A day trip for the scientists, engineers, astronomers and photographers all inside a castle with wonderful gardens and cafes that are a delight to walk in summer. Go to the supermarket get some food and wine and make a picnic of it. Ask your accommodation to borrow cutlery etc, they will do so, and it is more environmentally friendly than buying plastic forks etc. Birr Castle is situated 40km from Tullamore, the next main town and is seat of the Earls of Rosse. Like Charleville Castle, the family still reside in the castle, but the grounds and converted buildings are open to the public. Here is a quick list of the notable points about Birr Castle that are all covered in their science museum.
The Great Telescope
In 1845 the then Earl, a huge astronomy fan, completed the Great Telescope. Fifteen metres long and 2 meters in diameter. Stuck it in his garden and was the first to identify spiral galaxies. It was the largest telescope in the world for the following 75 years. In doing so he invented many new engineering solutions including casting huge mirrors. A self-taught engineer he inspired his family and his son would be one of the engineers that lit the touchstone to the industrial revolution.
His wife Mary Rosse is one of the most notable pioneers of photography, and her darkroom was rediscovered untouched in the 1980s, it is the oldest darkroom in Europe and possibly the world. Mary used the room extensively for more than a decade, as did her son the 4th Earl until 1908. The room was a photographic time capsule, having lain untouched until 1983, and its rediscovery was an exciting date in the history of photography. When you walk through seeing her photos of the great telescope under construction and then children and family in displays surrounded by huge beautiful brass lenses and wet plate large format cameras it’s hard not to want to borrow a few. Mary’s work earned her the Photographic Society of Ireland’s first Silver Medal, She was the first person, male or female, and to whom it was awarded some achievement in a male-dominated 1850’s Ireland.
Charles Parson followed in his father’s tradition of engineering. Charles is best known for his invention of the steam-powered turbine which was used eventually to power the engines of ships. His invention of a turbine engine in 1884, making cheap and plentiful electricity possible, revolutionised marine transport and naval warfare. This turbine changed the world, and Charles can be said to be the father of the jet engine. Charles Parsons realised the potential of his new turbine to power ships and in 1893 he, along with five associates, formed the Marine Steam Turbine Company. It was decided that the first experimental vessel be named Turbinia. Which will shock most Englishmen as they thought it was an English invention, they think the first workable military submarine was too, but sorry that was another Irishman.
Mary Ward and Microscopy
A cousin of the Earl and a frequent visitor to the castle, her work in microscopy and illustrations of plants and all things tiny like insects were used in school books across the British empire in the late eighteen hundred. The display of her delicate work is amazing art and beautiful. Also Mary is famous for one other thing. She was the first traffic accident death recorded in Ireland. Riding on a steam carriage built by her cousin Charles Parsons above she fell off and was run over by the machine, dying at the age of 45.
The gardens are full of wonder. For more visit the website birrcastle.com.
By car 40km. Use Google Maps. If you are coming a day or so early or staying later and have space in your car for such a trip, why not advertise it in the group.
Posted by Rita. Updated 27 June 2022.