Lonely Planet produced this article for our partner, Tourism Ireland.
The Irish sure know how to enjoy themselves. Here are ten festivals where you can get in among them.
Tedfest (Aran Islands, Co Galway, February)
Just to avoid any confusion, it's not about teddy bears, it's about priests: the three priests of the cult comedy TV show Father Ted to be exact. Tedfest is held on the Aran Islands and celebrates the shenanigans of the fictional Craggy Island's holy trinity - the daydreaming, childlike Fr Dougal McGuire, the constantly inebriated, Touerette's-prone Fr Jack Hackett and the well-meaning but totally luckless Fr Ted Crilly. Find out about the plague of rabbits, Ireland's most boring priest, the lovely girls competition and how a group of priests made a wrong turn into a department store's lingerie section and lived to tell the tale... Tedfest is what the Irish do when they want to cry (with laughter).
St Patrick's Festival (Dublin, March)
If St Patrick hadn't existed (and rid Ireland of snakes, brought Christianity to the country and united the factional chieftains) the Irish would surely have invented him. If nothing else his feast day is a perfect excuse for having a great time: something the Irish do better than, well, pretty much everyone else! And where better to celebrate the life of the great man than in Dublin. Colour, culture and craic (pr: crack, 'fun') flow down O'Connell St, the capital's main thoroughfare, on the day itself (17 March) but there's a whole week of celebrations with comedy, music, street theatre and art. If you happen to be travelling around Ireland at this time, don't worry, there'll be St Patrick's Day celebrations somewhere near you. Guaranteed.
Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival (Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, September-October)
Looking for romance? Well, forget Paris or Rome. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is Europe's largest singles festival, set in the lovely spa town of Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare. The craic is always mighty from September to October. That's a whole month to be wooed by silver-tongued blarney. No mere mortal can resist! But if you're not doing as well as you hoped, Ireland's only official matchmaker will be on hand to help you out. Young or old, age is no barrier to taking part.
Puck Fair (Killorglin, Co Kerry, August)
Dogs are considered intelligent, right? But what about goats? No? You obviously haven't come across any Irish ones. The roots of Puck Fair lie in the mid-1600s when a domesticated goat broke away from a herd that was being rerouted by the 'Roundheads' (British invaders) and reached the residents of Killorglin over the steep McGillycuddy Reeks, thereby warning them of the invaders. Now that was one smart goat.
Puck Fair is three days of celebrations in August, with music (traditional and modern), puppetry, drama and the unveiling of Queen Puck. (A young lady. Not a goat.) The highlight is the coronation of King Puck (now, he is a goat) who then spends three days on a royal perch above his human herd who may or not be 'acting the goat' (being very silly!). Who would have thought you could have a fantastic festival based around a bearded bleater?
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (Cavan town, Co Cavan, August)
If water and air are necessities in life, for the Irish music is not far behind. The Fleadh Cheoil (pr: Fla Kyole, 'festival of music') is the annual showcase for traditional Irish music and dance with competitions, recitals and impromptu 'trad seisiuns' (pr: seh-shoons 'music sessions'). Traditional Irish music enthusiasts from all over the world gather here to share the love. If you do nothing else while you're in Ireland, grab a pint of the black stuff and be consumed by some of the most joyous, heartfelt and addictive rhythms and verses you'll ever hear. It'll make you so warm and fuzzy you'll never want to go home. Seriously.
Hillsborough Oyster Festival (Hillsborough, Co Down, September)
Seafood-lovers rejoice! The Hillsborough Oyster Festival is the perfect place to indulge your love of the succulent bivalve. Test your endurance by entering the world oyster-eating championships. Last year's winner downed 233 oysters in 3 minutes. We suppose that's not bad! And from molluscs to something completely different: the festival's soap box derby. Check out the homemade contraptions hurtling around the track. As if all that wasn't good enough, the festival has a chosen charity each year. Helping others and having a great time is definitely a win-win.
National Ploughing Championships (Athy, Co Kildare, September)
Festivals don't get much more Irish than this. In September each year over 150,000 people crowd into a field (OK, it's a big one) to experience the finer arts of agriculture including horse ploughing and threshing. There are also farm machinery and bio-agriculture demonstrations, as well as food stalls, ponies and a hunt chase. There's a 'most appropriately dressed competition'. Not sure what exactly this involves, but doesn't it make you want to find out? And there's even a fashion show. Any mention of Manolo Blahnik might be met with a playful “and which county did he represent in the ploughing championships?”
Halloween Carnival (Derry/Londonderry, October)
Every Halloween Derry throws Ireland's largest street party. This old walled city is the perfect spot to be surrounded by vampires, ghouls, demons and the dreaded banshee! Strangely enough, if you don't want to stand out among the 30,000 people who get into the festivities, come in costume. With spooky shows at the museum and the aquarium as well as family-orientated activities such as face-painting, live music and arts & drafts, Derry serves up a witch's-cauldronful of craic in one of Ireland's most historic cities.
Cape Clear Storytelling Festival (Cape Clear, Co Cork, September)
It's no secret that the Irish can pen a story or two but what's not so well known is that Ireland has a glorious tradition of oral storytelling. Taking place every September on Cape Clear island, Co Cork, the festival celebrates this enthralling art with Irish practitioners as well as international guest speakers. Throw in a liberal dash of music and the island's beautiful backdrop, and you have a mesmerising melange of unique Irish culture. Getting to the heart of Ireland doesn't get much more fulfilling than this.
Ould Lammas Fair (Ballycastle, Co Antrim, August)
Widely acknowledged as Ireland's oldest fair, the Ould Lammas Fair has been going since the early 1600s and with over 400 stalls in the seaside town of Ballycastle, it's hard to imagine going home empty-handed. Horse trading is a traditional part of the festival, although how you'd get one home might be best pondered over a brew or two in one of the local pubs. Must-trys include 'yellow man' a type of honeycombed toffee, and 'dulse' a red edible seaweed.
Tedfest: find out more
St Patrick's Festival: find out more
Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival: find out more
Puck Fair: find out more
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann: find out more
Hillsborough Oyster Festival: find out more
National Ploughing Championships: find out more
Halloween Carnival: find out more
Cape Clear Storytelling Festival: find out more
Related Links from Tourism Ireland:
- Great Ireland vacation offers
- Subscribe to the Tourism Ireland e-zine
- Download a Tourism Ireland e-brochure
- Order a free Tourism Ireland brochure