Birr Castle is the oldest inhabited home in the county. In the 16th century the O'Carrolls of Ely had one of their castles here and this was granted to Sir Laurence Parsons in the course of the Stuart plantation, c. 1620. Sir Laurence Parsons built most of the structure of the present castle. The castle was twice besieged in the 17th century and one of the towers still shows the scars of the artillery of Patrick Sarsfield, who tried unsuccessfully to take it. The castle still remains the seat of the Earls of Rosse and is home to the seventh Earl (Brendan Parsons) at present. As a family home, the Castle is only open to the public on special occasions. The surrounding demesne however is open to tourists every day of the year, and the gardens contain many fine trees and shrubs set in a landscaped park with waterfalls, river and lake.
A main feature on the grounds of the castle is the great Leviathan of Parsonstown, an astronomical telescope with a 72-inch metal mirror erected by the third Earl of Rosse, which was, until 1917, the largest telescope in the world.
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.
Referred to by Geraldus Cambrensisen in the 12th Century as "umbilicus Hiberniae" (The naval of Ireland). Probably part of a megalithic monument located at Seffin, the exact site of which is not known.
Reputed by oral tradition to have marked a meeting place of the Fianna. Taken from Birr in 1828 by Thomas Steele to his residence Cullaun Haouse. Co Clare, to honour Daniel O'Connell and used as a Mass rock at that site.
Returned to Birr Urban Council in June 1974 by the Department of Lands. The stone is a block of limestone of lower carboniferous age around 250 million years old and is of local origin.
William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse KP (June 17 1800 - October 31 1867) built the world's largest telescope in 1845 and it remained the world's largest for the rest of the century. Using this telescope he saw and cataloged a large number of galaxies.
Most tourists coming to Birr end up visiting this place. While the gothic looking Castle itself is still home to the Earl of Rosse and his family and out of bounds to visitors, the massive park grounds, including sights such as the Leviathon telescope, originally built in 1840's by the Third Earl of Ross and the Science Centre. Surrounding the castle is a hexagonal moat, constructed in the 1870's as a famine relief work - that is, rather than 'creating a culture of dependence', the able bodied were required to build follies such as this in order that they could be paid for actually doing something...
The gardens are rather special, with trees imported as seeds over the generations from places as far apart as the States and China. Beautiful parkland, including lake, river and waterfall. Correspondence between the 5th Earl and various botanists around the world are contained in the museum and act to make show the garden in a more personal light.
The museum itself I actually found a bit dull. There's a lot of text in there but you seem to learn very little about the history of the site itself ot the family that live there, apart from the letters mentioned above.
March to October 09.00 - 18.00
November to February 10.00 to 16.00
Adult - 9.00 euro
Student/Senior - 7.00 euro
Child - 5.00
In the grounds of the castle you'll find the reconstructed Leviathon, the massive telecope originally designed and built by the Third Earl of Rosse in the 1840's. Many of the findings from research carried out using the telescope were published and the telescope became fairly famous internationally. After 1908 and the death of the 4th Earl, the telescope fell into disrepair until the late 1990's when reconstruction began.
While the body of the telescope and it's massive holding station have been refitted, problems have still been encountered in modernising the telescope - it's proving difficult to synchronise the massive telescope with modern computerised technology.
The history of the telescope and the contribution of the Earls of Rosse and their talented wives to both astronomy and photography are documented in the on site museum.
At the "Birr Castle Demesne", you'll find this beautifull castle. There has been a Norman castle on this site since 1170 and since 1620, the castle and its grounds are in possession of the Parsons family which still owns the castle. Unfortunately it cannot be visited as it’s still their private home. What a pity, it’s such a well preserved and good looking castle!
There’s much more to see at Birr Castle Demesne than the Great Telescope and the Science Museum. There’s a huge park, with several walking paths, a lake, a nice garden, and this little waterfall near to a fernery. Unfortunately it was rather rainy that day (I’m still surprised how William Persons, the constructor of the Great Telescope, could do astronomical researches in this cloudy Irish climate!), otherwise we probably would have stayed longer there!
At the entrance (which is also the building that houses the museum), you will get a map of the grounds with explanations. It’s available in several languages.
Open Mid March to October 9:00 – 18:00, November to Mid March 10:00 –16:00.
Admission 8,50 Euro (adults), for Birr Castle Demesne, including Science Museum and the park with the telescope. See if you can get a Heritage Island Explorer (www.heritageisland.com) before you are going there, then the second person is free.
There’s also a Birds of Prey centre, which requires additional admission.
There’s free parking in the near of the castle.
This telescope once was the largest telescope for over 70 years. It was constructed at Birr Castle in the 1840’s by the 3rd Earl of Rosse, William Parsons. It’s a 72 inch (183 cm) reflecting telescope, and although other scientists like Faucault found this telescope ridiculous, it worked quite well. William discovered for instance the spiral nature of the M51 nebula, which is known as the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The telescope has been restored (or rather reconstructed) beginning 1996 and can be seen at Birr Castle Demesne in the park. There’s also a science museum, which I found very interesting. It’s mainly about astronomy, and it also shows the history of the Great Telescopy and the researches of the Parsons family. The whole family had been quite science orientated. I was surprised that most information in the museum where not only in English but also in French and German.
Admission and other information see my Birr Castle Demesne tip.
There is absolutely a brilliant park outside the castle. Even if you're not that much keen on the parks, you should visit there. Anyway, this is most likely the reason why you're in Birr. For the science enthusiasts, such like me, it is well worth seeing since the Parson family was really science-oriented. The location in the picture reminded me about the movie Lord of the Rings and Rivendell.
I tried to find out what this building and cannon was for, but to no avail. Maybe one of you out there can assist me.