When planning a family vacation in Ireland, most people think of the history and the landscape. Few think of science. Yet, that is exactly what you will find at Birr Castle Demense in County Offaly- a world of science spread across the estate of the Earls of Rosse.
Visiting Birr Castle Demense
Birr Castle is well sign posted, situated at the edge of Birr Town on Rosse Row. A large carpark is available across the street- be sure to have a few dollar coins to pay for your time at the castle grounds.
Entry to Birr Castle Demense (pronounced domain) is through the tall wall which separates the estate from the town of Birr. It's a rather grand way to enter the property. The path leads you directly to Ireland's Historic Science Centre, where you will pay your admission and begin your explorations.
The Science Centre at Birr Castle
Housed in the estates converted stables is Ireland's Historic Science Centre. Galleries are spread throughout the rooms, sharing the achievements of scientists and engineers closely associated with Birr over the past 2 centuries; most of whom were part of the family of the Earls of Rosse. You'll learn about the design, creation and discoveries of the Great Telescope- which still stands on the grounds; view the pioneering photography of Mary Countess of Rosse- as well as her cameras; and learn about Sir Charles Parsons who invented the steam turbine.
After all that science, it's almost relaxing to walk into the final galleries which focus on the family's horticultural pursuits, including plants collected from around the world and the amazing gardens.
Birr Castle Demense Gardens
Covering more than 120 acres of land, the grounds and gardens of Birr Castle Demense are dotted with ponds and lakes intersected by rivers. It's a magical spot to wander and dream. From the oldest suspension bridge in Ireland you have a beautiful view of Birr Castle. Walking up the path a short way bring you to Waterfall Point, a perfect spot for relaxing and searching for water sprites. The rivers Camcor and Little Brosna meet within the grounds and provide shelter for birds and wildlife- including otters!
Pathways wind and wend through wildflower meadows, riverside gardens, and terraces. Along these you will discover the tallest box hedges in the world, the Whirlpool Spiral of lime trees, the Victorian Fernery and the formal Millennium Gardens. Hours can be spent wandering these ‘never-ending' grounds as you will discover something new each turn you take.
The Great Telescope
Sitting in the center of all is the Great Telescope, constructed in the 1840s. For over 70 years this was the largest telescope in the world, attracting astronomers from across the globe. From its inception, discoveries were made- including the Whirlpool Nebula soon after the telescopes construction (which makes you think a bit deeper on those Celtic spirals, no?). Though the ‘Leviathan' fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s, it was restored in the 1990s and is quite possibly the largest scientific instrument still working today. It's breathtaking to view and truly an amazing feat of ingenuity and engineering.
Still a private residence for the Earls of Rosse, Birr Castle is not open to the public, though Castle Tours take place Monday to Saturday 9.30 to 12.30 in May, July and August. But with the waelth of beauty and discovery throughout the grounds, you won't even miss the castle.
Birr Castle Demense is often called “Ireland's True Green Jewel' and lives up to that title in every way, adding a bit of ‘sneaky education' to your vacation in Ireland.
Where to stay:
Ardmore County House B&B in Kinnetty is not far from Birr Castle and is a terrific spot for touring central Ireland