Birr Castle

Birr Castle (Irish: Caisleán Bhiorra) is located in Birr, County Offaly. It is the home of the seventh Earl of Rosse. There has been a castle on the site since 1170 who was origianally ruled by the O' Carroll family until the 17th Century.


River View of Birr Castle


Birr Domaine of Discovery offers something for everyone to enjoy and is especially interesting and educational for families.  Starting with Ireland’s Historic Science Centre in the old stable block, with its café and shop you can then explore 50 hectares of park land, visit the magnificent Formal Gardens and terraces and discover Birr’s world famous engineering and astronomical wonder - the Great Telescope. 

Birr Castle was built in 1170. From the 14th to the 17th century the O' Carroll family ruled the area which was then known as the 'Ely O' Carroll'.

During the 17th Century, William Parson's son Laurence refurnished the castle. Laurence also engaged in some re-building and heightened the Gothic look of the Castle. His son, William, the third Earl of Rosse, was responsible for the construction of the great telescope at Birr. When completed in 1845, it was the largest telescope on earth, and capable of capturing more light and seeing further into space than any telescope had done before.

For Chinese Visitors

  • Translated Website
  • Audio Visual Tour

Address: Rosse Row, Birr, Co.Offaly

Website: (English)

Website: (Chinese)

Birr Castle is steeped in Chinese history:

  • The 6th Earl of Rosse travelled a month through Tibet in 1927 with the writer Robert Byron .
  • Desmond Parsons the younger brother to the 6th Earl went to Peking University in Beijing in 1935 and studied 4 languages.
  • The 6th Earl, with his newly married wife Anne Messel, went to China on their world honeymoon trip.
  •  While the 6th Earl was in China, Desmond set off without permission or prior notice to visit the Dunhuang caves and was imprisoned, but later escaped. On arrival at Beijing he was very sick and the 6th Earl cut short the honeymoon and returned by train across Russia to Europe where Desmond passed away.
  •  The 6th Earl sponsored plant seed collecting expeditions in China for the botanical institutes to collect plant seed for themselves. He developed a long relationship with a Professor Yu from the Lushan botanical institute. From this Birr has developed a large collection of Chinese plants with the greatest proportion of all the plants in the Gardens coming from China.
  •  The first Chinese ambassador Madame Gong Pusheng brought the Chinese Olympic team to Birr in 1982. Following this every Chinese Ambassador has been to Birr.
  •  After the reopening of China the 7th Countess went to Xinjiang on a cultural trip in 1990
  • Lord Oxmantown left to build his career in real estate in China in 1993 arriving first in Hongkong and then travelling a month throughout China.
  • The 7th Earl went to Yunnan for a month to participate in an international plunt hunting expedition to the area where the tributaries to Asia’s three great rivers run.
  • Over the next 15 years Lord Oxmantown built his career in real estate and finance in China and married a Chinese lady born in Tianjin called Anna Lin. Together they had two children Olivia and William. Lord Oxmantown chaired the Irish Network China as well as being the attaché to the Irish Olympic team for the Beijing Olympics.
  •  In 1998 Birr received 4 Chinese garden graduates, two each from Beijing and Yunnan. They worked for 3 months cataloguing all the Chinese plants.
  • Following initial presentation as a Thomas Davis Lecture broadcast on RTE Radio in 2008, the 7th Earl’s thesis on ‘Transplanting China to Ireland was picked as chapter six of the publication China and in the Irish in 2009.
  •  Birr has supported, with items from its Chinese collections, the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival.
  • Owing to all the Chinese contacts, Birr has become the main destination for Chinese tourists coming to Ireland on their way to the Cliffs of Moher.
  • Recently Birr initiated a programme of Chinese artists in residence in co-operation with the Confucius Institute, the University of Shanghai and UCC.  Birr provides for Chinese artists to paint Chinese plants in the Irish landscape of the Birr Castle Demesne in each season in turn, starting in winter (just completed).
  •  Owing to Lady Oxmantown being of Chinese origin she has been developing many links with China and Birr and now the family are promoting various businesses focused on China.

Birr Castle has the following facilities available to visitors:

  • The Discovery Gift Shop
  • The Castle Courtyard Cafe - Open Daily
  • Disabled Access
  • Tree House Adventure Area - Open Daily
  • Gardens, Woodlands & Farmland
  • Ireland's Historic Science Centre 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 1800s.
  • The Science Centre demonstrates how the Great Telescope was built in the castle workshops by the people of Birr.


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