Food at Emo Court


In 18th and 19th century Ireland, the upper-class dining experience was one of great opulence. Huge quantities of food were served up in many courses, the dishes ranging from the traditional to the exotic. Sophisticated dishes such as salamangundy, turtle soup, trussed woodcock and ragoût of lobster made special dinners memorable, while standard favourites of roast beef or mutton or bacon and cabbage, served with lashings of rich sauce or gravy, made tasty daily fare. Desserts of exotic fruits grown in hothouses were served along with rich fruit cakes, sorbets, ices and blancmange. This was all washed down with liberal amounts of expensive claret, sherry, whiskey and port.


The meals served at Dawson’s Court, the house which preceded Emo, were hearty affairs. In 1781, Miss Herbert, a guest at the house, wrote: “I have eat half a Grasier for dinner and drunk so much black cherry whisky that I must beg to be excused as I am asleep” (Gleanings from an Old Portfolio I, 148). At Emo Court, the completion of the dining room in 1839 created a sumptuous setting for luncheons, dinners and pre-ball suppers, at which the finest food and drink were served. Illustrious guests from the Duke of Connaught to the Prince of Wales were treated to elaborate meals of many courses, served on beautifully arranged tables lit with candles (and later, gaslight) and garlanded with stands of flowers.


Vases from Emo Court


Yet the dining room was not the only culinary setting at Emo, as behind the scenes, servants ate their meals in the servants’ hall, while the children of the house ate theirs with nanny in the nursery. These meals were altogether simpler affairs. The fine food enjoyed by the aristocracy was also in sharp contrast with the food of the local poor, who lived largely on bread, stirabout, potatoes, salted kippers and mutton broth. Not surprisingly, with such a rich and filling diet, the upper-classes often suffered the afflictions of the too well fed: gout, diabetes, apoplexy (heart attack) and cirrhosis of the liver. Home medicines offered possible cures, many recipes for which still survive. When traditional remedies failed, however, the well-to-do could always take a trip to Bath to partake of the famous waters there.