Festivals have long been part of Irish life: the Puck Fair in Killorgin, for example, has been going on for hundreds of years, while others such as the Fleadh Ceol and the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna have been taking place for decades.
But in recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of music festivals in Ireland. About a decade ago, you could have counted the number of really good Irish music festivals with one hand. Today, there are numerous music festivals all over the country. And it's not just the tastes of indie and rock fans that have been catered for - although these are indeed spoiled for choice - all kinds of genres now have festivals in Ireland.
Electric Picnic September 4-6 Stradbally Co. Laois
This festival, which began in 2004, years, bills itself as the "boutique music festival." Electric Picnic is a real music lover's festival. More particularly, it's for music fans that are getting that little bit older, but who aren't prepared to eat nothing but half-cooked burgers for three days. This festival may attract an older crowd than its main rival, Oxegen (see below), but it's certainly every bit of fun: there have been some terrific acts that have played here over the years, such as Wilco and Arcade Fire.
The location, Stradbally in County Laois - less than a two hour drive from Dublin - is an almost ideal festival venue, replete with lush green, natural amphitheatre-type fields. The lineup for this year is particulaly strong: MGMT, The Flaming Lips, Basement Jax, Echo and the Bunneymen, and Lisa Hannigan are among the highlights.
This festival is also noteworthy for the pretty good camping arrangements (as festivals go) and the wide variety of food and drinks available, ideal for the more discerning festival-goer - think vegetarian wraps and mojitos, not soggy French fries and warm beer. Electric Picnic is also commendable for being one of the best organized - and certainly more eco-friendly - festivals in the country.
Oxegen July 10-12, Punchestown, County Kildare
Although this festival typically attracts a younger crowd than Electric Picnic, it always seems to boast a very strong line up. In recent years, it has attracted some negative publicity for excessive teenage drinking, and for alleged sexual assaults, although 2008's festival apparently went much smoother by comparison. Last year, this festival was extended to three days: acts who played headlined included MGMT, Interpol and Kings of Leon It takes place in the Punchestown Race Track, which is about a 30 minute drive from Dublin City Centre. (The festival organizers run plenty of bus services to and from Dublin.)
Fleadh Ceol, August 21-23 Tullamore County Offaly
A fleadh (pronounced 'fla') is the Irish word for festival; ceol (ce-ole) is the Irish for music. But the Fleadh Ceol, which takes places in the County Offaly town of Tullamore, is as much a competition as it is a festival of Irish traditional music and dance. Individuals and groups - mainly from Ireland, the U.K and the U.S - compete against one another in a range of different categories, playing instruments such as the fiddle, accordion, flute, concertina, uilleann pipes (the national bagpipes of Ireland), harp, mouth organ, banjo and mandolin. It would be hard to get a more authentic experience of Irish culture than the Fleadh Ceol.
Wexford Opera Festival, October 15 - November 1
Wexford, in the 'sunny south east' of the country (well, it's sunny there by Irish standards at least...) is one of the most popular counties with tourists and this opera festival is a popular attraction. Last year saw this festival take place in a new opera house, which by all accounts has been a tremendous success. Ireland's first custom-built Opera House, it is over four times larger than the previous Theatre Royal. Comprising a main auditorium, seating 769 people for opera performances. This year's program has already been announced: Il Cappello di Paglia di Firenze by Nino Rota (who scored the Godfather trilogy), The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano, and Donizetti's Maria Padilla.
Cork Jazz Festival October 23-26
Although 'jazz' mightn't be synonymous with 'Ireland', this is one of Ireland's best established music festivals, first taking place in 1978. Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland after Dublin, and its inhabitants tend to be an extremely proud of their home - with considerably justification. Corkonians resent snooty Dubliners who think of their city as being a provincial backwater- and this jazz festival, one of the city's best known tourist draws, is proof of why they are right.
Puckfair Killorglin August 10-12
The idea is strange, yet simple: every year, a group of people from Killorgin, a town in County Kerry, go to the nearby mountains, the MacGillycuddy's Reeks, to capture a wild goat. The captured goat is then crowned "Kind Puck" in the town by the Queen of the Fair, a local schoolgirl. Then the party begins - for three days, pubs are permitted to say open till 3 am, and it is estimated that around 100,000 people visit the town over the three days. The goat is kept in a cage in the town, and is later released back into the wild.
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