects, Richard (1767–1849) and William Vitruvius Morrison (1794–1838). It is considered the most lavish Regency mansion in Ireland.
For much of the 20th century, it was a school, having been sold in 1928 by Sir Ralph Coote to the Patrician Brothers, and becoming Patrician College Ballyfin. It is now an internationally renowned exclusive hotel.
Abbeyleix House was designed by architect James Wyatt and built by Sir William Chambers in 1773. It was home to the De Vesci family until it was sold in the mid-1990's to Sir David Davies.
The castle was built in the early 18th century. Castle Durrow is described as a piece of Irish history embodied in stone. “As a building its massive solidity is combined with an old-world charm and elegance that is distinctive and attractive. It is the creation of an Anglo-Irish landlord family, a relic of an age that has vanished forever. Castle Durrow is a country house of importance that still stands in close to its original condition and is one of the few 18th century houses for which precise building records survive."
In the 90’s, Peter and Shelly Stokes purchased Castle Durrow and began the castle’s renovations. The works took over three years to complete and the Castle is now one of the country’s best known hotels.
Donaghmore Workhouse Museum
Donaghmore Workhouse was opened in 1853 to house the most impoverished and desperate people in this part of Laois. It is believed the Workhouse was only full for a few years prior to its closure in 1886.
The buildings were abandoned until 1920, when they were used for the Black and Tans during the War of Independence. In the late 1920s it was acquired by agricultural cooperative for milk processing, eventually being acquired by Avonmore. They made some of the buildings available to a local committee for the purpose of developing a Famine and Agriculture museum which is now open.