On Wednesday, 10th October, a small but intimate group of members set off for Birr Castle, Gardens and Science Centre. What a glorious day it turned out to be – weatherise and for enjoyment value. As they say, “Gioraíonn beirt bóthar”, conversation was in full flow and before long we had reached our destination.

We were treated to a welcome cuppa with freshly baked scones on arrival. Our guide for the day was Lorna who brought us through the Science Museum and who educated us in detail about the Parsons Family. We learned about the family’s huge contribution in the areas of astronomy, engineering and photography. There were eight galleries showcasing the family’s achievements in those areas. Of particular interest to me was the work of Mary, wife of the 3rd Earl, in the area of photography. Mary’s work earned her the Photographic Society of Ireland’s first Silver Medal. She was the first person, male or female, to whom it was awarded. The beautiful medal can be seen on display in the Science Centre. She was a member of other photographic groups including almost certainly the Royal Photographic Society in England. And she was the first lady member of the Dublin Photographic society.

Her darkroom was discovered in the castle about a century after her death and has been reconstructed in the museum exactly as it was in her time.

From there it was out to the grounds to admire the beautiful autumn colours in hues of red, yellow, orange, green and brown. The grounds are so extensive with groves, lakes, bridges, river walks, formal gardens that a couple of hours is required to really enjoy and appreciate its beauty. The Great Telescope is a key feature of the gardens. Built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845, it was the biggest in the world for over 70 years. The Earl discovered the Whirlpool Nebulae using this telescope, which was the first hint at the existence of other galaxies.

All the time we basked in the beautiful autumn sunshine. Reluctantly, we boarded our minibus to head home but not before we stopped in Durrow, where we had a delicious meal and a glass of vino in the CastleArms Hotel. It was a great way to relax and share memories of the day. Thanks to Marian and Pauline for organising the trip and making sure we had a great day.