Birr is often described as the centre of Ireland but at one time, it was also the centre of the universe. Indeed, those of us who come from the town believe it still is!
There’s been a castle at Birr since 1170, changing hands frequently over the first four hundred years before becoming the family seat of the Parsons family, now the Earls of Rosse. In fact, from 1620 until 1899 the town was officially called Parsonstown.
The 3rd Earl of Rosse was an enthusiastic scientist with a particular interest in astronomy. He commissioned the building of a telescope in the castle grounds. It went into use in 1845 and would remain the largest telescope in the world, until the completion of the Hooker Telescope in 1917. Known as the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’ the reflector measured 183cm (72in). The telescope was restored in the 1990s and forms the heart of ‘Ireland’s Historic Science Centre’, a museum of historic botanists and astronomers.
A state-of-the-art radio-telescope is situated in the grounds, contributing its findings to the LOFAR network. The Castle grounds are also home to Ireland’s oldest wrought iron bridge and the world’s tallest box hedge.