Food and festivals: Ireland combines them with passion, style and a certain quirky charm. Oh, and generosity. Did we mention that a lot of the island’s food festivals are free?
Valentia Island King Scallop Festival, County Kerry (12-13 July)
Valentia Island is famous for its dramatic cliffs, balmy climate (courtesy of the Gulf Stream) and king scallops that are so good they get their own festival. On the waterfront in Knightstown, the island’s capital, you can enjoy the party atmosphere around the craft and food stalls, and watch demonstrations of just how many ways you can cook a scallop. However, the highlight has to be a cook-off among the island’s men to see who will win the hotly contested Mr King Scallop title.
Must try: Valentia scallops, of course!
Féile na Mara – Achill Island Festival of the Sea, County Mayo (18-20 July)
An island surrounded by pristine waters on the Wild Atlantic Way. What better place to have a seafood festival? Féile na Mara (Festival of the Sea) celebrates Achill Island’s rich maritime heritage with everything from seaweed safaris to demonstrations of how to cook some of the 34 species of fish that have been caught in Achill’s waters. You can even experience the thrill of a real Achill Yawl race, the island’s traditional fishing boat.
Must try: Keem Bay smoked salmon and fresh brown bread
Flavours of the Foyle, Derry~Londonderry city (26-27 July)
Derry~Londonderry wants to celebrate… and with its fabulous seafood, a buzzing restaurant scene and a fishing heritage that goes back centuries (the north west once exported herring all over the world), there’s no better place for a party. Flavours of the Foyle is a two-day seafood extravaganza packed with cookery demos and food stalls hosted by local chefs, all set against a backdrop of the city’s 400-year-old walls.
Must try: Wild mussels from Lough Foyle
Fishfest, Kilkeel, County Down (23-26 August)
Capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mourne and home of Northern Ireland's largest fishing fleet, Kilkeel also hosts one of its best food festivals, Fishfest. Enjoy food and craft stalls, live music and cookery demos, as well as the famous oyster eating competition, where you can sample the fruits of nearby Carlingford Lough. Make sure to look out for Salt and Pepper, Kilkeel Harbour’s resident seals!
Must try: Oysters, preferably with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pint of stout!
Waterford Harvest Festival, Waterford city (12-14 September)
Waterford knows good food. After all this is the city that’s given us the ‘rasher’ of bacon (thank you Henry Denny) and the cream cracker (much obliged WR Jacob). And that’s what the Waterford Harvest Festival is all about – taking pride in Waterford’s vibrant food culture and showcasing its innovative artisan food producers with a range of tours, tastings and trails in the narrow city streets.
Must try: a real Waterford blaa (floury white bread roll) filled with rashers
Savour Kilkenny, Kilkenny city (25-27 October)
Voted one of the friendliest cities in Europe by Condé Nast travel magazine and home to two Michelin star restaurants, Kilkenny has a growing reputation as a foodie destination. And at Savour Kilkenny, you can meet everyone from farmers and artisan producers to restaurateurs, as you learn about activities as diverse as apple-pressing, bee-keeping, butter-making and foraging. All within sight of the spectacular Kilkenny Castle.
Must try: Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese with wheaten crackers
So there you have it - fantastic food, a carnival atmosphere and a chance to get to know the locals, all in some of the most beautiful locations on the island. And it’s free. Now what festival delicacy do you fancy sampling first?