Birr Castle in County Offaly is a magnificent old castle that has been the private family home of the Parsons family since the early 17th century. Unfortunately, as it is a private residence, the interior isn't open to the public. You may, however, visit Birr's “demesne” -- an old word used to describe the lands surrounding the castle. Unlike some other castle grounds, Birr demesne is not free, but it is a delightful demesne, particularly if you've got kids.
Old video from Birr Castle, a bit grainy but nice scenes
Treehouse Adventure Area
One of the main attractions in the gardens, and the first thing you encounter on leaving the main reception, is the Treehouse Adventure Area, which includes a giant wooden tree house. This is a unique, beautifully crafted attraction, befitting of the setting, and one that kids find irresistible. The play area also features a bouncy pillow and sand pits.
This 17th century park includes exotic tree and plant collections, rivers and a lake, formal gardens, terraces and wildflower meadows, all in the shadow of the grand old castle. In the Millennium Garden, a Yew lined avenue leads to the world’s tallest Box Hedges (according to the Guinness Book of Records), which were first planted in the 18th century.
And old moat runs around the building. There is no water in the moat today, and kids enjoy running through the deep ditch.
Birr Castle is also famous for its Great Telescope, designed and built in 1845 by William Parson, the 3rd Earl of Rosse. The instrument’s huge speculum was cast in a furnace at the bottom of the castle moat, fired by local peat. For over 70 years, it was the world's largest telescope, and the observatory attracted leading astronomers from America, Australia and Imperial Russia. Today it stands impressively in the middle of the demense, although those not on guided tours will are provided with scant information to understand its workings.
The Science Centre
There is a long history of science associated with the castle and its owners, and the castle’s stables (just behind the main reception) are home to Ireland's Historic Science Centre. The Centre exhibits astronomical instruments, cameras, photographs and photographic equipment that were used by various members of the Parsons family throughout the 1800s, as well as items relating to the pioneering work of other Irish scientists. Also on display is electrical and engineering equipment originally belonging to Charles Parsons, as well as a large area devoted to the botanical work carried out in the Demesne.
History of Birr Castle
The first castle on the site was built by the Normans in 1170. From the 14th to the 17th century, the O' Carroll family owned the castle and demesne, from where they ruled a territory of about 160 square miles known as Ely O' Carroll. In 1620, the castle was granted to English Adventurer Sir Laurence Parsons, who built the core of the present castle. Having suffered damage in the wars of the seventeenth century, the building was later reconstructed and enlarged.
The Courtyard Cafe
Open from April to October, the Courtyard Cafe is a lovely little eatery that, as its name suggests, is located in the castle courtyard, just before the main reception. It serves tasty, home-made food. The cafe is worth a visit for tea, coffee or lunch, even if you don't plan on entering the Castle Demesne (which requires a fee), especially on a pleasant day, as you can dine outside in the castle courtyard.
- 16 Mar to 31 Oct 9am - 6pm
- 1 Nov to 15 Mar 10am - 4pm
- December 25th, 26th and January 1st - Closed
Individual Rates Details Price Adult €9 Family (2 adults, 2 children) €25 Senior €7.50 Student Aged 13 - 17 €7.50 Child Aged 5 - 12 €5 Child Aged 4 years and under FREE Tours of the Castle Gardens and Science Centre Tour are available in May, Jul and August. Advance Booking Required. €18.00 Discounts for groups of 15 or more.
Birr Castle exterior. Image by Luke Ravitch
Tree house at Birr Castle. Image by Jody Halsted