As magnificent as it is imposing, Birr Castle (or “Birr Castle” in English) is a fortress built in the village of Birr, in the county of Offaly. Although its rooms are closed to the public, its gardens are open to the public, as are its Science Museum and its wonderful telescope…
Birr Castle, which is particularly well preserved, was built around 1170 on behalf of the O’Carroll family. Built in the middle of an estate of several hectares, it was built on an area called the “Ely O’Carroll”, in memory of an old member of the family.
For several centuries, the fort remained in the hands of the O’Carrolls until 1620, when Sir Charles O’Carroll died. In the absence of an heir, Birr Castle was then entrusted to Sir Laurence Parsons, along with a small part of the surrounding estate. Faced with the dilapidated state of the building, the new owner decided to renovate the castle and build a brand new one near the gate of the first fort.
Sir Laurence Parsons, Richard Parsons, then Williams Parsons took over the castle…
It was in 1641, during an Irish rebellion, that Birr Castle was besieged for 15 months by Catholic forces. Following numerous assaults, the castle was damaged many times, and it was in the 19th century that William Parsons undertook new renovation work.
In 1800, another heir also belonging to the Parsons family decided to undertake new renovation work, with the aim of giving Birr Castle a more “Gothic” style. This was followed by the construction of the largest telescope in the world, so that the castle became one of the most modern astronomical observatories of the time. Unfortunately, the telescope is fragile and deteriorates very quickly. The mirror was then exhibited at the Science Museum in London, and a metal part of the telescope was melted down in 1914 for re-use during the First World War.
After several attempts at intermediate restoration, the telescope was finally restored at the end of the 1990s.
Unfortunately, the rooms of Birr Castle are closed to the public, but fortunately you will be able to console yourself with the wonderful gardens of the castle, as well as by visiting the large telescope of the castle. Along your walk you will discover a comprehensive exhibition on the history of the castle and its scientific reputation.
The telescope was indeed one of the centrepieces of the fort, and many famous people from all over the world came to Birr to observe the stars. Although outdated today, this famous telescope makes the castle a real science museum, where you can admire an exhibition on astronomy.