A visit to Blackrock Castle Observatory is arguably one of the best things to do in Cork City (especially on a rainy day!).
Blackrock Castle – now the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) Blackrock Castle Observatory the Space for Science – dates back to the 16th century and is one of the most unique of the many Irish castles.
It’s now a fabulous and informative day out for all the family where you can learn about science, engineering and technology through the medium of astronomy.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything you need to know about Blackrock Castle Observatory, from what to see to the brilliant Castle Cafe.
Some quick need-to-knows about Blackrock Castle Observatory
Although a visit to Blackrock Castle is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
CIT Blackrock Castle is in the city of Cork, 12 minutes from the city centre. The Number 202 bus service takes you there from Merchants Quay to the St Luke’s Home stop. The location is a five-minute walk from that stop.
2. Opening hours and admission
Update: We can’t actually find opening hours for Blackrock Castle as they havn’t been updated in quite some time. However, if you check their website before your visit it’ll hopefully have been updated by then.
3. A fine spot for a rainy day
If you’re looking for things to do in Cork when it’s raining, Blackrock Castle is a great shout. There are lots of interesting exhibitions and things to see (info below) at the Castle and they bring in new attractions regularly.
A history of Blackrock Castle
The history of Blackrock Castle is long and colourful, and I’m not going to be able to do it justice with a handful of paragraphs.
The below is intended to give you an overview of the history of Blackrock Castle – you’ll discover the rest when you walk through its doors.
The early days
Blackrock Castle began life as a coastal defence fortification in the 16th century. It was built to protect Cork Harbour and port from pirates and potential invaders.
The citizens of Cork asked Queen Elizabeth I for permission to build the fort, and the early building was constructed in 1582, a round tower added in 1600 to stop pirates pouncing on any vessels entering the harbour.
The castle was in the ownership of the city after King James I granted a charter in 1608 and there are references to it in the Council Book of Cork in 1613 and 1614.
Fires, banquets and tradition
like many old buildings, the castle suffered its fair share of destruction over the years. Fire hit in 1722, wrecking the old tower, which was rebuilt by the city’s citizens soon afterwards.
Descriptions of the castle during this period show that it was used for banquets and social gatherings, including one referred to as ‘throwing the dart’.
This tradition that is thought to date back to at least the 18th century involved the city’s mayor throwing a dart from the boat and was held every three years. This was a symbolic demonstration of the Cork Corporation’s jurisdiction over the harbour.
After a banquet in 1827, fire once more destroyed the castle. Mayor Thomas Dunscombe ordered its rebuilding in 1828, completion achieved by March 1829.
The architects added another three stories to the tower and rebuilt the out buildings. The castle entered private hands and was used in the 20th century as a private residence, offices and a restaurant.
The Cork Observatory
The Cork Corporation reacquired the castle in 2001. Work began to repurpose the building as an observatory and a museum – as it is today. The castle houses a
working professional astronomical observatory, which is staffed by researchers from CIT searching for new planets around distant stars. There are many public exhibitions on the scientific themes of the observatory and educational events and tours for school pupils and students.
Things to see at Blackrock Observatory
One of the beauties of Blackrock Castle Observatory is that it’s home to plenty of things to see and do, and with new exhibitions being added throughout the year, you’ll have plenty of entertain you.
The Castle Cafe is also a great spot to kick-back after a visit. Anyway, more on all of this below.
1. Journeys of Exploration
This interactive experience tells the history of Blackrock Castle, from the early days when the city’s population needed a fort to defend them, to the merchant trade in the area, the smugglers and pirates.
The experience is in audio and guided form, and takes the visitor through the castle, the gunnery, riverside terrace and towers. The Journey of Exploration is included in the entry price to the castle, the oldest surviving structure in Cork.
2. Cosmos at the Castle
This award-winning exhibition shows visitors the recent discoveries of Earth’s extreme life forms, and what this means in relation to life in outer space. This is a self-guided tour and ideal for anyone interested in life on earth and beyond.
The tour includes a Galactic email station where you can email the Pan Galactic Station and track the navigation of the email.
Or why not introduce yourself to Cosmo, a virtual astronaut who will be happy to chat to you about your thoughts on alien life. And there are cinema-sized video screens which allow viewers to explore how the universe formed and how life developed on earth.
3. The Castle Café
If you read our guide to the best brunch in Cork, you’ll be familiar with the cafe at Blackrock Castle. The Castle is a café and restaurant located within Blackrock Castle, its specialisms delicious dishes made with local food and drink.
The Mediterranean-inspired menu offers meat and fish dishes, such as slow-cooked beef bourguignon and crispy calamari, and plenty for vegetarians too.
Things to do near Blackrock Castle
One of the beauties of Blackrock Castle Observatory is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Blackrock Observatory (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. The English Market
Cork has plenty of offer the hungry visitor, as the English Market attests. It has been in the city centre since the 1780s, named the English Market as at that time, Ireland was part of the British empire. The indoor market is within a two-level brick building, one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in Cork.
2. Elizabeth Fort
Another defensive building constructed to help citizens, Elizabeth Fort was built in 1601, although in 1603 at the death of Queen Elizabeth I, a revolt in the city saw the castle being attacked and seized by the locals. When English reinforcements arrived and re-established control, the good people of Cork were forced to pay for its repair. It was rebuilt in stone in the 1620s and played a pivotal role in the siege of Cork in the 1690s.
3. The Butter Museum
Dairy and butter have played an important role in the social and economical history of Ireland, and in particular Cork. In the 19th century, Cork exported butter as far afield as Australia and India. The Butter Museum explores this history and showcases the equipment used to make this delicious product.
4. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral
The 19th century Fin Barre’s Cathedral is a fabulous example of Gothic Revival architecture and a must see for any visitor to Cork. Open every day except Sunday, the sculptures and carvings in the interior and exterior make it well worth the visit.
5. Pubs and restaurants
Cork is well known for the quality of its pubs and restaurants. The Elbow House Brew and Smokehouse is an iconic establishment renowned for its steak and fish dishes, while Qunilans Seafood Bar benefits from using fish that is delivered fresh every day.
FAQs about Blackrock Castle Observatory
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether Blackrock Castle Observatory is worth visiting to what to see nearby.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What is there to do at Blackrock Castle Observatory?
There’s plenty to see and do at Blackrock Castle Observatory, from exhibitions and the cafe to events, interactive experiences and an award-winning show.
Is Blackrock Observatory actually worth visiting?
Yes! Blackrock Observatory is well worth a visit – it’s an especially good spot to drop into when it’s raining.
What is there to do near Blackrock Castle Observatory?
There’s lots to see and do near Blackrock Observatory, from a bounty of restaurants and cafes to historical sites, like the Butter Museum and the Cathedral to gorgeous walks.
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.