Festivals in Ireland

Festival fun in Dublin

Ireland’s calendar is popping with big, cosy, quirky, arty, sporty, foodie festivals from January to December. Here are just a few to try.

Tradfest at Werburgh Street Church (Dublin city)
Tradfest at Werburgh Street Church (Dublin city)

1. TradFest, Dublin (January): Fiddles, flutes, bodhráns banjos, traditional pubs, the finest musicians and some of the finest traditional Irish music you’ll ever hear.

2. Dublin International Film Festival (February/March): Since 2003 the festival has welcomed the likes of Russell Crowe and Al Pacino and has premiered movies such as Once and In Bruges.

3. St Patrick’s Day, All Island (March): Undoubtedly the biggest day of celebration on the island, expect parades, céilís, food festivals and LOTS of green.

4. Omagh & Sperrins Walking Festival, County Fermanagh (March): Verdant lakelands, hills, valleys, spongey bogs and grand estates make Fermanagh a walker’s wonderland. This festival proves it.

5. Cork International Choral Festival, Cork city (April-May): The heavenly sounds of a choral competition held everywhere from stunning cathedrals to town halls. What’s not to like?

6. Burren in Bloom, County Clare (April-May): County Clare’s Burren is sublime all year round, but blooms particularly beautifully in spring.

The Mourne Mountains, County Down
The Mourne Mountains, County Down

7. Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, County Mayo (June): Expect gigs galore, ‘more than one MASSIVE session’, masterclasses, workshops with even churches hosting live shows.

8. Mourne International Walking Festival, County Down (June): Arguably the island’s most visually stunning mountain range, there’s no better way to explore the original Narnia than by foot during the festival.

9. Bloomsday, Dublin city (June): Whether you’ve made it through the masterpiece that is Ulysses or not, Bloomsday is still barrels of craic. Joycean tours, readings at selected locations and meals straight from the book are the only way to celebrate James Joyce in his very city.

Bloomsday shenanigans, Dublin city
Bloomsday shenanigans, Dublin city

10. Sea Sessions Surf and Music Festival, County Donegal (June): Surf’s up (as always) in Bundoran along with live shows, beach volleyball, tag rugby, epic nights and more.

11. Carlow Arts Festival, County Carlow (June): An arty party programme busting at the seams with literary events, theatre, classical music and some remarkable venues (Borris House, anyone?).

12. Galway Film Fleadh, Galway city (July): Did you know: Galway is one of the UNESCO Cities of Film? No surprise then that its Film Fleadh is one of the friendliest yet edgiest film festivals of the year.

Hail King Puck!
Hail King Puck!

13. Mary from Dungloe International Festival, County Donegal (July/August): A more intimate, local version of Kerry's Rose of Tralee, this is small-town Ireland at its best. Friendly family fun with a few surprises.

14. Féile Brian Ború, Counties Clare and Tipperary (July): A warrior, a king and a hero – no other festival (or place) celebrates the legendary Brian Ború’s story with more passion.

15. Puck Fair, County Kerry (August): Parades, horse fairs, live music, workshops and a goat being crowned king. No, really…

16. Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, County Clare (August): Hosted by Ireland’s ONLY remaining matchmaker and immortalised in song by Christy Moore, this is love with side-orders of craic, music, dancing and dining. Recently established LGBT offshoot, The Outing (October), is another romantic string to the festival’s bow bringing the glamour via club nights live music and some of the finest drag acts in Ireland.

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Derry-Londonderry
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Derry-Londonderry

17. Fleadh Cheoil (August): Held in a different location each year, the Fleadh Cheoil is traditional Irish music… but competitive. Don’t expect a tense atmosphere, but do expect live outdoor performances, exclusive shows, theatre and plenty of pub sessions.

18. Taste of Cavan, County Cavan (August): Award-winning cheeses, hand-made chocolates, organic sausages, baked treats and a generous collection of Ireland’s finest chefs. Hungry? This is for you.

19. Carlingford Oyster Festival, County Louth (August): Family friendly combining a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, crab fishing, food stalls, dance classes, and, of course, oysters. Bonus: Carlingford is one of Ireland’s prettiest towns.

20. Dublin Fringe Festival (September): Comedy, theatre and spoken word performances. Discover a plethora of creative talent at the Dublin Fringe Festival.

21. Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival, Cape Clear Island, (September): Storytelling is a typically Irish skill and hearing some of the finest myths on an isolated southern island is sure to send shivers down your back.

22. Bram Stoker Festival (October): Expect spooky delights and deadly adventure at this four-day festival celebrating all things Bram Stoker!

23. Derry-Londonderry Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival, Derry-Londonderry city (October): Fright-night with a family-friendly edge in the walled city. Not dressing up? You’ll be the only one!

24. Dingle Food Festival, County Kerry (October): Dingle was already perfect to begin with, but a food festival boasting epic eats in such a relaxed, typically charming Kerry atmosphere is the icing on the cake.

25. Subtitle Film Festival, Kilkenny city (November): A historically rich medieval city hosts an esoteric subtitle film festival? Yes. Please.

26. Belfast Beer and Cider Festival, Belfast city (November): Belfast’s food scene is about the most exciting in Europe right now. It’s drink scene is right up there, too, as this deliciously different festival will testify.

Newgrange Passage Tomb, County Meath
Newgrange Passage Tomb, County Meath

27. The Winter Solstice, County Meath (December): Pre-dating the pyramids, the sun-worshipping solstice at Newgrange is undoubtedly the oldest festival in Ireland. Only lottery winners will be ushered into the tomb's inner chamber for the organic lightshow. Enter here.

The solstice creates its own communal festival atmosphere, if one laced with a sense of purpose. Everyone present wishes to bask in a golden beam and feel that unique Solstice sun on their cold face.

Eileen Battersby (Irish Times) on the Solstice experience at Newgrange

28. Christmas Horse Racing Festivals, Various Counties (December): Turkey eaten, pudding munched and presents played with. What next? Thrills, spills and a winner or two (hopefully) at one of the island’s countless Christmas horse racing events.

Come for the festival, stay for the cities!

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