The Dawson-Damer Family and Emo Court


The history of the Dawson-Damer family and of Emo Court begins with Ephraim Dawson, who purchased the town of Portarlington in 1710. He was a banker who had married Ann Preston from Emo. For her, he built Dawson Court near the village of Emo; nothing remains of that house which probably stood close to the present stables and farmyard, although it is possible that the lime tree alleys and the nearby temple date from that period. His son William Henry (created Viscount Carlow in 1776) married Mary Damer.


John, 1st Earl of Portarlington 1744 – 1798


William Henry’s son John married Caroline Stuart, the daughter of the Earl of Bute, and consequently increased in wealth and standing. He was created the first Earl of Portarlington in 1785 and sat in the Irish Parliament, but is remembered chiefly as a patron of the arts. He may have become interested in art and architecture during the Grand Tour that he made around 1769, for there is a portrait of him painted in Rome by Pompeo Batoni in that year. He was patron to, and encouraging of, the architect James Gandon, as he had encouraged the painter Jonathan Fisher and others. James Gandon designed Emo Court in about 1790, but it was to remain essentially unfinished for many years.

The first Earl was a friend of the powerful Lord John Beresford, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Revenue in Dublin. He was no liberal, opposing Grattan and Flood, but considerate of his tenants. He died of pneumonia in 1798 in Mayo, having been sent there to guard French prisoners, and was buried in Coolbanagher.


John, 2nd Earl of Portarlington 1781 – 1845


The second Earl, also named John Dawson, was the son of the first Earl. He started his career in the army as an ensign in the 20th Regiment of Foot, and rose to be Colonel in 1814. He suffered disgrace at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 - he joined his company (the 23rd Light Dragoons) too late to take part in the battle, giving illness as reason for his absence. He was forced to resign, and retreated into a life of dissipation. However, he devoted much money – more than he actually had -  to finishing the building of Emo Court: in 1824/26 he finished the front portico, the ceilings and the staircase, and he engaged in 1834 the fashionable English architect Louis Vulliamy to complete the back portico. (Click here to see picture of Second Earl)

The second Earl never married and died in 1845 with “two shillings” left, leaving a common law wife and three out-of-wedlock children.


Henry, 3rd Earl of Portarlington 1822 - 1889

The third Earl, Henry, was the nephew of the second Earl. In 1829, he had legally assumed the extra name of Damer, and so the family name of Dawson had become Dawson-Damer.

As there was no money to maintain the heavily indebted estate at Emo, it was put up for sale under the Encumbered Estates Act in 1852. However, no sale took place. A Damer property in Dorset in England was sold instead to raise the money to redeem the debt, and Emo became the principal residence of the 3rd Earl until his death in 1889. He married Alexandrina, the daughter of the Marquess of Londonderry, who became a Roman Catholic in 1869. On her death in 1874, she was buried in the Roman Catholic Church in Emo. They had no children.

The third Earl was a popular and benevolent landlord, noted for taking an interest in the welfare of his tenants, and for his generosity – in 1847, during the Great Famine, he donated £94 to the soup kitchens in Portarlington at a time when the next highest contribution was £20. In his will dated 1887, he left generous annuities to many of his servants.

He is described in Vanity Fair in 1878 as “not greatly addicted to the sports of the field, but ... well-informed in matters of politics and the arts. He has an imposing figure, and feet so tiny that they seem scarcely fitted to walk with; he dresses with remarkable taste, and plays the pianoforte with the most wonderful feeling and precision.”

At Emo Court, the third Earl commissioned William Caldbeck, a Dublin architect, to finish the rotunda, drawing room and library in the 1860s. He added the Bachelor Apartments and installed gas and at least one bathroom.


Lionel, 4th Earl of Portarlington (1832 – 1892)

The fourth Earl, Lionel Seymour Dawson-Damer, nicknamed “Hippy”, was a cousin of the third Earl, a former captain in the Scots Fusilier guards who had served in the Crimean War.  Described in Vanity Fair in 1871 as “blessed with a keen appreciation of the good things of this life” and “genial”, he appears not to have taken a very active part in political life, although he was MP for Portarlington 1857-65 and 1868-80.

 His mother was Mary Seymour, who was adopted at an early age by Maria Fitzherbert who had married the Prince of Wales, later George IV, in 1785. His three short years as Earl of Portarlington from 1889 to 1892 did not permit him to make many improvements or changes at Emo.


Lionel George Henry Seymour, 5th Earl of Portarlington (1858 – 1900)

The fifth Earl, Lionel George Henry Seymour Dawson-Damer, had been a lieutenant in the Scots Guards, and honorary colonel of the 4th battalion of the Leinster Regiment. He was an important member of the Masonic Order, and was interested in race horses, cycling, photography and shooting. Vanity Fair in 1894 describes him as “not a very brilliant man, but people like him. He has a resonant voice.” The fifth Earl died at the early age of 42 in 1900, and the title passed to his son Lionel Arthur.


Lionel Arthur, 6th Earl of Portarlington (1883 – 1959)

The sixth Earl, named Lionel Arthur, was only 17 when he became Earl in 1900, and there were to be many momentous changes at Emo in the years until he died in 1959. The estate income was extremely small, due to the various Land Acts which had been passed that allowed the tenants to buy their properties. A financial solution came about by the marriage of Lord Portarlington in February 1907 to the wealthy Winnifreda Yuill, daughter of a Scottish millionaire who had made his money in trade with Asia and Australia. In March Lord and Lady Portarlington were welcomed enthusiastically to Emo by the local inhabitants, but Lady Portarlington never cared greatly for Emo and preferred the glittering social life of London.

Up to 1914, political difficulties abounded in Ireland and there was less and less money at Emo. Men left the estate to fight in the British Army in the Great War, and in 1918, it was decided that it would be best to sell the house and its contents. The contents were put up for sale in 1920, and the house stood empty for ten years. It was purchased by the Jesuit order in 1930 as a novitiate.


George Lionel Yuill, 7th Earl of Portarlington (1938 - )

The seventh (and present) Earl, George Lionel Yuill, is the grandson of the sixth Earl, as his father, Viscount Carlow, was killed during World War II in 1944 while flying a mission for the RAF. He was born in 1938 and has three children. He inherited the title in 1959 on the death of his grandfather, and has lived extensively in Australia and Scotland.