Birr Castle

Birr Castle, in County Offaly, is among a small group of Irish houses built within the town from which it takes its name. The original castle formed part of a chain of fortresses built by the powerful O’Carroll family of Ely, on the borders of Leinster and Munster. Today the southeast front overlooks the town and its battlements form a striking feature from the streets, but the northwest front has been so skilfully designed, and the plantings are so effective, that from every aspect of the park the castle appears to be in a remote rural setting.

In the seventeenth century Sir Laurence Parsons acquired the estate and rebuilt the gatehouse as his residence, turning its axis to face into the park and adding two flanking towers, which were attached to the building by canted wings to form a symmetrical façade. One tower, which today houses the family muniments room, contains an interesting frieze of early decorative plasterwork.

Further alterations took place during the eighteenth century and shortly after 1800, Sir Lawrence Parsons, who succeeded his cousin as the 2nd Earl of Rosse, remodelled the castle in the fashionable Georgian gothick style. The Earl acted largely as his own architect with the help of a little-known local man, John Johnson, who also designed both the principal churches in the town. The result is a splendid fantasy castle, which appears as a single composition despite being constructed in different phases. The entrance is approached by a tall flight of wide steps overshadowed by a massive arch, which gives the impression of passing beneath a mediaeval portcullis.

The interior is another skilful combination of dates and styles, forming a remarkably harmonious whole for which Anne Rosse, chatelaine of Birr from the 1930s to the 70s, is chiefly responsible. She was the sister of Oliver Messel, the artist and stage-designer, and the mother of Lord Snowdon. A talented designer, decorator and gardener in her own right, her arrangement of the family collections is masterly.

Birr contains some fine early 18th century interiors while others, most notably the delicately vaulted Gothic saloon overlooking the river, date from the 2nd Earl’s reconstructions. The principal staircase is from the 17th century house, with turned balusters and a luxuriously swooping handrail, built of native yew and described in 1681 by Thomas Dinely as “the fairest in all Ireland”.

The park was originally laid out in the 18th century, though the 3rd Earl and his countess built the two embattled gatehouses in the mid 19th century. They also created an impressive series of fortified outworks, which separate the castle from the park without loosing any of the striking vistas. The gardens are extensive and varied, with fine collections of plants and specimen trees, and a formal garden of pleached hornbeam allées.

In the park opposite the castle, between two embattled walls, is the Leviathan of Birr, the world’s largest telescope for over 50 years. Its designer and builder, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, was one of the leading scientists and engineers of his day, while his wife was an important pioneer photographer. The telescope allowed the earl and his son, later the 4th Earl, to make a number of major new discoveries about the solar system while his younger son, Charles Parsons, was a groundbreaking engineering pioneer and the inventor of the steam turbine.

Today Birr Castle is the home of the 7th Earl of Rosse, his wife and their family. 

Address & Contact

Birr Castle, Birr, Offaly

t: +353 57 9120336

e: reception@birrcastle.com

w: www.birrcastle.com

Admission

March 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 31.

April 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30.

May 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

June 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30.

July 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

August 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

September 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30.

October 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

9am to 6pm

 

November 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30.

December 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

January 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

February 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28.

March 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16.

10am to 4pm

 

Adults €9.00 

Concessions 7.50 

Children €5.00

Families €25.00

Guided Tours  €25.00

Groups by arrangement

Courtyard Cafe open 3rd March to 31st October