One thing all Irish people can agree on is that we love a good excuse for a party. When the sun comes out (and even when it doesn’t) we love getting together to have a good time, so naturally we’ve orchestrated several key events to keep us entertained throughout the year - with more and more festivals being added to the calendar every season.
If you wanted to, you could attend some sort of event for virtually anything at some point in the year in Ireland; from theatre to farming to love and everything in between. While 30 or 40 years ago your choices were somewhat limited to county fairs in the summer months and religious celebrations in between, now locals and visitors alike are spoiled for choice on what to do and where to go to get their kicks. If you’re planning on travelling around Ireland some time this year, you should try your best to check out at least one or two of the festivals from this list.
1. Ted Fest
Where: Inis Mor, Aran Islands
What: Ted Fest, otherwise known as the Father Ted festival, is a four-day long celebration of Ireland’s favourite television sitcom. Just finished it’s 10 year anniversary, it takes place every year on the biggest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mor, which was used as the location for the fictional home of Father Ted and his companions, Craggy Island. The festival has the same wacky sense of humour as the show it’s based on and often holds events directly taken from certain episodes such as the Lovely Girls competition and the Craggy Cup. You don’t have to know everything about Father Ted to enjoy the festivities, although it certainly helps.
2. St. Patrick’s Day
When: March 17th
What: As most people already know, St. Patrick’s Day is the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint, celebrated all over the world by Irish and non-Irish people alike. While the parades in many US cities with large Irish populations are definitely larger in scale, the celebrations in Ireland are without a doubt the best of the bunch. The St. Patrick’s Festival usually runs for a few days before and after the day itself, with various cultural events like traditional music and dancing showcases, street carnivals, funfairs, and much more. The day itself is marked by a parade through the city in the morning followed by celebrations that last well into the night.
3. Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF)
Where: Dublin City
What: Every year the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival becomes bigger and more prestigious. Currently in it’s 12th year, 2015’s JDIFF saw film greats walk the streets of the city for ten days, various Irish and European premieres take place in the city’s cinemas, question and answer sessions held with industry leaders, and a host of other glitzy and glamorous events. Some of the big names participating in the festival included Kim Cattrall, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh, Aidan Turner, Russell Crowe and Dame Julie Andrews - and next year is already gearing up to attract equally respected and well known figures.
4. Kilkenny Cat Laughs
Where: Kilkenny City
What: Since 1995 the Kilkenny Cat Laughs comedy festival has been bringing belly laughs to the medieval city of the midlands. Now in its 21st year, the festival has a widely respected international reputation and brings stand-up comedians both from Ireland and much further afield to Kilkenny for five days of fun and frolics. Attendees always say the best thing about the festival is that both newcomers, big names and veterans are all given equal footing. Every Irish comedian you can name will be there this year, as well as plenty from the UK and more exotic locations too.
When: 16th June
Where: Dublin City
What: Bloomsday celebrates all things James Joyce related, but particularly his seminal work Ulysses, which follows protagonist Leopold Bloom (hence the name) around Dublin for a day as he meets various characters and contemplates various aspects of life. The events of the novel take place on 16th June 1904, which is also the day Joyce and the love of his life, Nora Barnacle, went on their first date. Although celebrations take place all over the world, Dublin is by far the most popular location because the route Bloom takes through the city is still intact. Fans retrace his steps while reading passages from the book in costume, and indulge in the various delicacies and treats mentioned in the book before and after.
6. Galway Races
Where: Galway Racecourse
What: For seven consecutive days at the end of July people from all over the country descend on Galway city for a week of horse racing. Each day there are a series of fixtures with hopefuls from across Ireland and the UK competing. Almost as important however are the other events that take place during the week. Ladies Day sees knowledgeable judges wander through the crowd in search of the best dressed lady, who is bestowed with luxurious prizes, while Family Day allows children in for free to enjoy fun activities and the bonkers Mad Hatter competition (the most creative hand-made hat wins a prize).
7. Galway International Arts Festival
Where: Galway City
What: Immediately before the Galway Races is the Galway International Arts Festival, which sees arty types from all walks of life arrive in the city for two weeks of performance, music, visual art and discussion. In past years just some of the big names who have appeared at the festival include Blondie, Primal Scream, David Gray and Joni Mitchell, as well as some of the leading dance companies and artists. This year some of the more well known names in the line-up include Sinead O’Connor and Damien Rice, with many more yet to be announced.
8. Orangemen’s Day
When: 12th July
Where: Northern Ireland
What: Orangemen’s Day takes place on 12th July every year and is a commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne, which saw the forces of William of Orange and King James fight one another in 1690. This epic battle is symbolic of the sectarian struggles that have taken place in Northern Ireland since then, so each year members of the Orange Order parade through the towns and cities of the North with marching bands and pageantry. While in previous decades parades were sometimes marred with violence, these days it’s perfectly safe to attend provided you do so respectfully.
9. Rose of Tralee International Festival
Where: Tralee, Co. Kerry
What: The Rose of Tralee is a celebration of Irish culture by women with Irish descent from all over the world (including Ireland, obviously). Currently in its 56th year, the main event of the festival is the selection of one of these women as the Rose of Tralee during a televised pageant in which they reveal their Irish roots, life accomplishments and many varied talents. If you think it sounds like another generic beauty pageant, you couldn’t be more wrong! The crowned Rose spends the next year travelling around the world working with humanitarian organisations, young people, and attending important Irish events.
10. Dublin Horse Show
Where: RDS Arena, Dublin City
What: The Dublin Horse Show is a yearly equestrian wonder that involves show jumping, dressage, showcases and exhibitions by horse breeds and riders from all ages and places. Whether you have an interest in horses or not it makes a great family day out with live music, craft and food fairs, fashion competitions, kid’s activities, and much more. The show runs over five days and culminates in the nail-biting battle for the Aga Khan trophy, during which riders must jump their horses over fences that continually increase in height.
11. Electric Picnic
Where: Stradbally, Co. Laois
What: Electric Picnic is the biggest and best music festival in Ireland, and takes place every September in the surrounding grounds of Stradbally Hall in Co. Laois. It draws huge crowds each year and many high profile musical acts - this year’s headlining act is Floreance and the Machine, followed by Underworld, Manic Street Preachers, George Ezra, and many other top quality acts. Electric Picnic prides itself on being much more than a music festival however, with comedy shows, spoken word performances, art exhibitions, food demonstrations, craft areas, and even a circus in the grounds too!
12. Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival
When: August to October
Where: Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare
What: The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival is the largest singles event in Europe. It started many decades ago when the small seaside town in county Clare became a popular holiday destination for farmers and other rural workers. The tradition of matchmaking had long existed in Ireland before that, so Lisdoonvarna naturally became a hub for it after the busy harvest period. Nowadays there is only one matchmaker left, Willie Daly, who runs the festival by noting profiles of every hopeful single in his matchmaking book and find their perfect partner over the course of the week. Various music, dancing and other suitable social events take place throughout the festival, with an emphasis on traditional Irish set dancing and music.
13. Puck Fair
Where: Killorglin, Co. Kerry
What:The Puck Fair is one of Ireland’s oldest festivals, taking place for over 400 years (and those are just the years there is documented evidence for). For reasons long forgotten, a wild mountain goat is caught and led down to the town of Killorglin in Kerry and crowned as their king during a coronation ceremony and parade. The three day fair celebrating the king of Puck includes a horse market, cattle market, fireworks, storytelling, traditional music and dancing, and much more.
14. National Ploughing Championship
Where: Ratheniska, Co. Laois
What: Another of Ireland’s more unusual festivals is the National Ploughing Championship, which takes place at the end of the harvest season (usually the end of September). It started in 1931 to settle an argument about who was Ireland’s best ploughman, and is now one of the biggest agricultural events in the country with over 200,000 attendees each year. As well as the ploughing championship itself, there is also various exhibitions such as dog trials, food fairs, machinery and livestock, children’s crafts and activities, and much more. If you decide to take the trip to Co. Laois to attend, prepare for lots of traffic (much of it tractors) and don’t forget your wellies!
15. Cork Jazz Festival
Where: Cork City
What: The Cork Jazz festival was founded by Jim Mountjoy in 1978, who at the time was a marketing manager of a high profile hotel in Cork troubled by falling guest numbers. His solution for filling his hotel for the weekend turned into a critically acclaimed festival and is still going strong today. The city fill with the sounds of jazz for the weekend with top performers from Ireland and all over the world hitting the music venues for sometimes mind-blowing shows. Last year saw Imelda May, The Renegade Brass Band, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and many more top class acts take to the stage.