Behold the Mighty Leviathan!

by wjw on August 9, 2019

IMG_4282This is the Leviathan, at 72 inches the largest telescope in the world from 1845 to 1917, over seventy years.  She was built by William Parsons, the third earl of Rosse, on his substantial estate at Birr Castle.  He subsequently used Leviathan to investigate nebulas, which he discovered were not vague blobby things in the sky, but objects with structure, such as the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51).  440px-M51Sketch

Birr Castle was about all you want in a family home (which it still is).  Pictures and portraits, musical instruments, weapons and armor, a giant library, and at least a couple secret passages, one of which returned us to the library.  (One should always return to the library.)

The third earl was married to a woman at least as extraordinary as he.  Mary Parsons was a blacksmith— a rather unusual avocation for a well-born woman— and made many of Leviathan’s metal bits, as well as the large, heavy, sculpted iron gates of the castle.

She was also a very early photographer, and made her photographs from waxed-paper negatives.  Her photography studio was recently discovered intact, and has been transferred to the castle’s science museum.

The fourth earl continued his father’s astronomical researches, and his younger brother Charles invented the steam turbine.  Parsons steam turbines powered the Royal Navy at Jutland, and the Titanic on its premiere voyage.

You might suspect that we’re making a science fiction writer’s dream tour of Ireland.  I suspect you might be right.

John F. MacMichael August 10, 2019 at 5:56 am

“Her photography studio was recently discovered intact…”. Where did they find it? Was it in a secret room or just stashed in an attic?

John Appel August 10, 2019 at 8:49 am

I’m greatly enjoying these tales of your Irish adventure. Sounds like you’ve got plenty of fodder for a Fermor-esque retelling of the trip.

wjw August 10, 2019 at 11:12 am

John F.>> apparently her photo studio was walled off at some point. It was rediscovered during renovation.

John F. MacMichael August 10, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Thank you. It sounds rather like something out of the Winchester Mystery House.

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