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Birr Castle Grounds

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Map of Birr Castle Demesne

Click on a Number to know more about it. (Click Back to come back up to this map again) The Castle The Great Telescope Ireland's Historic Science Centre Turbine House The Suspension Bridge Waterfall Point Ice House The Lake Fernery The Shell Well Box Hedges The Formal Gardens The Whirlpool Spiral Toher The Family Trees

1- The Castle

The Castle
© Birr Castle Archives

There has been a Norman castle on this site since 1170. From the 14th to the 17th century the O' Carroll family ruled from here and the territory was known as Ely O' Carroll The castle was granted to Sir Lawrence Parsons in 1620 and it is still the private family home of the Parsons family.

The Grounds and the Gardens

The grounds evolved from the parkland of oak and beech trees of the 17th century; of the same period are the Box Hedges which form part of the formal gardens. The 18th century is characterised by the creation of the lake and planting around this area.The 19th century saw the building of the Suspension Bridge and the development of the Fernery and the Fountain, the Waterfall and the Winter Garden. The 20th century saw the creation of the Arboretum, the River Garden, the terraces and herbaceous borders around the castle, the seed and plant expeditions abroad and the development of glass houses for propagation. Of the same period is the development of the formal gardens based on 17th century Bavarian design.The wildflower meadows are left uncut until July to ensure that the wild flowers seed and naturally regenerate.

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2- The Great Telescope

Constructed here at Birr Castle in the 1840's by the third Earl of Rosse, this was the largest telescope for over 70 years and attracted astronomers from all over the world. Through the Great Telescope the 3rd Earl discovered the Whirlpool nebula in the 1840's. The telescope looks and moves just as it did over 150 years ago and demonstrations are held daily.

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3- Ireland's Historic Science Centre

This is housed in the newly restored Stable Block designed by Mary Rosse in the 1850's. At that time and up until this century, the stables housed the castle coaches, the horses and up to 30 grooms. The centre shows the many pioneering achievements of the Parsons family and of other great Irish scientists in the fields of astronomy, photography, engineering and horticulture.

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4- Turbine House

Built in 1879, the turbine supplied electricity to the castle and later on to the town of Birr.

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5- The Suspension Bridge

Built c. 1820 this is probably the oldest wrought iron suspension bridge in Ireland.

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6- Waterfall Point

The Waterfall Point on River Camcor in Birr Castle Demesne
© Birr Castle Archives

Situated just up from the suspension bridge, where the water cascades over a weir which powers a small turbine downstream. The turbine provided both the castle and the town with electricity from the 1880's to 1950's.

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7- Ice House

The early 19th century ice house is an underground cold room which was used to store ice and meat for use in the castle throughout the year. The ice was taken from the lake during the winter or bought from an ice merchant. It was the principal means of food preservation up until the end of the 1900's.

The Rivers Camcor, Little Brosna and Lake - Wildlife

Watch out for swans, herons and kingfishers; also on the lake the various water fowl and wild duck for which the demesne is a sanctuary.

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8- The Lake

The Lake in Birr Castle Demesne
© Birr Castle Archives

This originally was a swamp. During the early 19th century the Second Earl created the present lake. He diverted the flow of the River Camcor to its present bed, increased the level of the lake by bringing water from upstream through a system of canals and tunnel which allowed the silt to settle so filling the lake with clear water. At the exit of the lake his son installed a water wheel which enabled drainage of low land areas.

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9- Fernery

Ferneries were fashionable during Victorian times. This one was created in the last century using stone from the local Slieve Bloom mountains. The fountain in the midst of the fernery springs from a four holed pipe and is powered by gravity as the water falls from the lake to the stream.

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10- The Shell Well

The Shell Well was built over the well known in Irish as "Cuileann Tobar", the well of the holly; inspired by a design of the 18th century architect Samuel Chearnley, it was decorated by volunteers in remembrance of Mariga Guinness with shells from her collection.

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11- Box Hedges

The Box Hedges are over 300 years old. According to the Guinness Book of Records they are the tallest in the world. They would have formed part of a garden layout by Sir William Parsons in the mid 17th century.

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12- The Formal Gardens

The Formal Gardens in Birr Castle Demesne
© Birr Castle Archives

The formal layout was designed by the present Earl's mother to mark her marriage in 1935, in the form of a monastic cloister with windows looking inward. The great white seats at either end were designed by Anne, countess of Rosse with the crossed initials of herself and her husband Michael, the 6th Earl of Rosse. The two urns in the centre of the garden are from Bavaria and are 300 years old.

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13- The Whirlpool Spiral

This commemorates the discovery 150 years ago of the Whirlpool Nebula M51 by the 3rd Earl of Rosse.

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14- Toher

A causeway used since Celtic times to walk across boggy ground.

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15- The Family Trees

Visitors who would like to remember a person or an event by planting an oak tree in the Demesne are invited to do so. Enquiries may be addressed to the Tree Council of Ireland or at Visitor Reception

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Facilities & Services at Birr Castle Demesne

  • Tea Room

  • Gift Shop

  • Garden Centre

  • Guided tours (* by appointment only)

  • Annual Programme of Events

  • Car parking facilities

  • Toilets, disabled toilets

Entrance Prices

Birr Castle Prices

Birr Castle Demesne is open;

Every day of the year from 09:00-18:00 hours

For more information, please use the enquiry form on our Contact Us page.

You can also contact us by Email, Post or Telephone. Contact Details can be found at the bottom of this Page.

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©The Birr Scientific and Heritage Foundation
Ireland's Historic Science Centre   Birr Co Offaly Ireland

Head Office/Administration
Phone: +353 5791 20336 • Fax: +353 5791 21583 • Email:
Reception  (7 day reply 9.00 - 18.00) • Phone: +353 5791 20340 • Fax: +353 5791 21583