Some countries have seasons dedicated to festivals. Ireland has an entire calendar. Kicking off in January and packing the months until December, festivals in Ireland are in the hundreds, and know exactly how to catch our attention.
Take the music ones. Some see international bands rocking exceptional outdoor venues like Slane Castle. Others host traditional musicians in intimate pubs or on remote islands such as Valentia and Arranmore. Then you have the foodie festivals. One will have you setting out on seafood safaris along the Wild Atlantic Way. Another sees casual cooks discuss dishes with artisan producers in a medieval city. There's even a little bit of everything packed into the likes of Belfast Festival Season for good measure.
One thing they all have in common? Fun.
Take your pick
It’s no secret that Ireland wears its literary heritage on its sleeve. Sometimes literally. Every June, James Joyce readers celebrate the author's masterpiece Ulysses by attending readings at select Dublin locations dressed in period costumes. Other notable events commemorating our most renowned wordsmiths include the Wilde Weekend in County Fermanagh.
There's also the Bram Stoker Festival which celebrates the Dublin-man behind Dracula with films, talks, readings, and a scare or three. It takes place every year during Dublin Festival Season (September - October), when the city hosts more festivals than any other time of the year.
But writers don't have the last word when it comes to Ireland's arts festivals.
On the cinematic front, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival has been hosting special screenings and panels with guests like Russell Crowe and Al Pacino since 2003. In Galway, a UNESCO City of Film, the Film Fleadh is a cult favourite for new Irish cinema, as is the Subtitle European Film Festival in County Kilkenny.
The challenge is real
You’re the kind of person who likes a challenge. So are we. Ireland’s mountains, lakes, forests and coastline provide the perfect setting for more, shall we say, physical festivals?
Great walking festivals set in spectacular surroundings include the Mourne International Walking Festival in County Down, a region that inspired CS Lewis to create Narnia, as well as the Wicklow Walking Festival, which takes in local flora and fauna in the Garden of Ireland.
Or you can take to the water. The Ballinamore Coarse Angling Festival in County Leitrim sees five days' coarse fishing in unspoiled lakelands. Not to mention the Irish Bass Festival, luring overseas anglers to the southern coastline of Ireland, the ‘Bass Mecca of Europe’.
For those who like their food, prepare to salivate over Ireland’s food festivals menu. Being an island means great seafood which means even greater seafood festivals. One is the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, a festival honoring “the first man bold enough to eat an oyster”, according to satirist Jonathan Swift. County Down’s Hillsborough Oyster Festival is another tasty event and is where the Guinness World Record for eating the most oysters was set by Colin Shirlow in 2005 – 233 in three minutes!
Not a fan of fishy food? Fear not. Festivals like Taste of Cavan, the Dingle Food Festival and the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival will have something on the menu to suit your tastes, whether it’s sampling countless stalls in food villages, taste trails or demonstrations from award-winning chefs.
With so many festivals in Ireland, the hardest part is deciding where to start...