|Cork city, Republic of Ireland|
Blackrock Castle is a 16th-century castle located about 2 km from the heart of Cork city, Ireland on the banks of the River Lee. Originally built to defend the port and upper flows of Cork Harbour, the castle is now the site of an observatory, visitors centre and restaurant.
In the late 16th century, the citizens of Cork appealed to Queen Elizabeth I to construct a fort at Blackrock to "repel pirates and other invaders". Around 1600, a round tower was constructed to safeguard against pirates "carrying away" vessels entering the harbour. The earliest remains of this structure remaining today are a circular tower on the water's edge, 10.5m in diameter, with walls 2.2m thick.
Blackrock Castle was in the ownership of the City of Cork following a charter of James I to the City in 1608. The castle is later referred to in the Council Book of Cork in 1613 and 1614. In 1722 the old four-storey tower was destroyed by fire and new one built by the citizens, costing £296.
Throughout this period, the castle was used by the Corporation for banquets and "convivial gatherings", some associated with the custom of "throwing the dart". This ancient custom was held every three years in August, where a dart (an arrow about four feet long) was thrown from a boat by the Mayor accompanied by officers of the Corporation.
Following a banquet, the castle was destroyed by fire in 1827. The rebuilding began at the direction of Mayor Thomas Dunscombe in 1828 and was completed in March 1829. The architects added three additional storeys to the original tower and rebuilt the out-buildings. The new building cost the City of Cork £1,000. The architects were James and GR Pain, who were responsible for other public buildings and churches in Cork, notably the Courthouse in 1835, the interiors of the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne in 1828, and St Patrick's Church in 1836. This neo-gothic complex of buildings around a courtyard is essentially what remains today.
The building was purchased by Cork Corporation in 2001 and had previously been used at different times as offices, as a restaurant and as a private residence.
The "Cosmos at the Castle" project was intended to create a "centre for scientific research, outreach and communication". A feature of the facility is the manner in which children and adults are encouraged to interact with science.
Blackrock Castle now houses Ireland's first interactive astronomy center developed by the award-winning multimedia company Martello Media. The exhibition is open to the public and is themed "The Search for Extreme Life in the Universe". Highlights of the exhibition include:
- A tour of the Universe using interactive floor-to-ceiling screens.
- A "social software" cinema designed by Martello Media, with digital post production by the award-winning Irish company The Farm
- A radio telescope that beams messages composed by school groups towards nearby stars
- An optical telescope that continuously searches for very short flashes of light that may be evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence.
The castle already houses a team of astronomical researchers from Cork Institute of Technology who have been working on the exhibits and Ireland's first robotic observatory. At the same time, the team are currently engaged in a number of astronomy projects.