Offaly (Kings)

Email: Survey Officer


Copeland, Ralph [FRAS] (1837-1905), born Wood Plumpton, Lancashire, Astronomer Royal for Scotland.  He was then appointed observer at Birr Castle for two years followed by time at Dunsink Observatory, Dublin (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 66 (1906), 164-74; see MidlothianDublin; Lancashire)

Parsons, Lawrence fourth earl of Rosse [FRS; FRAS] (1840–1908), born Birr Castle, he was home educated, attending Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University. Although he was overshadowed by his more famous father he also pursued an interest in astronomy observing with both the 3 and 6 foot Rosse telescopes. He is best remembered for his efforts to measure the radiant heat of the Moon. He continued his father’s observations of nebulae, publishing the results and re-builting the 3-foot telescope onto an equatorial mount (Obit., MNRAS, 69 (1909), 250-3).

Parsons, William, third earl of Rosse [FRS; FRAS] (1800–1867), born York, England, educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford.  As Lord Oxmantown he inherited the title of third earl on the death of his father in 1841. After moving into Birr Castle, Birr ( then Parsonstown) he pursued his interest in astronomy building a series of large reflecting telescopes (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 29 (1868), 123-30; see Yorkshire: North Riding).

Rambaut, William Hautenville (1822-1893), born Ireland (?) nephew of Thomas Romney Robinson. Appointed observing assistant at Birr Castle Observatory in 1848 before taking a similar position at the Armagh Observatory in the same year (Mollan 2014; Bennett 1990, 115-7; Armagh).

Stoney, George Johnstone [FRAS] (1826-1911), born Oakley Park, Offlay, and graduating from Trinity College, Dublin. He was appointed and served two years as an observer at Birrcastle Observatory.  Later he was appointed prof. at University College, Galway and other appointments in Ireland before moving to London in 1893 and was an active member of the RAS (Obit., MNRAS, 72 (1912), 253-5).

Ward [nee King], Mary [pseudo the Hon. Mrs Ward] (1827-1869), born Parsonstown (Birr) the daughter of the Rev. Henry King, a local landowner and cousin of the 3rd Earl of Rosse.  A childhood interest in science continued after her marriage, her main pursuit being the microscopy and astronomy.  This lead Mary to follow a literary vocation with articles in science journals and several books including Telescope Teaching (1859). Her career was cut short in tragic circumstances when she was killed by falling from a steam carriage at Birr Castle (ODNB, McKenna-Lawlor 2003, 19-51; Cox 2006, 23-4).


Birr Castle Observatory (1840-1914 & 1999- ), Birr Castle, Birr established by William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse who built a 36 & 72-inch aperture reflecting telescope with speculum (metal) mirrors.  The larger, known as the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’ remained the largest from 1845 to 1917, though inactive after the 1870s. The third earl employed various observers –  W.H. Rambaut, G.J. Stoney. His son, Lawrence Parsons, the 4th earl continued to use the smaller reflector, that was re-mounted to make observations of the Moon.  The ‘Leviathan’ was dismantled in 1914 with mirror and other parts being donated to the Science Museum in London. In the 1990s the structure of the telescope was reconstructed with an aluminium mirror to replace the pair of original mirrors (Howse 1986; Tubridy 2010).

Rosse Telescope

Copperplate engraving, c.1860

Painting by Henrietta Compton

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