Birr Castle Gardens is Ireland’s only garden honoured by Eliana Ferioli’s ‘Great Gardens of Europe’ and was winner of the ‘Top 30 Gardens in Europe,’ Bord Failte Museum of the Year and Bord Failte Property of the Year. It’s rated five stars in the official list of Gardens of Outstanding Historic Interest in the Republic of Ireland and double-starred in the Good Gardens Guide.
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The award winning gardens are the largest in country, spanning over 120 acres. The beginnings of the formal garden and the box hedges were laid out in the late 1600s. In the 1740-50s a bog was turned into a lake, beech trees were planted, and the last of the old towers of the original fortress were removed to create a sweeping view of the park.
The plant collection has rare species from around the world. Over 40 champion trees of the British Isles are among the 1000 tree and shrub species. A Red Tree Trail points out the 50 most distinguished trees. The grounds, gardens, and wildflower meadows are a habitat for animals and birds. Herons, swans, and mallard ducks can be spotted. Fox, badger, and red squirrel are on show. Twitchers can spot tree creepers, willow warblers, gold crests, finches and blackbirds, robins, wrens, thrushes, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, pigeon and wood pigeon.
The millennium gardens reflect a French-style formal garden and include plants exclusive to Birr Demesne. Benches are set off with Bavarian urns with their central focus being a box parterre. The family logo, the initial R is highlighted. A Victorian fernery is home to a waterfall. There’s a pergola garden in a courtyard where a wisteria takes pride of place. Hornbeam alleys, planted with snowdrops, show the way to a delphinium border. In the summer a terrace blooms with flowers. Paths meander around rivers and lakes dotted with swans. In the spring magnolias are in bloom.
After exploring the natural attractions you can visit the historic science centre, home to the world famous ‘Great Telescope’. The interactive museum has subjects ranging from early photography to engineering to astronomy. There is a special emphasis on the design and assembly of the Great Telescope, a ‘Leviathan’ created by the Third Earl of Rosse in the 1840s on the castle grounds. The telescope has been fully restored and sits in the centre of the Demesne.
Birr Castle is home to Lord and Lady Rosse and their family and is not open to the public.
Birr Castle Demesne
In the town of Birr, reached by the N52
Offaly (South), Shannon
Tel. 0 5791 20336
Open: all year, daily; 9am-6pm
Tea-room; shop; garden centre; annual program of events; parking
Web: Birr Castle Demesne