Birr Castle Demesne
Birr Castle Demesne information
It's easy to spend half a day exploring the attractions and gardens of Birr Castle Demesne. The castle dates from 1620 and is a private home, however for three months in the summer (May, July and August), visitors can visit the main living quarters of the castle. Most of the present building dates from around 1620, with alterations made in the early 19th century.
The 50-hectare castle grounds are famous for their magnificent gardens set around a large artificial lake with waterfalls, wildflower meadows and a pergola festooned with a 90-year old wisteria. The gardens are home to over 1000 species of plants from all over the world; something always seems to be in bloom. Look for one of the world's tallest box hedges (which has made the Guinness Book of Records ), planted in the 1780s and now standing 12m high, and the romantic Hornbeam cloister.
The Parsons were a remarkable family of pioneering Irish scientists, and their work is documented in the historic science centre . Exhibits include the massive telescope built by William Parsons in 1845. The 'leviathan of Parsonstown', as it was known, was the largest telescope in the world for 75 years and attracted a wide variety of scientists and astronomers. It was used to make innumerable discoveries, including the spiral galaxies. After the death of William's son, the telescope, unloved and untended, slowly fell to bits. It has recently been completely restored, however, and may be viewed in all its glory in the gardens.
William Parsons' wife, Mary Ross was a keen photographer and her dark room was reputed to be one of the first of its kind in the world. Unfortunately, it hasn't survived, but an exact replica opened here in 2013. Other new additions are a children's adventure playground, complete with playhouse, hobbit huts and trampolines, and the excellent Castle Courtyard Cafe which showcases local products and produce in its dishes.