Birr Historical Society

Birr Historical Society

Birr History

Birr Town Trail
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Gospel Book of Macregol of Birr

Faddan More Psalter

Birr Workhouse



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Birr Historical Society Committee

President: Brian Kennedy
Hon. Sec.: Jimmy Shortt
Joint Hon. Treasurers: Jackie Dunne & Margaret Hensey
PRO: Teresa Ryan-Feehan,

Committee: Elizabeth Fogarty, Sr. Anne Hannon,
Margaret Hogan, Rev. Irene Morrow, Brian Pey,
Jack Ryan, Bridget Sullivan, Anne Ward.

Birr Historical Society programme includes local history, national history, archaeology and folklore. Members are encouraged to pursue their own field of study and to share their research with the society.

Meetings are held on the third Monday of the month in Costcutter Car Park, Townsend Street
at 8 pm and are open to the public.

The society welcomes visits by other societies


Forthcoming events

Reflections of Offaly people

in the 1916 Rising

Monday 16 May 2016 at 8pm

County Arms Hotel


December meeting

Martin Roberts

Aerial photographs of Birr

Monday 14 December at 8pm at the

County Arms Hotel

Please note change of time and venue


January 2016 meeting

Caimin O'Brien


Monday 18 January 2016 at 8pm at the

County Arms Hotel

Please note change of time and venue


February 2016 meeting

Sr Kathleen Minogue

Sisters of Mercy

on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of Mercy in Birr by Catherine McAuley on 27 December 1840.

Monday 15 February 2016 at 8pm at the

County Arms Hotel


March meeting

May Casey, Cloughjordan

Thomas McDonagh

Monday 21 March at 8pm in County Arms Hotel.

Birr Heritage

Birr was an important place of assembly in past centuries. Today it offers many tourist, cultural and popular attractions as well as a friendly welcome.

Huge crowds attend the annual Vintage Week in mid August.

Vintage Week in Emmet Square
Vintage Week in Emmet Square

Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers assembled at nearby Lough Boora about 6500 to 7000 BC.

An important Later Bronze Age hoard was found at Dowris in the 1820s. About 200 objects including  swords, spearheads, axeheads, gouges, buckets, a riveted cauldron, etc. were found, dating to about 700 BC. Horns and crotals were also found which led to intriguing research into Bronze Age music.

A large rock called the 'Seffin Stone' now in John's Mall has mysterious legendary connections. It may have been associated with the cult of a sun god or with Irish 'wild man' Fionn Mac Cumhail, though some have claimed it was the Umbilicus Hiberniae or Navel of Ireland.

The monastery founded by St Brendan the Elder at Birr about 550 AD was at the centre of a significant cluster of early Christian monasteries in the Irish Midlands including Seir Kieran, Clonmacnoise, Clonfert, Kinnitty, Gallen, Leamonaghan, Mona Incha, Roscrea, Lorrha, Terryglass.

Adomnán, abbot of Iona, summoned ninety-one eminent leaders to Birr in 697 AD to guarantee Cáin Adomnáin, a law to protect women and children in a warrior society. A century later, Macregol, abbot of Birr was copying and illuminating the Macregol Gospels.

A synod at Birr in 1174 AD was recorded in an Irish Annal.

Birr was one of the principal strongholds of the O'Carrolls of Ely O'Carroll during the medieval period. In effect, Ely O’Carroll was detached from Munster and attached to the King’s County (now County Offaly) in 1605.

The Plantation of Ely O’Carroll was implemented about 1620 and the Parsons family, Earls of Rosse since 1807, have held Birr Castle almost continuously up to the present day.

Armies raided, defended, conquered, besieged and burned Birr during the ferocious wars of the seventeenth century.

 Birr acquired its elegant Georgian architectural features in two main phases during the mid eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

 The nineteenth century saw the building of the churches, convent, workhouse (which still survives almost intact), Birr Barracks at Crinkill, the railway (part of which was ‘stolen’), distilleries, printing works and developments at Birr Castle, including the Great Telescope.


Birr is an ideal centre for touring the Irish Midlands. It has excellent hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, a theatre, world class demesne gardens and sports facilities. It is within easy distance of the River Shannon, the Slieve Bloom mountains, esker and bog landscapes and important monastic sites such as Clonmacnoise and Clonfert.  

Visit Birr Castle Demesne with its Historic Science Centre, Great Leviathan Telescope and award winning gardens.

Birr Castle
Birr Castle

Admire Birr's attractive Georgian Malls and leafy linear parks along the River Camcor. 

The programme at Birr Theatre & Arts Centre offers a variety of entertainment at Oxmantown Hall, a restored Victorian theatre.

Birr Civic Centre
Birr Civic Centre & Town Library designed by AWN Pugin

Birr Theatre & Arts Centre at Oxmantown Hall
Birr Theatre & Arts Centre at
Oxmantown Hall

Visit Birr Library located in the Pugin-designed former Convent of Mercy chapel. See the original Pugin features which have been carefully preserved or restored.

Birr was the chosen venue for the first All Ireland Hurling Final between Tipperary & Galway in 1888 and the town has a proud hurling tradition and achievement.

See the facsimile of the Macregol Gospels , the original of which is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

See the modern illuminated copy on vellum of Cáin Adomnáin made by Margaret Maher for the 1300th anniversary of the Cain in 1997.  

Birr Old Churchyard
Birr Old Churchyard, believed to be the site of the monastery founded by St Brendan

Emmet Square, formerly Cumberland or Duke Square

Emmet Square (formerly called Duke Square or Cumberland Square) in the late 19th century

Houses once stood on the bridge in Bridge Street
Houses once stood on the bridge in Bridge Street