The first of two reports on the IBIOLI's excursion to Birr Castle Gardens and the Birr Telescope, on July 16th 2016. This was my first event organised by the committee of the Institute of Biology – what an enjoyable day! Invigorated by the wonderful offerings at the Birr Castle Cafe we set off on our tour of the beautiful gardens and en-route came upon the magnificent six foot diameter telescope nestling there.
Superlatives were the order of the day – the tallest trees, the oldest trees, the tallest box hedge (which due to its location in Ireland, had survived being harvested to make World War I aeroplanes), the greatest biodiversity (including exotic species from all over the world) , the largest telescope on earth (in 1845), and to top it all the most informative and entertaining guide you could have – Damian.
The telescope was the brainchild of the 3rd Earl of Rosse (William Parsons) who was educated at home (Birr Castle). It was a considerable feat of engineering for that time. The science museum has a working model of Parson's invention with its delicate movement system incorporating counter weight pulleys and controlled by a single operator.
I looked up to the ceiling in the museum to see a working orrery (a model for every science teacher's wish list– the best way to get your students to understand the movement of the planets. Scolded myself afterwards for not taking a movie of it). Not only was the 3rd Earl of Rosse renowned for his astronomical achievements – the 4th Earl of Rosse, (Charles) went on to design the world's first steam turbine. Such machinery used in steam ships such as the mighty Titanic. The genes were obviously good – the home tutor might want some praise too.
By the way if you want to bring the kids there's a wonderful play area outdoors. Into superlatives again they get to play in the tallest and most beautiful tree house in Ireland. I left the trip with new found knowledge and admiration. I also pondered on the 400 year old oak tree – if it could talk what more stories it could tell us!