Festivals and Events
Make Like a Bird
Happening on the May Bank Holiday Weekend, the Kinvara Cuckoo Fleadh (www.kinvara.com) is perfectly timed to welcome in the warmer evenings of early summer. A well-established and richly deserved reputation has ensured that the fleadh has become a showcase for the best in traditional music, attracting musicians from all over the country and beyond. An added bonus is having it in one of the country's prettiest towns in beautiful County Galway
Sonatas in Ancient Grandeur
Among the architectural grandeur that is Bantry House in Cork, the annual music festival (www.westcorkmusic.ie) allows for languid sunsets, picnics on the lawns, and sublime sounds from some of Europe's top classical musicians. The notes may be highbrow, but the vibe is indelibly Irish-mellow. The festival runs from the last week in June until the first week in July.
The Write Stuff
Fancy getting up close and personal with Lawrence Block, Roddy Doyle, Colm Tóbín, Neil Jordan, Anne Enright, and a host of other literary greats? Listowel Writer's Week (www.writersweek.ie) is a chaotic and seriously democratic gathering devoted to all things literary—including numerous workshops by the greats where info on writing your own masterpiece is there for the asking. This being Kerry, expect discussions to last well toward dawn. It takes place all over the town of Listowel on the first weekend in June.
Lark in the Park
Every June, Cork city struts its artistic stuff with the Midsummer Festival (www.corkmidsummer.com), a mix of music, film, and theater. Be sure to get tickets for whatever the Corcadorca Theatre Company is doing—in the past they've taken Shakespeare to the local courthouse, the city morgue, and the expansive green spaces of Fitzgerald's Park: a very different experience from a company constantly pushing the envelope. It runs from the 21st of June to the end of the month.
Even though it is now reckoned that more Americans and Japanese attend the events surrounding Bloomsday (www.jamesjoyce.ie) than Irish people, it hasn't taken away a jot from an event that continues to grow regardless. Most Irish, if they're being honest, will probably admit to "never having actually finished Ulysses," but are still happy to discourse at length over devilled kidneys and other Joycean delights on the hidden meanings within this legendary work. Bloomsday is June 16th.
Extend Your Stay
With almost 100 acts in more than 25 venues across Dublin, the fledgling 10 Days in Dublin (www.10daysindublin.ie) festival, inaugurated in 2011, showcases the best of emerging Irish music, film, spoken word, theater, comedy, and visual art for 10 days in early July. Highlights in 2012 included Trinity Orchestra performing "Dark Side of the Moon," Patrick Kelleher and his Cold Dead Hands, Donal Dineen, and Matthew Halpin Trio. Events are €10 or less.
Have a Flutter on the Nags
Galway Race Week (www.galwayraces.com) is one of the country's biggest events with most of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick decamping to the City of the Tribes for an end of July week of celebration centered half around equine excellence and half around pub sessions. Every politician worth his salt hits the races to press the flesh, followed by legions of supporters and onlookers out for the "craic"—of which there is an endless supply.
Good for the Sole
On the last Sunday in July, join the thousands of pilgrims/adventurers who climb Mayo's Croagh Patrick (www.croagh-patrick.com)—and in your bare feet for the full purging of your misdeeds. A ghostly hill, tricky loose stones underfoot, and a Mass overlooking Clew Bay: it all adds up to an experience that is difficult but hugely rewarding.
Acting the Goat
Puck Fair in Kerry (www.puckfair.ie) is the oldest festival in Ireland, dating back to pagan times, where a goat is made king for three days of drinking, dancing, and general abandon. In the town of Killorglin, County Kerry, pubs stay open all night, traveler folk sell horses and cows on Main Street, and up to 100,000 people crowd this tiny town of 58 pubs for a mad three-day weekend. Held on the second weekend in August, it's all in all, truly one of Ireland's most unusual festivals.
Gather Those Boats
Cruínniu na mBád (www.kinvara.com/cruinniu), or the Gathering of the Boats, is basically a big booze-up and regatta to celebrate the unique and beautiful boat that is the Galway Hooker—a sleek, dark little sailing vessel with rusty red sails originally used to transport turf and other necessities along the harsh Atlantic coast of Ireland. The event takes place around the third weekend in August around southern County Galway, with traditional boat races the excuse for a "hooley," or party of trad music and late nights.
Clash of the Ash
Usually happening on the first Sunday in September, the All-Ireland Hurling Final (www.gaa.ie), at Dublin's Croke Park, is a uniquely Irish sporting spectacle. Thirty highly amped players clutching ash hurleys whack a heavy leather ball, or sliothar, at warp speeds around the pitch as they slug it out for the sport's highest prize. Raw emotions, brilliant color, and Harry Potter-ish skills that you won't see back home make it memorable.
Food, Glorious Food
Long noted for its cuisine innovations, the Kinsale Gourmet Festival (www.kinsalerestaurants.com) is all about the happy pursuit of great food and wine plus the excitable bravado of this infectious coastal town. Buy a weekend ticket, have breakfast on a boat, lunch at a pier-side pub, and dinner at any of the dozens of great eateries in this amazingly friendly town. It takes place on the second weekend in October.
What a Wonderful World
For jazz lovers, the Cork Jazz Festival (www.guinnessjazzfestival.com) on the Halloween bank holiday weekend in October is a perfect antidote to the approaching dark evenings of winter. George Melly, one of the music legends who visits regularly, puts it thus: "I forget where I've parked, where I'm meant to be playing, and, sometimes, even who I am—but it all works out in the end." A fair description of a festival with heart and soul.
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