Birr Castle, Co. Offaly
Location: The town of Birr is located on N 52 in County Offaly between Roscrea and Athlone. There
is public parking in town. The entrance to the Castle Demense is via Model School Road where it intersects with
Oxmantown Mall (a block from St. Brendan's C. of I.) Birr Castle is home to Lord and Lady Rosse and their family
and is not open to the public, however it can be viewed from the gardens quite well. In addition to the Castle
and the gardens, there is a fine museum and a 72 inch reflecting telescope on the grounds.
Dimensions: Little is left of the original castle from 1620. A 14.5 x 7.5 meter gatehouse forms the central
hall of the present building. It contains a late 17th century wooden staircase with turned balusters. Artillery
ramparts still survive
The castle began to take its final form in the early 19th century with Sir Lawrence Parsons turning the old house
back to front in order to face the park. He heightened and crenellated it in the new Gothic style and added the
great Gothic saloon whose windows can be seen looking down on the waterfalls of the river Camcor.
In 1807 Sir Lawrence inherited from his uncle in County Longford the title of Earl of Rosse. Sir Lawrence
married Alice Lloyd of Gloster. He disapproved of sending his children away to school and they were brought up by
tutors at home with an emphasis on science and engineering.
Comments:There is much to see both in the town and in the castle demense. Birr is a designated Irish Heritage
Town with a carefully preserved Georgian heritage.
This lovely town has wide streets and elegant buildings. Many of the houses in John's Place and Oxmantown
Mall have the definitive fanlight windows of the Georgian period. An entire day could easily be spent here. The
Science Center has an emphasis on natural science, but there are some good hands-on exhibits as well.
History: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 about 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.
Other Items of Interest:A suspension bridge is built over the Camcor River. This is the earliest known suspension
bridge anywhere and is first described in 1826 as a 'curious wire bridge
which hangs as if it were suspended in the air just under the castle'. The telescope constructed here at Birr Castle
in the 1840's by the third Earl of Rosse, was the largest telescope in the world for over 70 years.
Through the Great Telescope the Earl made many discoveries including the Whirlpool nebula in the 1840's. The
telescope looks and moves just as it did over 150 years ago and demonstrations can often be seen daily during
high season. The gardens claim to have the oldest boxwood hedges in the country - over 300 years old.