Cottage at Birr Castle
We pulled into Birr with intensions of finding a place to stay where we could watch the All Ireland versus some other country (can't remember now) in soccer on TV. We ate our lunch glued to the TV with about a dozen other locals. We were there to the bitter end and much to our surprise the locals gave up early and left. In the end we were the only ones hopelessly cheering for an obviously losing squad. With this disappointment we wandered over to Birr Castle for a look around. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves particularly the plants, the lake and the walled garden. On the way back to our room in Dooley's, coming out the castle gates we saw this small restaurant named the Cottage. We poked our head in and asked if they were open for diner. Yes came the response from the other room. Could you take two for 8:00 pm. Definitely came the response. On the way back to our hotel we saw an old couple loading turf into their garage. We had tried to buy some the day before but none was for sale. I sensed by the effort that was being made and the obvious age of the two it was a precious commodity - it was their source of warmth for the winter. On reflection I wondered if I could handle that amount of effort at their age - I thought not.
We went back to the Cottage at 8:00 pm. We were the only customers. Johnny was cooking away in the kitchen and Puccini was playing, the walls were a baby blue and the entire room was lit only by candle light. Johnny showed us our table, offered us his best bottle of French red wine and handed us a menu. He returned to the kitchen and sang along with the music. It was so romantic. Patricia ordered Pizza with wild mushrooms and I ordered steak medium rare. Both were out of this world. What a wonderful world as we wandered back to our hotel. Unfortunately the night was long as we had a corner room and the Lorries had to shift down and then up again as they made the corner just outside our room. Not much sleep but it was our fault for not being a bit more discerning in our room selection. The next day there was ice on all the windows of the cars and everyone was scraping. When we were ready to leave I asked for some hot water and the ice was gone in moments. We did return to the castle for one last look around but the day was much colder than the day before. We met Johnny's wife as she was going in to pick some apples. She said Johnny sure enjoyed cooking for us the night before as it had seemed such a romantic evening for us. We agreed everything was perfect. She said did you enjoy the wild mushrooms and when we assured her we did she said she picked them that day here on the castle grounds. That shook us up a bit but no ill effects so we kept our fears to ourselves.
There has been a Norman castle on this site since 1170. From the 14th to the 17th century the O' Carroll family ruled from here and the territory was known as Ely O' Carroll The castle was granted to Sir Lawrence Parsons in 1620 and it is still the private family home of the Parsons family. Many innovations and additions have occurred over the centuries. The Seventh Earl of Rosse, William Brendan Parsons (1979- ) still occupied the castle when we were there. We stayed in Birr at Dooley's Hotel nearby which is one of the oldest coach houses in Ireland and dates back to around the 1740's. The history of the town and castle is quite extensive and for that I would recommend the following website: Birr Castle website
The castle grounds were open to the casual visitors when we were there. I am sure that is not true anymore. I should note that in viewing the website above it is obvious it is much more of a tourist site than it was when we were there. We basically wandered around the grounds unbothered by other visitors but we were told that the Lord was in the castle and we might meet him on the grounds. We saw no one. We marveled at the plants many of which we had never seen before.
We read about the telescope that was the largest in the world for some 75 years. All that was left for us to see was some of the support structures primarily in ruin. It was enough to wet our appetite. We discovered a walled garden that was in use with old fruit trees and rows of vegetables. It was very late in the year so the vegetables were for a winter garden. We liked the grounds and decided to return the next day for another quick peek before we continued our journey.
Lord Rosse the Fourth Earl spent over three years building his large telescope, "The Leviathan of Parsonstown" based around a 72 inch (183 cm) mirror, with which he hoped to confirm that some of the nebulae contain stars, this telescope was basically a 17 m tube, suspended between two 15 m high walls. A brief timeline follows:
1842 - 72 inch mirror successfully cast (on 13th April)
1843-1844 - Observatory and tube for large mirror built
1845 - First light of 72 inch telescope (on 15th February), discovery of the first spiral nebulae, M51
1994-1999 - Restoration of 72 inch telescope and completion of National Historic Science Centre
I think it was one of the most interesting days I spent in Ireland and recommend it. Today you can see the restored telescope - something not available to us on our trip.
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