The Irish are known for their “craic,” or spirit of fun, so festivals are celebrated for all sorts of occasions around the country, year-round.
Festivals have long been part of Irish life: the Puck Fair in Killorglin, for example, originated in the 17th century, while others such as the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna have been around for 150 years.
Obvious celebrations such as St. Patrick’s Day are feted to the nth degree, but lesser-known occasions like the Friends of Father Ted Fest are rising in popularity. Depending on the timing of your trip, you could find yourself snacking on seaweed at the Oul’ Lammas Fair, toasting the Rose of Tralee in Co. Kerry or taking part in the world's largest Irish session!
Here's a list of some of Ireland's best festivals throughout the year:
St. Patrick’s Festival
Dublin City, Co. Dublin
March 12-17, 2009
St. Patrick's Day used to be a rather somber affair in Ireland as the day was celebrated as strictly a religious holiday.
Today St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with an explosion of entertainment all over Ireland, with festivities kicking off in the Republic’s capital during the week leading up to the big day. The Dublin festival is Ireland’s official fete for this national holiday, with parties, parades and night spectacles to entertain the revelers.
And things aren’t too tame around the rest of the country, either! St. Pat's parades in Ireland are mirthful, energetic and all-inclusive (the gay and lesbian communities are welcomed with open arms in Ireland). In Galway, performers take to the city for a fabulous walking parade; Armagh and Down pay tribute to the patron saint with the largest celebration in Northern Ireland; Cork boasts a veritable fiesta of colors; while Belfast looks like a carnival on the big day. In fact, across almost every town and village in the country, this special day for the Irish is remembered in style.
Pan Celtic Festival
Donegal Town, Co. Donegal
April 14-19, 2009
The Pan Celtic Festival aims to instill, strengthen and exchange our Celtic cultures and traditions in music, song, dance, sports etc. in our own languages from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Isle of Man. Past events have included: street performances from each of the Celtic Nations, traditional singing competitions, the Pan Celtic International Song Contest, featuring Celtic Rock, Traditional and Pop music, golf competition, parades, choral concerts, harp, piping and fiddle competitions and camogie (a Celtic sport).
Taste of Dublin
Dublin City, Co. Dublin
June 11-14, 2009
Taste of Dublin is the capital’s annual outdoor restaurant, food and drink festival. The 2009 festival will host 20 top restaurants in the Iveagh Gardens and feature wine tasting with O'Brien's Wines. You can also check out the Drumm’s Chefs Demonstration Theatre with top chefs such as Rachel Allen, Neven Maguire, Anthony Worrall Thompson and Gary Rhodes. They’ll be running demonstrations and tastings, celebrating the very best of Irish and international food.
The Oul’ Lammas Fair
Ballycastle, Co. Antrim
One of Ireland's oldest traditional fairs, the Oul’ Lammas Fair is held each year in Ballycastle during the last Monday and Tuesday of August. The fair features livestock sales plus hundreds of stalls selling souvenirs and knick knacks of all sorts, including the Oul’ Lammas Fair's traditional Dulse (a dried, edible seaweed) and Yellowman (a yellow candy).
This world-famous event has taken place annually for the past 300 years, but its origins trace back to the legends of Ireland – the name Lammas originates from the “Feast of Lughnasadh,” or “Lugh,” a sun god in Celtic myth.
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann
Tullamore, Co. Offaly
August 16-23, 2009
The 58th Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is one of the largest Fleadhs (festival) in Ireland. One of Ireland's most central towns takes on the challenge of hosting the largest annual cultural event in Europe in its own stride, delivering the largest showcase of traditional Irish musicians, singers, storytellers, and dancers, with over 10,000 competitors and performers taking parting in this “Feast of Irish music.”
The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2008 set the new World Record for Largest Traditional Irish Session.
Rose of Tralee International Festival
Tralee, Co. Kerry
August 21-26, 2009
The festival, which was originally based on the famous song, “The Rose of Tralee,” is one of the most well-known Irish festivals worldwide. Since 1959, young "unmarried or never married women" men with Irish ancestry have competed in this festival which takes over the Kerry capital. Parades and fireworks, free open-air concerts and lots of song and dance make this the ideal place to experience Irish warmth and good humour at its best.
Galway International Oyster Festival
Galway City, Co. Galway
September 24-27, 2009
The Galway Oyster Festival was conjured up in 1953 when a hotel manager first suggested the idea as a way to extend the tourist season. With help from local businessmen and Guinness, the first Oyster Festival Banquet took place the following September with 34 guests. The festival has now been voted one of the 12 greatest shows on earth as it features a weekend of non-stop entertainment with national and international artists, cabaret and dancing.
Belfast Festival at Queens
October 16-31, 2009
The Festival covers all art forms: theatre, dance, classical music, literature, jazz, comedy, visual arts, folk music and popular music, and attracts over 100,000 visitors. One of the festival's key roles is to promote local work, giving Belfast’s artists the opportunity to present their work on an international scale. Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, James Galway, Van Morrison, Stewart Parker and Marie Jones were all welcomed early in their careers and recent productions by local theatre companies such as Tinderbox, Ransom, Prime Cut and Kabosh have been successes at the festival.
In the recent past, the Belfast Festival has hosted Robert Wilson, Alfred Brendel, Merce Cunningham, Philip Glass, Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and Yoko Ono as its guests.
Banks of the Foyle Hallowe’en Carnival
Derry City, Co. Derry
October 31, 2009
If you happen to be in Ireland during Halloween, a definite must-see is the Derry Halloween Festival, the longest-running carnival in Ireland and one of Northern Ireland’s leading annual events. The city is known as Ireland’s Halloween capital, and its streets attract thousands during the fun, colorful spectacle. The carnival features ghost storytelling, haunted houses and forests, magic shows, a parade and fireworks. The event is family friendly, too – there is a designated “family fun area” (alcohol-free), but a Halloween ball and cruise for adults.
Wren Boys Street Carnival
Carrigaline, Co. Cork
December 26, 2009
The big attraction in Carrigaline, Co. 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.
Dingle, Co. Kerry
December 26, 2009
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.