The Bottom Line
- Quaint market town with typical urban landscape.
- Preserved Georgian architecture.
- Fairy-tale castle with extensive grounds.
- Historical telescope "Leviathan" in castle grounds.
- Castle itself not open to public.
- Typical Irish country town with largely unspoilt center.
- Birr is a designated Heritage Town, Georgian architecture has been preserved in the town center.
- 17th century castle rebuilt as stately home in the gothic style.
- Telescope "Leviathan" in the castle grounds used to be biggest in the world.
- Curious Fact: Birr repeatedly had the lowest winter temperatures in Ireland, making the name strangely fitting.
Guide Review - Birr and Birr Castle (County Offaly)
Birr itself is unremarkable and just a typical Irish country town. But this is exactly what makes it so attractive, especially because it has not been dolled up or (worse) modernized. Take a walk down narrow main street with its small shops, see the monument to the "Manchester Martyrs", experience provincial urban grandeur at the modest central square. And have a look at a Russian cannon, a souvenir from the Crimean War. All this can be enjoyed in the company of locals, tourists are not overcrowding the town.
Pride of place must however go to Birr Castle, still in private hands and opposite a handy, albeit extremely ugly municipal car park.
Once you enter the courtyard this ugliness is quickly forgotten. An exhibition tells you about the history of the castle, the landscaped grounds and ... astronomy. A the 3rd Earl of Rosse was so taken in by stargazing that he not only studied astronomy, but proceeded to build the world's largest telescope in his backyard. The aptly named "Leviathan" from the 1840s has been restored in recent years and is one of Ireland's most important technical monuments. Unwieldy, built like a fortress and exposed to the elements it so not confirms to our modern idea of astronomy that it is simply fascinating.
The rest of the gardens, and there is quite a bit of "rest" to be found, are landscaped in interesting ways. Statues, displays of falconry, tours in jaunting cars and the Victorian greenhouse are just some attractions. Plus several huge trees. A magnificent view of the castle itself can be had from the river walk - a fairy-tale come true. As the castle is still used as a home it is not open to the public, however.
If you have the time and a bit of appetite, drop into the café in the courtyard (to your right when leaving) - the food is good and the portions are generous.