Birr Castle – Irish Home of Gardens & Science (History & Travel Tips)

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The Birr castle that we know today is a study in lush, green magnificence with its sprawling gardens and unique foliage. It is 400 years old and its romance is still just as lovely and sparkling as it ever was. Today, it belongs to the Earl of Rosse, who is the seventh one of his lineage to be living there. Below, let’s take a look at everything that you need to know about it:

Birr Castle hosts the Game and County fair every year, it’s during this time that the owners make a turn of the castle grounds in their beautiful carriage.

The wild green meadows surrounding Birr Castle.
The wild meadows surrounding Birr Castle. Birr Castle flickr photo by jemartin03 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

Norman Origins (1170)

The Birr castle upholds its historical significance by boasting an authentic Norman buildership. Its original structure dates back to circa 1170, but the tides of time have resulted in significant changes to its appearance over time.

A garden side view of the stunning structure of Birr Castle.
A garden side view of the stunning structure of Birr Castle. Birr Castle – 06 flickr photo by Jon and Alanna shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Under the O’Carrolls (14th Century – 16th Century)

This castle became the stronghold of the O’Carrolls in the 14th century. They ruled the land and its surroundings (which went by the name Ely O’Carroll back in the day). They resided at the tower house and held on to their ownership until the 1580s, when the property passed to the Ormond Butlers.

Birr Castle garden north of the castle grounds.
Birr Castle garden north of the castle grounds. Dennis Turner / Birr Castle gardens

Property of the Parsons (17th Century Onwards)

It wasn’t until the 1620s when the Birr Castle was finally allocated to the Parsons family – also known as the Earls of Rosse – by James l. While the O’Carrolls used the tower as their residential wing, the Parsons turned a new leaf and converted the Norman Gate Tower into a quaint and sophisticated English House.

They also made many architectural changes to the dilapidated structure of the gate tower, which include the revamping and refurbishment of the flanking towers by Laurence Parsons in 1628. 

Another view that can be seen on Birr Castle's garden.
Another view that can be seen on Birr Castle’s garden. 20130527_BirrCastle_Cutler_P1470534 flickr photo by wlcutler shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

From Ruin to Revival

The Birr Castle went through two major sieges in the 17th and 18th centuries. This left the dwelling in a dilapidated condition again. However, it all came to an end in the 19th century, when Birr was given an elevation revamp in the Gothic style. The towers and walls that stood on the moat and were built by the O’Carrolls were swept away. In the late nineteenth century, an octagonal salon was also added to the construction by architect John Johnson. The entire refurbishment plan was to give the Birr Castle a more inviting outlook as a whole.

However, that’s not where it ends. Castle Birr succumbed to a fire in 1836, which led to the rebuilding of the central structure as well. This is the time when a 3rd story and a dining room were added.

A painting of Mary, the Countess of Rosse, who oversaw the revamp of the Birr Castle moat.
A painting of Mary, the Countess of Rosse, who oversaw the revamp of the Birr Castle moat. Unknown painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After the 1840s, Ireland was hit by a famine and that was the time when the Parsons (under the leadership of the Countess of Rosse) flattened the original Norman moat in favor of a star-shaped new one.

An archived image of The Great Telescope built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse.
An archived image of The Great Telescope built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse.

All of this renovation overlapped with the building of the Great Telescope, or the Leviathan of Parsonstown, by the esteemed William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845.

Current Times

Today, Birr Castle is one of Ireland’s most attractive tourist destinations. Still in the ownership of the Parsons, it now has some truly great attractions to offer in Birr County. The Parsons have a long history of interest in scientific discoveries, so it makes sense that the Birr Castle has its very own Gardens & Science Center now.

With around 80 rooms – including a music room with a grand piano and a harp – it’s a castle that brims with history and culture. With innumerable family artifacts and a liveable atmosphere, Lady Rosse successfully kept the castle going so that it could be inhabited by the next generation.

Birr Castle's map of the award winning gardens.
Birr Castle’s map of the award winning gardens. 20130527_BirrCastle_Cutler_P1470399 flickr photo by wlcutler shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Interesting Birr Castle Facts

  • Birr Castle occupies almost 1200 acres of land and is one of the most gorgeous walled estates of the world.
  • The castle is surrounded by stunning parklands at its base that were planted in the 17th century. There’s a 500 year old oak in the center of this meadow, which hasn’t been touched for almost 400 years to date.
  • Birr Castle hosts the Game and County fair every year, it’s during this time that the owners make a turn of the castle grounds in their beautiful carriage.
  • With so many scientific discoveries carried out by the Parsons clan, it’s no surprise that the castle stables were converted into a beautiful Gardens & Science Center.
  • Birr Castle is also home to one of the oldest wrought-iron bridges in Ireland. It dates back to the 1820s.

Visiting Birr Castle – Tips and Tricks

Birr Castle is one of Ireland’s most magnificent jewels – especially if you’re a horticultural or science aficionado. So, if you’re planning a visit, here’s some great information that can make you plan the perfect trip:

The 72-inch reflecting telescope found at the grounds of Birr Castle.
The 72-inch reflecting telescope found at the grounds of Birr Castle. Telescope at Birr Castle flickr photo by jemartin03 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How to get to Birr Castle?

There are many ways for you to get to Birr Castle. You can take the 845 bus from Dublin, which will take you around 2 hours and twenty minutes. Alternatively, you can also take the train to Galway station, from where you can take a bus to Birr. It will take 53 minutes and 38 minutes respectively, with an average cost between €13-€18 ($15-21 USD). Lastly, you can also just drive there and it will cost you anywhere between €16-17 ($19-20 USD).

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

The official website of Birr Castle suggests that you need to pre-order your tickets before arrival. So, whether you’re opting for a general tour, a guided tour, or even just visiting with a friend, you simply need to buy your ticket online prior to the visit.

General admissions cover a family of 2 children and 2 adults. It costs €26.00 ($31 USD). Admission ticket for a single adult is €10 ($12 USD) and €5 ($6 USD) for a kid (aged 4-16). Students need to pay €7.50 ($9 USD) and senior tickets are for €8 ($10 USD).

Guided tours cost €12 ($14 USD) per person and visitors are encouraged to arrive half an hour before it starts. It’s 60 minutes long and spans the entire history of Birr Castle, including the scientific and horticultural achievements of the Parsons.

A closer look of The Leviathan of Parsonstown,, the great telescope at Birr Castle.
A closer look of The Leviathan of Parsonstown,, the great telescope at Birr Castle. Birr Castle, The Great Telescope flickr photo by bea & txm & alan shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

It takes about 45 minutes to tour Birr Castle, so you can spend the rest of your time picnicking in the gardens or exploring the rest of the city.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • Don’t forget to visit the nurseries on the top floor if you want a gorgeous view of the town at the foot of the castle.
  • You’ll love the cozy little cafe that’s tucked in the courtyard of the Garden & Science Center.
  • There’s no parking area within the castle grounds, so keep that in mind before renting a car.

Quick Video Tour of The Main Birr Castle Areas

Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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