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Fodor's Ireland 2014
Birr Castle Demesne
Birr Castle Demesne Review
All roads in Birr lead to the gates of Birr Castle Demesne, a gorgeous Gothic Revival castle (built around an earlier 17th-century castle that was damaged by fire in 1823) that is still the home of the earls of Rosse. It's not open to the public, but you can visit the surrounding 150 acres of gardens. The present earl and countess of Rosse continue the family tradition of making botanical expeditions all over the world for specimens of rare trees, plants, and shrubs. The formal gardens contain the tallest box hedges in the world (at 32 feet) and vine-sheltered hornbeam allées. In spring, check out the wonderful display of flowering magnolias, cherries, crab apples, and naturalized narcissi; in autumn, the maples, chestnuts, and weeping beeches blaze red and gold.
The grounds are laid out around a lake and along the banks of two adjacent rivers, above one of which stands the castle. The grounds also contain Ireland's Historic Science Centre, an exhibition on astronomy, photography, botany, and engineering housed in the stable block. The giant (72-inch-long) reflecting telescope, built in 1845, remained the largest in the world for 75 years. The exhibition was revamped during 2013, and new interactive displays appeal to children by linking science with nature. Allow at least two hours to see everything—there are 3,400 plants. Look out for the 'Birr Zebra', a delightful beech tree with brilliantly striped leaves. There's a crafts shop, picnic and play area, and the Courtyard Café serves soup, salads, sandwiches, and daily lunch specials.
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