Birr Castle Gardens are open to the public. There are 120 acres with five miles of walking paths. Two rivers, the Camcor and the Little Brosna meet within the Castle Demesne walls forming a lake and waterfalls. An amazing display of rare plants and trees grows here in beautiful profusion. There are over 2000 different species of plants collected by the Earls of Rosse on their travels around the world or given to them by some of the most famous plant hunters.
The Castle Park has oak and beech trees that have been around since the 1600s.
Birr Castle Gardens have the tallest box hedges in the world, over 40 Champion Trees. A Champion Tree is the largest of its species according to a standard measuring formula based on trunk circumference, tree height, and average crown. They are over 300 years old.
In the gardens of Birr Castle you can see the oldest wrought-iron bridge in Ireland, built in 1820. It crosses the River Camcor. At one end is the ancient well of St. Brendan, under a yew tree.
An ice house, also from the early 1800s, goes deep underground. Ice was cut from the lake in the winter or bought from the ice merchant. It could be stored all year. Meat was also stored in the ice house.
The grounds were bogland. Lawrence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse diverted the River Camcor to where it is now and dammed it to create the lake. He excavated a system of canals and a tunnel to allow silt to settle, so the lake would be fed with clear water. His son, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who built the telescope, put in a waterwheel, powered by the water leaving the lake to drain the low lying areas.
The Fernery is made from stone from nearby Slieve Bloom mountains. There is a fountain in the midst of the Fernery gravity fed from a pipe at the Waterfall leaving the lake.
William Edward Parsons, 5th Earl of Rosse was interested in agriculture. He visited Denmark in search of more modern and successful methods. He died at only 45 from wounds suffered in the Great War.
His son, Michael the 6th Earl was a dedicated collector and cultivator of rare trees. Some established plants at Birr Castle date to his plantings in the 1920s.
Michael and his wife Anne had the greatest impact on the gardens as we see them now. Upon their marriage in 1936, Anne, Countess of Rosse began creating a romantic formal garden, based on a 17th century Bavarian design, with a cloistered walk of hornbeam, a flowering birch. The two urns in the centre of the garden are from Bavaria and are 300 years old.
White garden seats at either end of the formal garden were designed by Anne, Countess of Rosse. The design is of the couple’s intertwining initials.
They enhanced the formal gardens with a pergolaed courtyard with wisteria and a rose garden.
The Earl and Countess oversaw creation of the Arboretum, the River Garden, the terraces and herbaceous borders around the castle.
They built glass houses to propagate the seeds and plants they brought back in their plant-hunting travels.
The meadows, filled with wildflowers are not cut until late summer, so the flowers can reseed.
Their son, Brendan Parsons, 7th Earl of Rosse has been adding to the collection for over 30 years. When the Dawn Redwood was discovered in China in 1945, Birr Castle Gardens received specimens. The Earl and Countess have traveled to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa, New Zealand, China and Bhutan, bringing back plant specimens.
The Birr Grotto or Shell Well is near the Millennium Garden. It has an intricate shell wall inside, echoing shell decorations that were the fashion for ladies in the 1700s. The wall was made with shells from the collection of Mariga Guinness. It is built over the Cuileann Tobar, the Well of the Holly.
The gardens have huge ancient oaks, hundreds of years old. The Carroll oak was already here when the Parsons family arrived at Birr in 1620. More recently planted, the Giants Grove will form the largest grove of giant redwoods outside California. There is a gorgeous collection of various Magnolia species.
An ingenious system of gravity fed canals water the plants and create waterfall and fountains. It was carefully researched and constructed to give the right amount of water to each planting.