Birr Castle Demesne is a walker’s paradise. There’s 120 acres of parklands, 10km of scenic walks, rivers, a waterfall, and a lake. It is also home to one of Europe’s finest plant collections, the world’s tallest box hedge, the Great Telescope, and Ireland’s tallest treehouse! If you have any interest in photography, wildlife, nature, education, science, engineering, astronomy, and heritage, add this to your bucket list today.
A brief history of Birr Castle
The 17th-century Birr Castle is home of the Parsons family for over 400 years. They are famed for their scientific and engineering feats, including the world-famous Great Telescope (1845).
The gardens are home to an abundance of rare plants, collected by the Earls of Rosse over the last 150 years. It was the first garden in Ireland to receive specimens the Dawn Redwood after its discovery in China in 1945. The planting has been hugely expanded on in the past 30 years through plant hunting expeditions by the current Earl and Countess. They have collected plants from distant lands, including Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa, New Zealand, China, and Bhutan.
The 5km Red Tree Trail includes 65 trees of distinction. It includes the Magnolia dawsoniana, a champion tree, planted in 1937 to mark the christening of the 7th Earl of Rosse. Another champion tree, the Prumnopitys andina – Chilean yew – was planted by the 6th Earl of Rosse c.1930. Other species include Irish yew trees, strawberry trees, monkey puzzle, cedar, fir, beech, lime, cypress. If you like your trees, look up!
The formal gardens are magnificent and home to the romantic hornbeam cloister walk. This was planted by Anne, Countess of Rosse, in 1936 to celebrate her marriage to Michael, 6th Earl of Rosse. It boasts the world’s tallest box hedges. Tucked away in an intimate courtyard is a pergola with a spectacular wisteria. A collection of old roses compliments the delphinium border in season.
The best views of the Castle are from the Terraces as you reach them along the Moat Walk. In summer, they are a blaze of colour, full of a large range of herbaceous plants selected by Lady Rosse.
Forest bathing in Birr Castle Demesne
You can try your hand at the Japanese spiritual practice of ‘shinrin-yoku’ or Forest Bathing. This literally means taking in the forest atmosphere through your senses. Spending mindful time in nature is beneficial for both the body and the soul.
It is simply about sitting, surrounded by woodland sounds and smells and letting your mind drift. Watch the sunlight come through the tree branches. Tune into the birdsong and flowing water sounds in the background, the wind rustling the leaves,
It really is worth trying – as you relax, your breathing slows and your shoulders unclench. It’s like sleeping with your eyes open. Close your eyes and let your other senses take over – how often do we do that?
Good to know
Guided tours are available, but you’d need to book in advance. There’s a coffee shop! The Courtyard Café is open daily for take-out, and Gift Shop & bathroom facilities available onsite.
For up-to-date prices, head over to the Castle’s website.
While you’re in the area
Linking the counties of Laois and Offaly, the Slieve Blooms are unspoilt, uncrowded, and seriously scenic!
Birr Castle Demesne: Paul Moore; Suspension Bridge: Alison Rosse; Formal Gardens: Tina Claffey