There are also hours of free family entertainment including parades, fireworks, cultured street entertainment as well as day and night concerts, as well as a cattle fair and a horse fair. This is certainly one of the more unusual festivals in Ireland, but it's also the oldest. No one is really sure how this fair started, although there are a number of different theories. There are several versions of the origins of King Puck. One labels Puck a Paul Revere of sorts. The story involves English leader Oliver Cromwell and his "Roundheads," while pillaging the Irish countryside, frightened a herd of goats, one broke away and entered the town of Killorglin looking exhausted, which warned the townsfolk that danger was on its way.
The other story claims that the annual Killorglin fair had been a toll fair (this is back in the early 1800s), but then it was ruled illegal to levy tolls at cattle, sheep or horse fairs. - but this did not include goats, and on August 10, 1808, with the help of a barrister named Daniel O'Connell, a fair was held in Killorglin and a goat was paraded on stage to prove that it was indeed a legal goat fair. - so the town got a fair and a king.
It is also possible that this festival began in pre-Christian times, to celebrate a successful August harvest. In pagan times, the male goat, or "Puck" was celebrated as a symbol of fertility, like the pagan god Pan.
Matchmaking Festival Lisdoonvarna County Clare September-October 2009
This festival takes places over six weeks during the month of the September and the start of October, in the gorgeous County Clare town of Lisdoonvarna. Historically, this festival helped young Irish men - many of whom would have been working as farmers in isolated rural areas - meet young Irish women. The town even has an official Matchmaker: Willie Daly, who carries on an old family tradition. Today, this festival is a little less about matchmaking and more about music, dance, and good old-fashioned debauchery, Irish style.
The AIB Street Performance World Championship Dublin City June 18-21
Dublin City Center usually has some really good street performers, most famously on the main shopping street, Grafton Street, which is especially famous for its street musicians. But the street performance world championships, which take place in June in Merrion Square, are truly a spectacle to behold. Last year a duo called The English Gents astounded their audience with remarkable feats of strength and agility, using props such as cups of tea and newspapers in a most imaginative way.
Wren's Day Carrigaline 26 December 2008
The big attraction in Carrigaline, County Cork, on St Stephen's Day, December 26th is the annual Wren Boys Street Festival. This is an old Irish tradition, which has largely been forgotten in most other parts of the country: the Celtic myth was that the Robin, which represents the old year, kills the Wren, which represents the new year. "Wren Boys" would go hunting the bird and then go from house to house, singing and dancing for money. In this festival, traditional musicians, singers and dancers in bright colorful costumes and straw suits create great excitement as they entertain the crowds.
There is also a Wren's Day in the West Kerry town of Dingle, where crowds of people take to the streets of Dingle dressed in straw costumes and fancy dress parading the streets accompanied by music dance and song. The different Wrens go from pub to pub playing music while they collect donations for worthy charities.
Smithwick's Cat Laughs Festival Kilkenny May 28-June 1
In recent years, Irish comedy has become increasingly popular, and this comedy festival has established itself as one of the leading comedy festivals in the U.K and Ireland. It takes place in Kilkenny, a very charming midlands town about two hours from Dublin. (Its inhabitants insist on calling it a city because it has a cathedral, much to the amusement of the rest of country.) But whether you want to call it a town and city, Kilkenny is a great place to spend a few days - make sure to visit its Norman castle - and this comedy festival is probably the best time of the year to do so.
This year's line-up features If you do decide to go to this festival, try to book accommodation early on: most the hotels and Bed & Breakfasts sell out by the time the festival begins. There are also camping facilities provided, if you are prepared to rough it a little.
Galway Arts Festival July 13-26
Galway can lay genuine claim to being Ireland's cultural capital (although some Dubliners may well reject this claim) - so a trip to this western city no matter what time of the year will always be a very cultural experience. But these two weeks in July are especially exciting: part of Galway's appeal is that its city centre is small enough where pretty much everything is within walking distance. Life moves at a more laid back pace than in Dublin, and Galway manages to retain the feeling of how an Irish city, in part, might have looked 30 or 40 years ago, while still looking thoroughly modern.