20 Feb Birr
On a tour of Ireland why not consider visiting Birr. We at Ireland Luxury Tours recommend it.
This pleasant quiet Georgian town centres around the attractive Emmet Square; it was formerly known as Parsonstown, after the family name of the Earls of Rosse, whose seat is Birr Castle.
The castle itself is 17th-century Gothic and not generally open to the public, but the 40ha of gardens are open all year and heartily reward a visit. They contain many rare specimen trees and shrubs, including a collection from China, and the tallest box hedges in the world (10m). The gardens are particularly fine in spring and autumn, when flowering trees, bulbs or colourful foliage are at their best. Walks lead beside the lake and rivers, around which the grounds are landscaped.
The most fascinating feature of Birr Castle, however, is a remarkable early telescope, built locally and recently restored to its former glory. Built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in the 1840’s, it was for many years the largest and most powerful in the world, its 183cm lens enabling the aristocratic astronomer and his son, the 4th Earl, to study the spiral nebulae and measure the heat of the moon. Massive supporting walls once held the long wooden tube of the instrument in place, rigged with a complicated system of ropes and pulleys; taped information today provides background history. The stable block at the castle is home to Ireland’s Historic Science Centre, which has exhibitions of astronomy, photography and engineering.