Ireland day 0683. Saturday 12 August 2023- Birr *

Ireland day 0683. Saturday 12 August 2023- Birr
Today’s summary Drove down to Birr to have a look at the castle.  It is the ancestral home of the Earls of Rosse and the various Earls and their relatives invented things like the world’s biggest telescope, and the steam turbine
Today’s weather Overcast but with some sunny intervals interspersed with light showers.  Moderate westerly wind.   Appx 19C
Today’s overview location
(The blue mark shows the location of our route)
Close-up location
(The orange line shows where we walked)
(Click button below to download GPX of today’s walk as recorded, or see interactive map at bottom with elevations corrected):
Birr castle demesne

(Summary blog only.   Last full blog was Day 0368).

Offaly was one of the few counties in Ireland that as of this morning we still hadn’t visited.  It’s also one of the closest to where we live in Malahide.   So today we decided to pay a call, especially as Val had discovered that Offaly is host to the town of Birr, which is said to be one of the finest Georgian towns in Ireland.

So we duly headed off down the M6 motorway and thanks to a relatively early start, we were there before 12.   That meant we had plenty of time to have a good look round the museum, the house and the grounds of the castle.   It’s been the ancestral home of the Earls of Rosse for centuries, and it turns out that they have been a notable family of engineers and scientists (although one rather less illustrious Earl was a founder of the notorious Hellfire Club – which we visited last Sunday).

Perhaps most significantly, the third Earl in the 1840s built what was at the time (and remained for 70 years) the world’s largest telescope.   It was a 72″ reflector and you can still see it in the castle grounds.   The Earl used it particularly to study nebulae and was the first to discover spiral galaxies.

The construction of the telescope, and especially the mirror, was a work of art and fine engineering as the special alloy, known as speculum, had to be ground and polished to incredibly fine tolerances.   And because the speculum tarnished quickly, he had two mirrors made so one could be polished while the other was being used for observations.  It’s quite remarkable that he discovered anything at all actually, as it is thought that thanks to the cloudy Irish climate, he only had twelve nights of good observation in the sixteen years the telescope was in use.

Perhaps even more remarkably, one of the third Earl’s children was Charles Parsons, the inventor of the compound steam turbine, which is still used in power stations to this day.   there is a rusting example on display (currently behind hoardings) in the courtyard to the visitor centre.

The grounds of the castle are extensive and interesting, and we paid extra to go on a guided tour of the castle.   It’s still lived in by the seventh earl and his wife, and it’s quite impressive, in a decayingly baronial sort of way.   A fascinating insight into the lives of the modern aristocracy, and it didn’t feel opulent at all.

After finishing our investigations, we got a very welcome cup of tea in the café and then headed back to the motorway.   The roads were very quiet and we were back in Malahide in well under two hours, including a stop at Tesco to pick up some lamb chops for dinner.  Now we have dined, and are about to relax with the final episode of the Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary (it’s excellent, by the way).


Today’s photos (click to enlarge)

Detail of the 72″ reflector telescope.   It was restored (including the mirror) in 1999 Currently hidden behind hoardings – an early example of one of Parsons’ turbines
Reputedly the oldest suspension bridge in Europe.   It’s unsafe for use nowadays and in fact in a couple of week’s time it is going to be dismantled and sent away for repair The gardens were beautiful especially when the sun shone
A fine example of the delicate Hydrangea aspera catching the sunlight along the sides of the River Camcor The castle from the front
Birr town centre – a charming Georgian relic, complete with rather incongruous vintage London Transport bus
Interactive map

(Elevations corrected at  GPS Visualizer: Assign DEM elevation data to coordinates )

Total distance: 3890 m
Max elevation: 62 m
Min elevation: 44 m
Total climbing: 82 m
Total descent: -82 m
Total time: 01:44:14
Download file: Castle Rosse Locus compressed corrected.gpx

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