History of Birr

Birr (Biorra) is situated on the River Camcor, a tributary of the Little Brosna, which flows into the River Shannon. In medieval times Birr was in the kingdom of ELy O’Carroll.

St. Brendan founded a monastery in Birr in the 6th century AD. Cáin Adomnáin, a law for the protection of women and children, was passed at a large assembly here in 697 AD. The scribe Macregol made a copy of the four gospels about 800 AD. The Faddan Mór Psalter (prayer book) from the 9th century was found in a bog near Birr in 2006 and is being preserved in the National Museum.

An Anglo-Norman castle was built at Birr in 1208. In the Early 14th century the O’Carroll dynasty re-established themselves and Birr became a major stronghold until the late 16th century.

In the Plantation of Ely O’Carroll in 1619 Sir Laurence Parsons was granted Birr Castle and 1,277 acres. At this time Birr was known as Parsonstown. THe castle was besieged in 1642 and 1690.


Birr grew in stages in the 18th and 19th centuries. Emmet Square 1747 was the first stage of Georgian Birr. This was followed by Oxmantown Mall (1816), Wilmer Road (1817) and John’s Mall (1833).

In the 19th century the Third Earl of Rosse built the giant telescope – the largest in the world for 75 years. His wife, Countess Mary, was a pioneering photographer, and their son, Charles, invented the steam turbine engine.

Birr Workhouse, which was opened in 1842, is largely unchanged today.

In 1888, Birr hosted the first All-Ireland Hurling Final between Tipperary and Galway.