Leaving Portumna heading towards Dublin again, our first stop was at Birr.
Birr (Biorra in Irish) is a town in the Midlands county of Offaly in Ireland. Once called Parsonstown, after the Parsons family who were local landowners and hereditary Earls of Rosse, Birr is situated at the meeting of the Camcor and Little Brosna rivers. On leaving Birr, the combined Camcor and Little Brosna rivers, now simply the River Brosna, flow into the River Shannon.
Birr is a designated Irish Heritage Town with a carefully preserved Georgian heritage. Birr itself has graceful wide streets and elegant buildings. Many of the houses in John's Place and Oxmantown Mall have exquisite fanlight windows of the Georgian period.
"An Afternoon in Brrrrrrrrrr!!"
One of the 'must sees' that I'd been advised to pay a visit to while in this part of the country was Birr. Or rather not so much the town itself, as Birr Castle Demesne, the family pile of the Earl of Rosse. The castle itself is still used as a private residence, but the grounds and outbuildings are open to the public, so you can see the Historic Science Centre of Ireland, the Leviathon - which is a giant restored telescope first built in the 1800's and acre after acre of beautiful parkland.
"Who's this Emmet fellow?"
The photo here looks up Main Street towards Emmet Square. The pillar was built in 1747 and topped originally by a fairly unpopular statue of the the Duke of Cumberland, victor at the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1746. It was removed in 1915. The square is now named Emmet Square, after Robert Emmet, an Irish nationalist, born in Cork (so not Birr!) who led an unsuccesful rebellion against the British in 1803 and was promptly executed. Interestingly, Emmet was a Protestant from a fairly privileged background as were many Irish Republicans over the years.
Emmet has been held up as an Irish martyr in the cause of independence and his words after being sentenced to death have gone down in Irish folklore:
'Let no man write my epitaph. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then shall my character be vindicated, then may my epitaph be written'
Birr itself is an old market town, once called Parsonstown after the Parsons family, the head of which is the Earl of Rosse. Birr is quite pretty, and there is an historic self-guided walking tour that you can take through Birr. Just collect a map from the tourist office (beware it's closed between 1 and 2 for lunch). The Tourist Office claims that the walk takes 50 minutes, though I'm pretty sure you could do it in a shorter time if you've got long legs!
Indeed, the town is a designated Irish Heritage Town and by keeping your eyes peeled and upwards you'll see some fine Georgian architecture, as well as the one of the oldest coaching houses in Ireland, Dooley's on Emmet Square - I've heard though that food and service in Dooleys is a bit average, so maybe try the Thatch if you've transport. Although this is a fairly rural part of Ireland, you can find the usual stuff on the Main Street, including an organic shop.
I didn't really have much time to explore much more than the castle, and after walking/trekking round the castle grounds neither my father nor I were particularly in the mood to drag our sorry rears any further than back to the car. But there's worse things you could do with your time than to check out the little things that make this a nice little example of an Irish town.
Oh, and the town is also known as being the first ever venue for the All-Ireland Hurling Final held in 1888. Yes, quite...