Traditional Irish festivals come in all shapes and sizes and visitors to Ireland can feel spoiled for choice because there are literally hundreds of events going on throughout the year. With several dozen on an average summer weekend, festival seekers can choose between everything from the local Country Fair to the massive celebrations in Dublin. Where should you go and what should you see? We have rounded up the best Irish festivals to help narrow down the options.
One word of advice, though - if you plan to travel to any of these festivals, you should reserve hotels or another accommodation well in advance if you hope to stay within easy driving distance. Most places get (over)booked early on, at extremely high prices during these Irish celebrations. Expect plenty of crowds, as well as good deal of merry-making at whichever Irish festival strikes your fancy.
St. Patrick's Day parades are often a bigger show in the USA, with Irish celebrations in rural areas tending towards the more parochial and amateurish. However, Dublin puts on a show that is one of the few celebrations on St Patrick's Day which reaches the same level of fanfare as America's. If you want slick colorful fun, Dublin is the place to go. Flee the capital if your tastes run to quieter celebrations.
Simply know as the Fleadh (pronounced "flaa"), this is Ireland's national music festival and a feast for lovers of traditional folk. It is held every year in late August, though the city hosting the Fleadh changes from year to year. The Irish music festival attracts legions of musicians and other performers, and most nights end in a sing song with the crowds getting into the spirit.
Sponsored by Fáilte Ireland this is the main equestrian event in Ireland. Showjumping, Dressage, and the exciting hunt chase are top-notch events every August. Apart from the best riders and horses competing for the Aga Khan Trophy, you can see female audience members competing for the "Best Dressed" title on Ladies' Day.
Every year hundreds of singles and thousands of supporters flood the Clare town of Lisdoonvarna in September in order to find a partner for life or to simply have a good time. There is a festival air about the place while matchmakers pair prospective partners in a time-honored tradition. Not all matches last, but the festival is one of the more traditional celebrations left on the Emerald Isle.
The traditional highlight of the Easter Week for lovers of fast horses and high stakes takes place around the tiny Meath hamlet of Fairyhouse. This is where to see the best horses and jockeys competing in the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, and to even place a bet or two on the outcome.
Killorglin Puck Fair
It might sound like a bad movie plot, but every year a goat is crowned king in the Kerry town of Killorglin and all hell breaks loose. The Irish tradition has pagan roots and is still practiced for three days every August, on the 10th, 11th and 12th. Music, entertainment, and pageants range from the traditional to the modern. Don't miss the election of the "Queen of Puck"!
On (and around) July 12th, Loyalists everywhere in Northern Ireland are celebrating King William's victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Expect there to be marching, bands, and enormous bonfires. Divisions can still be felt, and Republicans either turn a blind eye or protest. Despite all sectarian tension, the celebrations are a sight to behold. Though not for the faint-hearted and definitely no place to discuss politics. For a lighter version, you might like to visit the Rossnowlagh parade in County Donegal.
Held every year at the beginning of fall, this is one of the best bluegrass festivals in Ireland. Though it is not a traditional Irish celebration, it is a festival that has gained many loyal local followers to the American music. Stroll among the bandstands and hear the sounds of the Appalachian folk culture. Definitely recommended for homesick travelers!
Every September, tens of thousands of Gaelic sports supporters make the annual pilgrimage to Croke Park bedecked in their county's colors to see the All-Ireland Finals for the traditional Irish sports of hurling and football. Even if you do not understand the rules, the pace of the games is breathtaking. And the enthusiasm of the fans unrivaled.
A beauty pageant that is truly cheesy brings Irish colleens from all over the world to the town of Tralee to compete for the title of the "Rose of Tralee" (named after a traditional, very sentimental song). Nobody in Ireland admits to watching the contest, yet the live programs on RTÉ regularly are amongst the most popular TV events every August! Seeing it in person is a truly Irish experience!