We left home shortly after eight on Tuesday morning and headed for Birr Castle Gardens with the Head Gardener at the wheel and I at her side with Google Maps on the ‘phone to navigate. Birr is not a huge distance from us, a journey of just less than two hours, but it brings us along roads we travel infrequently through Kilkenny, Ballyragget, Durrow, Ballycolla, Aghaboe, Borris-in-Ossory, Roscrea and Birr, passing through counties Waterford, Kilkenny, Laois, Tipperary and Offaly along roads which are not of the highest standard with a great deal of twists and turns, dips and hollows and all of this through a very unexpected dense fog.
We arrived safely and in good time and even found a street where there was no charge for parking. All other streets and carparks were “pay-and-display” areas but we hadn’t a coin to our names and the machines didn’t allow the use of bank cards! An awkward situation fortunately resolved by good fortune.
The fog cleared within an hour of our arrival and we had a pleasant walk around the grounds and “grounds” is a better description than “garden”, plenty of open space with walks along the River Camcor and around the lake before coming to the Formal Gardens which are rather bare at this time of the year, in need of care and attention, a little refreshening and new planting to better compliment the beautiful structure of this area.
Let’s begin with some views of our walk around the grounds – click on an image to enlarge and view all as a slideshow:
A favourite part of the garden are the cloisters, made of hornbeam, designed and planted by Anne, Countess of Rosse, in 1936 to celebrate her marriage to Michael, 6th Earl of Rosse. I don’t think anybody has made as significant a contribution to the gardens since then. Of course, Anne, Countess of Rosse, was one of the Messel family whose garden at Nymans in West Sussex was one of the very best in the UK. Gardening was in her blood, I think, while science coursed through the Parsons’ veins. The cloisters surround the formal garden and have “windows” to allow one look in on it.
There has been a castle on the site since 1170 with the O’Carroll family in residence from the 14th to the 17th centuries until the castle and demesne was granted to Sir Lawrence Parsons in 1620. The Parsons, Earls of Rosse, have been in residence since. An interest in scientific matters has run in the family with the 3rd Earl of Rosse especially famous for his construction of the great telescope which, when completed in 1845 was the largest telescope in existence – and was known as The Leviathan – and attracted visitors from around the world. Over time it fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1990s. Modern astronomy continues at Birr with the establishment of the I-LOFAR radio-telescope station, part of a European network.
The areas in front of the house is open parkland, planted with beautifully mature beech trees, in the main, and underplanted with generous drifts of daffodils.
This location, in front of the house, is also the site of the giant telescope, The Leviathan, and a visit to Birr Castle Demesne would be incomplete without, at least, acknowledging its magnificence and we did that.
“She must have been a very quiet woman!” said the Head Gardener.
“Who?” I asked.
“That 3rd Earl’s wife”
“To allow him put a monstrosity like that right in front of the house!”