Places to visit in Europe

Birr Castle and Demesne

Birr Castle and Demesne In the 1840s, the Third Earl of Rosse, owner of Birr Castle, constructed the biggest telescope then built, making the small midland town of Birr the astronomical centre of the world.

Dismantled in 1914 since there were no longer any astronomers in the family. Birr Castle and Demesne now exhibits the astonishing botanical, scientific, photographic and engineering achievements of an extraordinary family. In February 1996, an ambitious programme to restore the telescope began, and it now looks and moves just as it did 150 years ago. The telescope weighs 8 tons and consists of a main mirror in the base of a 17-metre tube which reflects light from the moon and stars to a secondary mirror, allowing them to be observed through an eyepiece. The positioning of the tube can now be done either manually or by computer. A hands-on exhibition displays many 19th century scientific instruments, such as those used by the Fourth Earl to measure the heat of the moon. The exhibition "Expo '97, Reaching for the Stars" situated in the Pavilion alongside the Telescope, tells the story of the telescope and its remarkable restoration. Also on show are the earliest darkroom and the 1850's photos which were developed there. Set in almost 50 hectares of glorious parkland, the Birr estate has outstanding formal gardens with terraces, hornbeam cloisters and box hedges which are recognised as the tallest in the world. Over 1,000 different species of trees, plants and shrubs from five continents bear witness to an outstanding botanical achievement. Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls add to the magic of this exceptional garden. Visitors can to also see the oldest iron suspension bridge in Europe, built in 1810 by the 2nd Earl of Rosse.

Information is available in English, French, German, and Italian. A teacher’s pack and worksheets for students are also available on request. Guided tours can be arranged by appointment. The opening of the Historic Science Centre in July 1998 was part of an ambitious scheme to convert the Castle Coach House and stables into scientific galleries with interactive hands-on-exhibits, to renovate the old foundry where the telescope mirrors were cast, and to restore the various examples of Victorian engineering in the park - an early wrought-iron suspension bridge, a turbine house and waterwheel - thus setting the family's contributions in the broader context of science and technology in Ireland. The Science Centre, which focuses on engineering, botany, horticulture, astronomy and photography, is unique in Ireland.

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