1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Birr

BIRR, or Parsonstown, a market-town of King’s county, Ireland, on an acclivity rising above the Birr, and on a branch of the Great Southern & Western railway by which it is 87 m. W.S.W. from Dublin. Pop. of urban district (1901) 4438. Cumberland Square, in which there is a Doric column surmounted by a statue of the duke of Cumberland, to commemorate the battle of Culloden, is the point from which the several principal streets diverge in regular form. The fine castle of Birr, beside its historical interest, has gained celebrity on account of the reflecting telescope erected here (1828–1845) by William, third earl of Rosse. This is 56 ft. in length and weighs 3 tons; and there is another smaller instrument. Among institutions the model and preparatory schools of the Brothers of the Presentation Order are noteworthy. There is a bronze statue by Foley of Lord Rosse (d. 1867). Some trade is carried on in corn and timber, and in brewing and distilling.

An abbey was founded at Birr by St Brendan (d. 573), to whom the present parish church is dedicated. The district formed part of Ely O’Carroll, and was not included in King’s county till the time of James I. A great battle is said to have been fought near Birr in the 3rd century between Cormac, son of Cond of the Hundred Battles, and the people of Münster. The castle was the chief seat of the O’Carrolls. In the reign of James I. it and its appendages were assigned to Lawrence Parsons, brother of Sir William Parsons, surveyor-general. From him the alternative name of the town is derived. The castle was more than once besieged in the time of Cromwell, and was taken by Ireton in 1650. It also suffered assault in 1688 and 1690.