The Remarkable Parsons Family of Birr Castle


William Parsons, 3rd Earl

William Parsons
3rd Earl

Designer of the Great Telescope
Discoverer of the Whirlpool Nebulae

Mary Rosse, Pioneer Photographer and Blacksmith

Mary Rosse

Pioneer Photographer

Laurence Parsons, 4th Earl

Laurence Parsons
4th Earl

Inventor of the Lunar Heat Machine

Charles Parsons

Charles Parsons

Inventor of the Steam Turbine

William Brendan Parsons

William Parsons
7th Earl

Plant Hunter and Horticulturist

Take a journey with the Parsons family who have achieved global recognition in the fields of astronomy, engineering, photography and horticulture.


  • Walk through the science galleries as they document how the world’s largest telescope was designed and built.
  • Discover the moment in Birr that suddenly made the universe a much larger place than people realised.
  • View the original charcoal drawings of the Whirlpool galaxy as observed by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in the 19th Century.
  • What is the Lunar Heat machine and why is there a letter from Neil Armstrong to the Parsons family on display next to it?
  • Look into the past as you encounter the oldest complete darkroom in the world as well as some of the world’s oldest photographs.
  • Learn about the outstanding and globally significant inventions of Charles Parsons and the impact his engineering had upon the Titanic and HMS Dreadnought.


Let the education team take you on an extraordinary journey through the history of one of Ireland’s most remarkable families.