Video: Birr Castle, Ireland - Magnificent Gardens, Fascinating Science Centre and the Historic Great Telescope

Birr Castle is noted for many things: its five-star gardens, its archives preserved through the ages, and as the home of the family which has lived in it for 14 successive generations. Of particular interest, however, is its contribution to science, particularly in the fields of astronomy and engineering.

The site of Birr Castle first entered the Parsons family in 1620. In the 18th century, Sir Laurence Parsons heightened and gothicised the original castle. Possibly of even greater importance for the future, he, or his wife, Alice Lloyd of Gloster, whose interests included astronomy, insisted that their sons be educated by tutors at home.

The elder son, William, became one of the best-known astronomers of his age. He began by constructing a telescope which he erected in front of the castle in 1826. During the 1840’s, William, the third Earl of Rosse, designed and built the mirrors, tube and mountings for a 72-inch reflecting telescope, which remained the largest in the world for three-quarters of a century. Its tube, over 50 feet long and 7 feet wide, may still be seen today. With this instrument, Lord Rosse was able to study and record details of distant stellar objects and to provide evidence that many of these mysterious nebulae were actually galaxies located far outside our own. Birr became the mecca for all interested in astronomy, because it was the only place on earth from which such distant galaxies could be seen.

Ireland’s Historic Science Center at Birr contains astronomical instruments, cameras, photographs and photographic equipment used by the Third and Fourth Earls and Mary, Countess of Rosse, in the middle and late 1800’s. Also on display is electrical and engineering equipment originally belonging to Charles Parsons and used in his experiments. The whole collection is housed in the restored stables of the castle.

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