Blackrock Castle observatory is situated along the River Lee outside Cork city in the suburb of Blackrock. It’s just a short 15 minute drive from Cork City center, so a perfect day trip to escape the hustle and bustle. This is not your conventional Irish castle but it boasts it’s fair share of history all the same.
The clue is in the name- Blackrock Castle observatory is actually a Science centre. Run by Cork Institute of Technology and Cork City Council this is an amazing exhibit of everything astronomical! My main reasoning for heading out to Blackrock on this particular day was that is was lashing rain in Cork, so I wanted to go on a Galavant where I wouldn’t get soaked!
I drove out to Blackrock via Mahon point and there is a good size free car park just in front of it. You are at the mouth of the river Lee here and you have a view accross the river to the not so pretty quays. There is good reason for the castle being positioned here though. On entering the gate there is a lovely courtyard with The Castle cafe and restaurant to your right and then reception on your left. I met a lovely girl at reception who gave me a ticket (€6.50 per adult) and let me know that the next tour was not for another hour and a half. I wasn’t sure if I would get 90 mins out of the science center but I was very wrong!
On entering the exhibit you are greeted with “the Mystery of life”. This is an explanation of where we have come from and how we have adapted. You then go through a series of rooms with huge screens that give you a step by step explanation of our Solar system. I wouldn’t have a big interest in astronomy but the way they have the exhibit set up is really cool. There are 4 big laser beam style lights at each screen. You can touch the top of the light to choose another subject. I spent nearly an hour going through these screens alone! It was really fascinating and older kids would really enjoy this! Following on from this area you enter another interactive space where you can sit in front of screens and learn about all the work that CIT are doing in the observatory from the researchers themselves. There are more fun things here for kids to do also like sending messages to space.
I made my way into the interactive theatre then but had just missed the end of a comet chaser session! The tour of the castle was just about to start anyway so I was in good time. Our lovely guide for the evening told us all about the history of the castle. It actually started as just a fort. The fort was built to provide safe passage for the cargo ships at the time bringing their wares into Cork city and also to protect the city from Pirates! The castle was built on top of the fort in the early 17th century. We were brought outside and shown the replica canon’s that would have been used back in the day the fort was used to ward off enemies. We then went through another gate to a viewing area beside the castle that had a big map laid out with all the strategic points along Cork Harbour. It’s amazing how many ports and harbours are along the river here and they would have all been a hub of activity for immigration, exports and imports. Places like Ringaskiddy, Passage west, Camden fort, Roches point light house and Cobh. All of these places played very important roles down through the years and are oozzing in history!
We made our way down through the stores then to hear more about the produce that would have passed through Cork Harbour and then down into the Gunnery where the fort originally stood. When the Castle was used as a Banquet hall in the 18th century this would have been the wine store but it has been restored to its original intention as the gunnery.
Our guide then brought us up to the very top of the tower (you can only access the top of the tower if you are on a tour) up a very skinny and steep spiral staircase. I was last to the top from our group and I had to stop and take a breath when I reached the top. I commented to the guide that I was obviously not the fittest person in the world and he told me he found it tough enough every day (he was obviously just being nice!). Our guide pointed out the significant areas of interest from here including the big houses that are still standing across the river today that would have been built by rich merchants at the time.
The view up here is pretty spectacular. As I said it was a dreary day when I visited but you could still make out St Finbars Cathedral in Cork. On a good day it would be even more stunning. The tour continued from here back down to the main castle. This was the planatarium part of the tour which I decided not to partake in as I was dreaming of the cake I had seen on the way in. I thanked the guide and made my way over to the Castle Cafe where I got the compulsory Tea and Cake and sat outside to enjoy it.
All in all I would highly recommend Black rock Castle observatory for a day out. It will appeal to young, old and in between. Sometimes they do close for private functions so make sure and check the website below to make sure they are open on the day you visit. The Castle Restaurant and Cafe also come highly recommended and its in a beautiful location. Definitely check this place out! I have attached a few links below and as always- Happy Galavanting! xx