Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Birr Castle

THE EARLS OF ROSSE WERE THE SECOND LARGEST LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY OFFALY, WITH 22,513 ACRES

This noble family, which settled in Ireland some time in the beginning of the 17th century, maintained an elevated political station in that country.

Its members have, at different periods, filled the highest political employments in the state; have taken distinguished parts in the senate; have become eminent upon the Bench and at the Bar; and have twice been enrolled amongst the baronetage of the kingdom, and twice elevated to the peerage.

WILLIAM PARSONS, of Norfolk, father of Lady Poynings, wife of Richard, Lord Poynings, and mother of Sir Edward Poynings KG (1459-1521), was grandfather (it is presumed) of

WILLIAM PARSONS (1570-1650), who settled in Ireland about the close of ELIZABETH I's reign; and being a commissioner of plantations, obtained very considerable territorial grants from the Crown.

In 1602, he succeeded Sir Geoffrey Fenton, as surveyor-general of Ireland; in 1610, he obtained a pension of £30 per annum for life.

In 1611, he was joined with his brother, Lawrence, in the supervisorship of the crown lands, with a fee of £60 per annum for life.

In 1620, presenting to JAMES I, in person, surveys of escheated estates, in his capacity of surveyor-general, he received the honour of knighthood, and was created a baronet in the same year.
Sir William represented the county of Wicklow in parliament in 1639, and was nominated lord justice with Lord Dillon in 1640; but that nobleman being soon removed, he was re-sworn with Sir John Borlace, master of the ordnance.

He continued in the government until 1643, when he was removed, charged with treason, and committed to prison, with Sir Adam Loftus and others.
He died in Westminster, in 1650, and was succeeded by his grandson,

SIR WILLIAM PARSONS, 2nd Baronet, of Bellamont, County Dublin (only son of Richard Parsons by his first wife, Lettice, eldest daughter of Sir Adam Loftus, and granddaughter maternally of Walter Vaughan).

This gentleman married Catherine, eldest daughter of Arthur, Viscount Ranelagh; and dying in 1658, was succeeded by his only surviving son,

SIR RICHARD PARSONS, 3rd Baronet, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1681, as Baron Oxmantown and Viscount Rosse, with remainder to the male issue of his great-grandfather.

His lordship wedded firstly, Anne Walsingham; secondly, Catherine, daughter of George, Lord Chandos, both of whom died issueless; and thirdly, in 1685, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir George Hamilton, and niece of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, by whom he two sons and three daughters.

He died in 1702, and was succeeded by his elder son,

RICHARD, 2nd Viscount (1702-41), who was created EARL OF ROSSE in 1718.

This nobleman married, in 1715, Mary, eldest daughter of Lord William Paulet, brother of Charles, 2nd Duke of Bolton, by whom he had two sons and a daughter; and dying in 1741, was succeeded by his elder son,

RICHARD, 2nd Earl; at whose decease, in 1764, without issue, all the honours expired, and the representation of the family devolved upon Sir William Parsons, 4th Baronet, of Birr Castle; MP for the King's County; married and had issue,

LAURENCE, 3rd Earl, born in 1758;
The heir apparent is the present holder's son Lawrence Patrick Parsons, styled Lord Oxmantown.


The 7th and present Earl is a descendant of the 1st Baronet.

Lord and Lady Rosse live at Birr Castle.
During the period 1979-2007, Lord and Lady Rosse facilitated many decades of research by Dr Anthony Malcomson, former director of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and latterly sponsored by the Irish Manuscripts Commission, to enable the production, for the first time, of a comprehensive calendar of the Rosse Papers in 2008.
The archive is held in the Muniment Room of Birr Castle.

The Calendar is of inestimable value for researchers delving into the history of the Parsons family, including English settlement of the Irish midlands in the 17th century; the Williamite wars; early Irish nationalism; the Royal Navy in the 18th century; 19th century science and astronomy; and the fate of the landed gentry in the early 20th century.


BIRR CASTLE demesne, and the historic town of Birr, County Offaly, lie in the centre of Ireland.

The Castle is private, though the famous gardens of the demesne are open every day.

The demesne includes Ireland's Historic Science Centre whose galleries show what Ireland's leading historic scientists have contributed to astronomy photography, engineering and the art of gardening.


Birr Castle’s most spectacular high ceilinged rooms are its tapestried hall, its great Gothic music saloon overlooking the river, its yellow drawing room and long red dining room.

Other features inside include a unique staircase of the 1660s, an early panelled bedroom and dungeons.

Surrounding the castle is Ireland’s largest heritage garden with rivers, waterfalls, a fountain and lake with a Canadian log cabin, cloisters with urns and statuary.


Beyond that a riverbank wilderness and native woods; a Georgian country house in its own park; even a romantic ruined manor court.

Birr Castle was built on medieval foundations in the 1620s. It has been redeveloped many times over the years with more recent parts of the castle dating to the 19th century.

As such the castle has many stylistic perspectives. The façade of the castle is Gothic.

The reception rooms are high ceilinged and date mainly from the early 19th century with a spectacular Gothic ‘saloon’ or drawing room overlooking the River Camcor.

There is a medieval basement and dungeons beneath the Castle as well as battlements along the roof.

The 100 acre demesne has a huge variety of rare and beautiful trees and plants from all over the world. Some highlights include: The Camcor and Little Brosna Rivers and the Lake.

The Fernery with a waterfall, streams and fountain. The formal gardens feature the hornbeam cloisters, Bavarian urns and decorative seats. The walled gardens feature Box Hedges that are over 350 years old.
They are also, according to The Guinness Book of Records, the tallest hedges in the world. Other features include: Orchards, bridges, arboretum, outdoor grass stage (teatre Verde), herbaceous borders, lakeside log cabin, Georgian mansion and derelict manor court and stable muse, bog land, country cottages, moat, drawbridge.
A main feature of the demesne is the "Great Telescope" of the 3rd Earl, an astronomical telescope with a 72" reflector.

When completed in 1845, it was the largest telescope on earth, and capable of capturing more light and seeing further into space than any telescope had done before.

It was dismantled in 1914, but was restored by the state in the 1990s as an Irish scientific icon.

There is a long history of photography at the castle. Mary Rosse (1813-85) was the earliest acclaimed female photographer in world.

Her dark room, in which she developed her own photos, is still preserved in the castle exactly as she left it in the 1890s.

Lord Snowdon, who was, as Anthony Armstrong-Jones, partly brought up at Birr, returned to it as a setting for Viyella and other catalogues in the 1980s.

The gardens are host to wedding photography most weekends in the summer.

First published in June, 2011.  Rosse arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

6 comments :

Barbara Craig said...

What a coincidence, I haven't visited your blog in a little while but here I am at home between trips, catching up on my favourite blogs. And where is my next trip to? Birr. I'm off to collect paintings from the lovely little theatre/arts centre there next Monday and now will definetly make time to visit the castle. Anyone in the area this weekend please do call in and see my exhibition - last chance Saturday!

Zoffany said...

hi time, was wondering if there was any connection to the Parsons family of Birr house riding centre at craigantlet.

Anonymous said...

Ands there are two self catering 'cottages' in the grounds giving unlimitewd assess to the gardens. Lovely in evenings. Sadly the coldest recorded place on the island of Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Not sure about Parsons in Northern Ireland link but Sir Geoffrey Fenton married Alice Brady, widow of Bishop Hugh Brady of Meath whose Brady descendants are still in Northern Ireland. Sir Geoffrey and Lady Alice Fenton's daughter, also called Catherine married Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork and had numerous ennobled descendants.

houseofbeeswax said...

Thank for this history that includes Richard Parson, b. 1602 . . . an ancestor of our family . . . Well written and research . . . signed, a history buff.

Bill McVeigh said...

Yes it is a link. This is where Birr House was named after as it is the same Parsons ancestory