Big box and the heat of the moon: Birr Castle

In County Offaly, in the Midlands, in Birr, is Birr Castle, home of the Earls of Rosse. The castle as we see it today was regularly added to but dates from 1620 although there has been a castle on the site since 1170. The house is private and not open to the public but the extensive grounds are and there is a museum dedicated to astronomy. This may seem odd but Birr Castle and astronomy are closely linked. William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, built Leviathan in 1845. It was then the largest telescope on earth. His son, the 4th earl, carried on his legacy and carried out many important works and manged to calculate the temperature of the moon (don’t ask me how even though I did go round the museum!). In addition to all this, the 4th Earl’s wife was a keen photographer and you can see her darkroom, believed to be the oldest in the world.

birr castle

It is an interesting place to visit and the museum could entertain a really keen astronomer for hours I am sure. I sped through, wanting to see the grounds, and exploring these could take many hours. The grounds are beautifully landscaped though most of the ‘pretty’ gardens are near the house. I ended the walk with Leviathan but that was a slight disappointment because there was a wedding in the nearby building and it was decided that it was OK to park the cars around the telescope. This is pretty annoying really because with hundreds of acres of grounds, the one photo most people want to take is of the telescope but that was impossible without including a cordon of black, teutonic vehicles.

Outside, in the courtyard, is a nice cafe selling very good food and coffee. All in all it is well worth making an effort to see and interesting on many levels. It will not hold a great deal of excitement for the dedicated gardener who wants to get tips for their own plot but it is hard not to be impressed.

The main 'flowery' garden is below the castle with some on the opposite side of the river.

The main ‘flowery’ garden is below the castle with some on the opposite side of the river.

The gardens contain the oldest wrought iron bridge in Ireland, dating back to 1820, though I am not sure this is it!

The gardens contain the oldest wrought iron bridge in Ireland, dating back to 1820, though I am not sure this is it!

The garden is in the style of a 'pleasure grounds' with a naturalistic landscape with lakes, rivers and many tree-lined walks. The place is enormous and you need many hours to even start to do justice to it

The garden is in the style of a ‘pleasure grounds’ with a naturalistic landscape with lakes, rivers and many tree-lined walks. The place is enormous and you need many hours to even start to do justice to it

birr castle9

Although probably at its most colourful in spring there was still plenty of interest in early September

Although probably at its most colourful in spring there was still plenty of interest in early September

I know kniphofias are not everyone's favourites and I tend to vary in my enthusiasm for them but they are impressive when at their best

I know kniphofias are not everyone’s favourites and I tend to vary in my enthusiasm for them but they are impressive when at their best

And you can forgive colchicums their thuggish foliage in spring when they look like this in late summer

And you can forgive colchicums their thuggish foliage in spring when they look like this in late summer

After exploring the acres of woodland grounds and returning to the formal walled garden there are a few greenhouses and the millennium garden

After exploring the acres of woodland grounds and returning to the formal walled garden there are a few greenhouses and the millennium garden

It is here that you will see the world's tallest box hedges

It is here that you will see the world’s tallest box hedges

And some borders filled with flowers, presumably on the site of some old peach houses

And some borders filled with flowers, presumably on the site of some old peach houses

And near the entrance is a play area with a superb tree house

And near the entrance is a play area with a superb tree house

But everyone visits the place for its astronomical connections, especially Leviathan, until 1917 the largest reflecting telescope in the world. It was dissembled soon after but was restored in the 1990s

But everyone visits the place for its astronomical connections, especially Leviathan, until 1917 the largest reflecting telescope in the world. It was dissembled soon after but was restored in the 1990s

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6 Comments on “Big box and the heat of the moon: Birr Castle”

  1. joy
    September 24, 2015 at 7:35 am #

    looks lovely thank you for the tour . that is a magical tree house

  2. Jackie Stockley
    September 24, 2015 at 7:58 am #

    That is a wonderous tree house. It all looks very lovely, thanks for the guided tour.

    • thebikinggardener
      September 24, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      its a pleasure! I didnt go in the tree house but wish I had really. By then I was desperate for coffee!

  3. derrickjknight
    September 24, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Another informative, well described and photographed tour. Jackie beats me to your post these days

    • thebikinggardener
      September 24, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

      Thank you. It was a bit quickly written really and I didnt go into the garden in as much detail as I wanted, but thank you!

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