Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland

Birr Castle is located in County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland which is around a 2-hour drive from Dublin but it is well worth the trip. Ireland’s Ancient East also known as the Hidden Heartland of Ireland has a lot to offer that many tourists tend to miss in the rush to well-known sites. It’s easiest to rent a car to really see the Heartland of Ireland and Birr Castle is no exception, there are ways to get here via bus and train but it could take you up to 4 hours or more.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland

Where is Birr Castle in Ireland?

The picturesque heritage town of Birr Ireland and Birr Castle is located in County Offaly, on the River Camcor and is one of the best examples in the country of a Georgian town; formal, spacious and well-planned, with many Georgian-style houses remaining along its tree-lined malls and avenues.

Heaving with history, Birr is one of Ireland’s premier heritage towns and is proud of its unique character spanning many centuries. Its most famous landmark, Birr Castle Demesne, has been the seat of the Parsons family – the Earls of Rosse – for fourteen generations.

History of Birr Castle

Birr Castle is a large castle in the town of Birr in County Offaly, Ireland. Birr castle demesne is the home of the 7th Earl of Rosse and his family, and as such the residential areas of the castle are not open to the public, the grounds and gardens are all publicly accessible and you can visit the Science Museum and a café, a reflecting telescope which was the largest in the world for decades and a modern radio telescope.

Birr castle history begins in the Anglo-Norman period when the original Castle was built as a motte and bailey. The gate tower of this led into the castle bawn (courtyard) which is now the centre of the present building. The Central Gate Passage with its 12-foot walls can be seen on the lower floor of the present building.

The castle or fortress of Birr was re-occupied by the O’Carroll’s who held it until the 1580s when it was sold to the Ormond Butler family from Kilkenny.  In 1620 the castle was a ruin and James I granted it to the Parsons family. The Parsons did a great deal of rebuilding to make the castle more of a home including the building of the two flanking towers.

The castle survived two sieges in the 17th century, leaving the family impoverished at the beginning of the 18th century. This led to little being done to the 17th-century house.  During the end of the 17th century, the house was given a new gothic facade facing the park instead of the town. The ancient towers and walls were removed and around 1820 the octagonal Gothic Saloon was added.

After a fire that took place in 1836, the castle was to a great extent rebuilt with heightened ceilings and a 3rd story added. centre of the castle was rebuilt, with the ceilings heightened, a third story added and also the great dining room. During the famine, the castle owners hired Irish workers to flatten the old moat and the original Norman moat and replace it with a star-shaped moat and keep gate. This period of remodelling also overlapped with the construction of the Great Telescope, The Leviathan which was completed in 1845.

The final work on the castle was completed in the 1860s when a Square Tower at the back of the castle on the East side was added.  This now contains nurseries on the top floor which have a great view over the town of Birr

Castle ruins in Ireland

How to get to Birr Castle

Birr Castle makes a great stop if you plan on travelling to Galway – and who doesn’t? In either direction, you just follow the M6 (there are tolls) and turn off to Birr on the R355 where there are no tolls.

Birr Castle Tour 

This magnificent castle is a rare gem in the heart of Ireland as it is still lived in by the Parsons family. For a limited time only May-August, The Parsons Family open their home to allow the public inside Birr Castle. A fortress built in the 11th century was acquired by the family in 1620 and the various generations have been working to build, preserve and protect this great heritage ever since.

A Birr Castle guided tour costs Adults – €20.00, these take place from May to September, Mon-Sat 10:00, 11:30, 13:00 

There are limited spaces (15 visitors per tour to allow for social distancing).  Pre-booking is essential. Not suitable for children under 12 years.   

Visitors are welcome to one of Ireland’s most intriguing destinations, steeped in scientific achievements and home to the remarkable Parsons family for 400 years. This rare opportunity brings visitors inside the castle to explore the magnificent interiors of five main reception rooms with their exquisite craftsmanship.  Each tour is guided and lasts 75 minutes.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland
Hawks and birds of prey

Birr Castle Tickets

Birr Castle entry fee for general admission for an adult is €10 euros. This is a self-guided tour that includes exploring the demesne on a self-guided tour with the help of visitor guides/maps, available in six languages.  Or join one of the seasonal Guided Tours, which includes the Discovery Tour, Castle Tour and Garden Tour.  Selection of trails to choose from, including the Red Tree Trail and X-Trails Solar Trail, available on arrival. 

On your tour of the castle, your guide will lead you through a number of beautiful rooms while enlightening you on the history, the family, key pieces of furniture, and the collection of treasures within the rooms.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland
handfasting stone at Birr

Monday to Saturday at 10.00, 11.30 and 13.00 each day, Pre-booking is essential and you can do this online. The castle tour includes a 45-minute guided tour of the main reception rooms of Birr Castle, and full access to the Science Centre, the Great Telescope and 120 acres of gardens and parklands. Castle tours are not suitable for children under the age of 12. 

Birr Castle Gardens & Science Centre

For admission only to the grounds, gardens, science centre and children’s areas, the ticket price is Adult: €9.50.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland
Birr waterfall

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The Historic Science Centre at Birr Castle

Birr Castle Telescope

telescope at Birr Castle
the telescope

The Science centre at Birr Castle reveals the wonders of early photography, engineering and astronomy with a special emphasis on the brilliant design and assembly of the world-famous Great Telescope.

In the early 1840s, the 3rd Earl of Rosse designed and built the largest telescope in the world. With this telescope, he discovered the spiral nature of some of the galaxies, and in the 19th century from 1845-1914, anyone wishing to witness this phenomenon had to come to Birr.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland
getting ready to joust

At the Science Centre, you can discover astronomical instruments, cameras, photographs and photographic equipment used by the Third and Fourth Earls and Mary, Countess of Rosse, in the middle and late 1800s.

Birr Castle Gardens

The Gardens of Birr Castle are home to an abundance of rare plants and within the 50 hectares, you will find over 5000 species of plants, 50 Champion trees and gorgeous walks, rivers, waterfalls and some incredible scientific displays.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland

Birr Castle Tree House!

The playground at Birr Castle features Ireland’s largest treehouse along with new complimentary play equipment added in 2019. And while they’re busy in the Treehouse Adventure area, you deserve a coffee and a browse around the gift shop – and everyone’s happy!

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland

Birr Castle Game Fair 

Great Game Fairs of Ireland events are held at traditional venues on Ireland’s most historic estates. They are well established and contain a wealth of entertainment. From gun dogs to shooting competitions. a Fine Food Festival, Living History Villages and so much more.  

vikings at birr castle

The Game Fairs are an ideal place to learn about countryside living in Ireland along with displays and exhibits there is information on preserving the countryside, sustainable living and farming practices, environmental watchdogs and tons of information on how to maintain the environment that makes Ireland so special. Every year the Birr Castle Game Fair is held in Offaly and it is attended by over 20,000 people a year.

Birr castle stables and courtyard
Birr Castle Stables

Birr Castle Game Fair has re-enactors jousting, hawking, shooting arrows, gun dogs and trials and all sorts of activities for both kids and adults. On top of that, you can watch Vikings go about their business in the Living History Village, catch some jousting in the square, learn to handle hawks and game birds yourself and then wander off to watch the dogs compete for their owners.

jousting at Birr Castle

There is also a great food fair held at Birr Castle during the Game Fair – the perfect place to pick up some tasty treats to take home and there are even loads of booths with wax jackets, welly boots and other country needs.

birr castle and game fair

A trip to Birr is a full day especially if you want to take in the Gardens and the Science Centre. There is a lovely courtyard cafe where you can take a break and have some fresh scones and jam with your cup of tea. Even if you visit when there is no Game Fair you will find plenty to do and admire at this beautiful castle.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland

Birr Castle also hosts several special events throughout the year from Balloon Festivals to Halloween Celebrations and Science Walks. There is so much to see you can spend a couple of days there.

Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland

While you are in the area you must also take time to visit Birr itself. You can take in the Birr Town Trail or Riverbank Walk, with both routes starting from Emmet Square and covering a distance of just over 1km each. Or check out the graveyard of St. Brendan and the location of the old monastic site.  

Birr Castle Ireland Faqs

Why is Birr Castle famous? The Award-Winning Gardens of Birr Castle Demesne in Ireland are rich in amazing feats of science and engineering, as well as rare trees and flowers, wonderful wildlife, and walks along peaceful rivers and the lake.

Is Birr Castle open to the public? The Castle at Birr Castle Demesne is still a private family home, there is no access within the Castle itself. There are seasonal guided tours of the interior of the Castle.

Who built the telescope in Birr Castle? the Third Earl of Rosse in the early 1840s, designed and built the largest telescope in the world. With this telescope, he discovered the spiral nature of some of the galaxies.

Can you stay at Birr Castle? Not at the castle itself but I recommend The Bothy and Adavnan Lodge are Birr Castle Cottages. Stay in the charming setting of Birr for a week or more and enjoy Birr Castle Gardens, Science Centre and Adventure Playground on your doorstep and free to enter. The Bothy is a cosy cottage in the heart of the gardens.

Who built Birr Castle? Sir Lawrence Parsons (died 1628) was granted Birr Castle and 1,277 acres (5.2 km2) of land in 1620. Parsons engaged English masons in the construction of a new castle on the site.

Who lives in Birr Castle? Birr Castle owners are the Parson family who continue to live in Birr Castle.

When is Birr Castle Gardens & Science Centre open? Birr Castle opens from June 22nd to September 30th, 9 am to 6 pm daily. Tickets are available online and must be pre-purchased.

If you love architecture you will definitely appreciate the town of Birr’s immaculate Georgian buildings. Or if you prefer something more energetic how about a great cross-country trek on horseback? Visit the Birr Equestrian Centre for lessons and trekking. 

Birr also has a rich monastic heritage and was home in the 6th century to St.Brendan, one of the “twelve apostles of Ireland”. The original monastic site is probably close to the castle in William Street, behind wrought-iron gates of the old church and graveyard of St.Brendan

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Author

  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

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3 thoughts on “Visiting the distinguished Birr Castle Ireland”

  1. A castle that is a private home? Wow! I’ve never been to Ireland (despite being British so it’s right on my doorstep). I love the castles and medieval history. Your post has prompted me to go.

  2. Oh wow what a fantastic day you had! I would love to do something like this! and I wouldn’t mind a castle for a home too!

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