The Midlands Travel Guide

The Midlands Sights

Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre

  • Rosse Row Map It
  • Birr
  • Castle/Palace/Chateau
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 01/20/2010

Fodor's Review

Summer visitors can join a guided tour of one of Ireland's most elegant stately homes and peer behind the scenes of a previously closed-off world. The Gothic Revival castle (built around an earlier 17th-century castle that was damaged by fire in 1823) is still the home of the earls of Rosse. Castle tours, usually given by family members, bring you through the spectacular Gothic music saloon from 1810 (said by many to be the most beautiful room in Ireland), the library, the yellow drawing room, and reception rooms. Held from May to August, Monday–Saturday, the tours run at 10, 11:30, and 1, and last around 75 minutes. Note that the castle has more than 100 rooms and the tour takes in just a small number of them.

The present Earl and Countess of Rosse continue the family tradition of making botanical expeditions for specimens of rare trees, plants, and shrubs to fill the demesne's 150 acres. 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. If you are joining a house tour, book in advance; allow at least three hours to see everything in the demesne—there are 3,400 plants and 3,860 varieties of trees from 40 countries. Remember to build in time to enjoy the astonishing tree house designed in the shape of a fairy-tale castle with round turrets and Gothic-style windows. It features a huge slide, tree decks lined by a rope bridge, and secret tunnels. Along with the adventure playground, with its giant bouncing pillow, hobbit houses, and scramble nets, it has proved a smash hit with families. There's a crafts shop and picnic area, and the Castle Courtyard Café serves daily lunch specials from 10 to 4 between April and September. The grounds also contain Ireland's Historic Science Centre, an exhibition on astronomy, photography, and engineering housed in the stable block with the oldest surviving darkroom in the world. The giant (72-inch-long) reflecting telescope, built in 1845, was the largest in the world for 75 years. New interactive displays appeal to children by linking science with nature. In 2017 the new Irish Low Frequency Array Radio Telescope (known as I-Lofar) arrived, allowing Irish astronomers to explore astronomical phenomena including solar physics and planets outside the solar system. There is no public access to th I-Lofar telescope.

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Sight Information

Address:

Rosse Row, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland

Map It

Phone:

057-912–0336

Sight Details:

  • Castle tour, gardens, and science center €18, gardens €10
  • Castle closed Sept.–Apr.and Sun.

Published 01/20/2010

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