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Fall's festival fever

From smooth tunes to thrilling theatrics and traditional matchmaking to ghoulish Halloween celebrations, fall in Ireland is jam-packed with fabulous festivals. Here are 9 of our favourites…

1. Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival (31 August-30 September)

Where? Lisdoonvarna, County Clare

What’s on: Matchmaking with music, dancing and dining

Why should you visit: Come September, you'll find that love is in the air in Lisdoonvarna along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. Matchmaking is an Irish tradition as old as time, and every year people come from all over the world in search of that someone special. The festival is hosted by Ireland’s only remaining (and most famous) matchmaker, Willie Daly, who boasts a total of around 3,000 marriages in his 45 years of pairing people up. Expect lots of music, dancing and dining, as well as plenty of craic (fun) of course! You never know who you might meet on the dance floor...

PS: Stick around between the 5-6 October and Lisdoonvarna kicks into matchmaking mode once again, with The Outing: "An LGBTQ weekend away like no other,” says top Dublin drag queen Panti Bliss. 

2. National Ploughing Championships (18-20 September)

Where? Tullamore, County Offaly

What’s on: Ploughing competition with entertainment and special events

Why should you visit: If you’re looking to experience real rural life in Ireland, this is the festival for you! What started off as an argument between two friends over whose county had the better ploughmen is now an annual inter-county championship that draws people from all over the island and beyond! Come for the ploughing, stay for the sheep dog trials, All-Ireland lamb shearing competition, craft demonstrations and – of course – the absolute craic (fun). It really doesn’t get more Irish than this!

3. Dublin Theatre Festival (27 September-14 October)

Where? Dublin city

What’s on: Theatre

Why should you visit: Superstar-studded shows, innovative productions and a brilliant mix of international and homegrown talent – the Dublin Theatre Festival is rightly thought of as one of Europe’s top theatrical events. Across 18 days, visitors can catch live performances showcasing world-class theatre in Dublin’s exceptional venues, from the grand stage of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin’s vibrant Docklands, to the elegant 18th-century surrounds of the Gate Theatre on Parnell Square in the heart of Georgian Dublin. A series of stellar shows in a capital city that's as friendly as a village and as intimate as a pub – what more could you ask for in a fall getaway?

4. Belfast Arts Festival (16 October-3 November)

Where? Belfast, County Antrim

What’s on: Theatrics, performance art, dance and music

Why should you visit: At one end of Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route, the city of Belfast presents the Belfast Arts Festival, one of the biggest of its kind in Ireland. Expect the best of international events, plus an eclectic collection of cutting-edge performances. Spread across two and a half weeks, audiences will be wowed by the likes of Isabella Rossellini, Eric Bibb and Angélique Kidjo, as well as Belfast city’s dynamic arts practitioners. With a whole host of theatrics, performance art, dance and music, well, you’re simply spoiled for choice!

5. Sligo Live (24-29 October)

Where? Sligo

What’s on: Indie music

Why should you visit: Come the last week of October, pretty Sligo town on the Wild Atlantic Way’s Surf Coast undergoes a metamorphosis of sorts. More used to the gentle sounds of birds tweeting, friendly chatter between tourists and locals, and the literary tales that come from its most famous son – the late Nobel Laureate, WB Yeats – it all changes when Sligo Live rocks into town. With a stellar line-up of entertainers ready to celebrate Sligo’s vibrant music scene and rich culture, it brings with it a fantastic array of international stars, including the Boomtown Rats, Dara Ó Briain and Rhiannon Giddens. Rocking out to brilliant music along the breathtaking Wild Atlantic Way: an experience of a lifetime!

6. Cork Jazz Festival (25-29 October)

Where? Cork city

What’s on: Jazz music

Why should you visit: If you’re a fan of jazz, this is one festival you won’t want to miss out on! What began 40 years ago as a small event to celebrate jazz in this southwestern city has grown year on year, becoming one of Europe’s biggest events for jazz music lovers. Prepare for big brass and infectious beats, with impromptu performances around the city centre and stellar musical feats from local and international acts. A gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East, this lively weekend will set you up for an unforgettable experience.

7. Bram Stoker Festival (26-29 October)

Where? Dublin city

What’s on: Halloween events including parades, outdoor cinemas and storytelling

Why should you visit: The Irish author behind the bloodsucking creation of Dracula is celebrated in suitably scary fashion at the Bram Stoker Festival. Uncovering the city's gothic side, this hugely entertaining festival twists and turns in venues around Dublin city, bringing a real sense of fun to the weekend. Dublin is packed with spooky events including street theatre parades, ghoulish ghost tours, literary readings, outdoor cinema screenings and even zip-lining vampires! With four days of deadly events, Dublin sets the scene for a frightfully fun Halloween.

8. DerryHalloween (26 October-3 November)

Where? Derry~Londonderry

What’s on: Halloween festival with intense scares, haunted houses and elaborate costumes

Why should you visit: Let your imagination run wild at this eerie festival in the walled city of Derry~Londonderry! This charming city’s locals are friendly to a fault, but do be warned: the scares at DerryHalloween are intense. Here they turn up the chill factor for nine spine-tingling days in what has been described as the "best place in the world to celebrate Halloween" by USA Today. Halloween, as you may have heard, is an ancient Irish festival. Originally celebrated as "Samhain" (meaning "end of summer"), our pagan ancestors considered 31 October to be the final day of the year, the night on which the dead would mingle with the living and return to their old homes. So get ready for full-on fear factor at DerryHalloween, with haunted houses, creepy walks and costumes so good, they’re frightening.

9. Belfast Beer & Cider Festival (8-10 November)

Where? Belfast, County Antrim

What’s on: Well, lots of beer and cider accompanied by music and good food

Why should you visit: Belfast’s food and drink scene is one of the most exciting in Europe right now, with an array of innovative restaurants, food trails and festivals throughout the year. The Belfast Beer & Cider Festival aims to increase the awareness of real, authentic ale in Northern Ireland, and with over 100 ales and ciders on offer you'll never go thirsty over this tasty weekend! Sample the brews on offer while listening to lively music and chow down on delicious dishes from Northern Ireland’s culinary capital – it doesn't get more indulgent than this!

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Check out more things to do while in Ireland in fall

10 Things You Have to Do in Ireland in the Fall