My visit to Birr Castle Demesne.

It was only as I was walking out the gate that I became aware of time again. I was so engrossed in my walk around Birr Castle that time had simply escaped my attention. In the centre of Birr town in Co. Offaly, this attraction has lots to offer whether you’re on your own, with friends or with your entire family.

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How to get there? 

Birr Castle can be found in the town of Birr, Co. Offaly.  The exact location is here, https://www.google.ie/maps/@53.0967043,-7.9143201,17z

It is well signposted so once you arrive, you shouldn’t have any problem finding it.

Parking and cost of entry.

The scourge of every Irish tourist attraction is paid parking. There is no castle parking available so you must use the paid car park across the street. One hour is 50 cent.

Entry prices* are as follows:

Adult:9 euro

Student: 7.50

Family ( 2 adults and 2 children) 25 euro

*Prices were correct at time of publish, September 2015.

What can I see/do?

There are many things to do and you should give yourself a lot of time to fully visit the area.

There are 3 walks available, the longest taking at least 40 minutes to complete. During the walks you can take in beautiful gardens, waterfalls, lakes wells and bridges.

The science centre contains lots of astronomical equipment and information.

The great telescope, which was once the largest in the world is a must see.

For children, the tree house adventure area will provide plenty of entertainment. This has Ireland’s largest tree house and has a bouncy pillow available in August and September.

I myself spent at least 2 hours here exploring the area, taking in the wildlife and taking photographs. It is a photographers dream and you could easily pass an entire day getting photos.

My visit.

Although I only live a few kilometres away, I had never been to the castle before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The courtyard is really well kept as is the shop and visitor centre. The lady at the desk was happy and informative and explained the map before sending me on my way.

From there, I made my own way around the science centre which was quite interesting. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t read English because all the information is just in one language. However, it’s very visual so it would be of interest to everyone. You can learn all about the astronomical instruments and events.

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The day was picking up so my main interest was to explore the grounds. Since I had a lot of time, I took off on the river walk, which according to the map takes approximately 40 minutes to complete.

The estate is quite large and that becomes apparent immediately. There are tonnes of major walkways and minor walkways to explore, each offering something different. To walk around is quite refreshing and peaceful and I found myself regretful that I didn’t bring a picnic and a flask of tea!

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The suspension bridge dates back to around 1810 and it was the first of its kind in Ireland. According to the visitor guide, this is the oldest iron suspension bridge in Ireland and was built in original Birr workshops.

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If I have one pet peeve however, it’s litter and unfortunately there was too much litter around to go unnoticed. While most of the major walkways were litter free, the minor walks had quite a bit of litter as did the river. To me, litter is the height of laziness and when visitors are paying to walk around the estate, litter is not something that they should see. While I’m on this topic, I found some of the green keeping to be a little under loved in places. I can imagine that to keep an estate of this size in order takes a lot of work but attention to detail is essential.

As I waited to cross the little bridge at the fern waterfall, it was the squirrel and other wildlife that had me looking up into the trees. Again, as I approached the great telescope, a flock of ducks distracted me and they are obviously big characters who are used to having their photo taken.

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I love how the ducks were all walking in a line back to the river. You can imagine the leader just saying “Alright lads! Follow me! ”

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Eventually, I made it to the Great Telescope. For over 70 years, this was the largest telescope in the world. Constructed by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1840, it is now being reconstructed by the O.P.W.

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The box hedges in Birr castle are over 300 years old and seemingly the tallest in the world. The formal gardens are wonderful and make for some great photos.

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The variety of visitors there was apparent as I continued on my walk. There were some locals just out walking dogs, tourists there just for the nature and botany and then others who had their family and were making good use of the treehouse and bouncy pillow.

As mentioned earlier, the treehouse is Ireland’s largest treehouse and it really is quite impressive. The kids were enjoying it and the bouncy pillow immensely.

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Is it value for money?

After visiting the area, I asked myself this same question. Although, I don’t consider 7.50 a lot of money, I began to wonder why I had to pay it in the first place. I didn’t actually use a service of any kind as I didn’t get a guided tour or anything similar.Apart from the lady and gentleman working at the ticket desk, I didn’t meet any other workers. I can see the need to charge for use of the treehouse and bouncy pillow but walking outdoors, through nature should be free. Just a thought I had along the way.

You can find out more about this attraction by visiting their website http://www.birrcastle.com/

*All photos are my own.

*If any information is incorrect, please inform me and I’ll correct it.

Barack Obama Plaza- Capitalizing on an association.

When I heard the words “Barack Obama Plaza”, images of photo zones, interactive history of his ancestry and commemorative photos came to mind.  Instead, when I visited for the first time today, I arrived at a rest stop.

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The ground floor is full of different eating venues, from Supermacs to Tim Hortons. All very well if you need a rest on the road to Limerick. It’s very conveniently located next to the motorway. The second floor is a “visitor centre” and by visitor centre they mean one room that was clearly put there as an after thought to justify calling it Barack Obama Plaza.

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wpid-20150818_161134.jpgAlthough the ground floor was full of people eating, the visitor centre was empty and I had it to myself. It took me about 5 minutes to walk around and read the posters.There are no photo zones and it’s all a bit bland.  I went back to my car and off to the actual village of Moneygall.

My main problem with the Plaza is that Barack Obama had nothing to do with it. He has never visited it, didn’t open it, nothing. I understand that business is business but here is a classic example of the exploitation of an association.

I took the 3 minute drive into the village of Moneygall.

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Moneygall village is a  beautifully kept village and the people obviously very proud of their association with President Obama. All along the street you can see the Irish and American flags.  Near the end of the village is the ancestral home of President Obama. I was disappointed to find that the house is currently closed as is the Obama cafe next door. Instead of having an eye sore of a rest stop pretending to be an Obama visitor centre, wouldn’t it be lovely to visit the house and have all the need to know information inside? I believe this won’t be happening due to financial restrictions. During my visit, the village was eerily quiet with very few people to be seen. Visitors are clearly not making the 3 minute car journey from the Plaza to the village and as a result the businesses of the village are suffering. I find that most disappointing because with the right injection of funds, and the correct marketing, Moneygall village has everything you need to provide a nice, genuine visit.

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Overall, I was very disappointed with my visit to the Barack Obama Plaza. The only good point is that it is free to go to the visitor centre so at least I can’t complain that I wasted my money. I wouldn’t recommend a visit but if the ancestral house reopens, it may be worth a small detour.