William Parsons built the world’s largest telescope (at the time) in Offaly

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    Lord Rosse's telescope, Birr, Offaly, Ireland, 1924-1926. William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800-1867), Irish astronomer and engineer, built what was then the largest telescope in the world on his estate at Birr (then known as Parsonstown), Ireland. The instrument was known as 'the Leviathan of Parsonstown'. With it Lord Rosse discovered 15 spiral nebulae, and named the Crab nebula. A print from Hutchinson's Britain Beautiful, edited by Walter Hutchinson, volume III, 1924-1926. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

    By Paul Craven

    WILLIAM PARSONS was born on the 17th of June, 1800, in York, England. But, his English birth meant nothing to him as he was tied to Ireland by family, property and sympathy.


    His father was Laurence Parsons, Second Earl of Rosse, of Parsonstown, King’s County (now Birr, County Offaly). He was educated at home, before entering Trinity College, Dublin, after which he transferred to Oxford University.


    After graduating with a First Class Honours Degree in Mathematics, he was MP for King’s County (Offaly) from 1822 to 1835. But, while in the House of Commons, he did not display any particular ability as a speaker or as a statesman.


    The reason for this was that his main interest in life was not politics, but astronomy (or the study of Heavenly bodies).


    In 1836, he married Mary Field, who was thirteen years younger than him. She was an extremely wealthy Yorkshire woman with a personal fortune which generated an income of £50,000 per year. (This would probably equal an income of five million pounds per year in today’s money!)


    Then, five years later, in 1841, on the death of his father, William inherited his title, thus becoming the Third Earl of Rosse, as well as the family estate, which included Birr Castle.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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