TIME was, the festival season in Ireland consisted of the Rose of Tralee and a couple of fairs, usually concerned with horse-dealing or horse racing — and that was your lot.
Today, festivals have sprung up in every corner of Ireland, featuring everything from oysters to opera, rock to baroque, and all stops in between.
The main festival season, of course, occupies the summer months and early autumn, but plenty of festivals are taking place over the next few months.
We survey a dozen of the best.
Ennis Book Club Festival
Celebrating book clubs and their readers, the annual Ennis Book Club Festival runs from March 3-5. The festival is a unique mix of readings, discussion, comedy and chat in the Clare town, normally renowned for its traditional music. Although Ireland has many literary festivals, this is the sole one dedicated to book clubs and book club members. Speakers include Fintan O’Toole, Carol Drinkwater and Mark O’Halloran.
St Patrick’s Festival, Dublin
St Patrick’s Day will be celebrated throughout Ireland, and indeed the world. Each festival will vary in emphasis from the more sober, reflective events at, say, Down Cathedral in Downpatrick — where the saint is buried — to the more craic-fuelled celebrations to be found everywhere from Donegal to Dursey Island, and from London to Liverpool. Dublin will be the epicentre of the secular festivities, spread across four days, March 16-19. The main focus of the festival will be the Main Parade processing through the capital's streets on St Patrick’s Day itself. Expect marching bands of international standard, theatricals, fireworks and fantastic floats.
Dingle Film Festival
The Dingle Film Festival features a range of titles from some of the foremost filmmaking talents in the world. Irish films naturally feature significantly throughout the festival, but a large selection of productions from all over the world will also be screened. The event, taking place in the vibrant Kerry town of Dingle, was voted in the Top 10 Independent Film Festivals of Europe by GoEuro.
Barrow River Arts Festival
The Barrow festival takes place at Borris House, Borris in Co. Carlow. The traditional home of the McMorrough-Kavanaghs, the grounds are the ideal place for any festival. Events include an art exhibition, a traditional music concert featuring uilleann piper David Power and classical music from Savina Yannatou (vocals), Francesco Turrisi (piano) and Barry Guy (double bass). Other highlights focus on flamenco, jazz and Swedish folk music. This festival is about as eclectic as they come.
West Waterford Festival of Food
Now in its 10th year, this Dungarvan-based festival features the food of the region, as well as playing host to top chefs from across these islands. The festival is one of the great family-friendly events in the area, but serious students of cuisine and gastronomy will be more than satisfied.
Drogheda Arts Festival 2017
April 25-May 2
An eclectic mix of theatre, music, dance, traditional arts, literature and spoken word, visual art, family and outdoor activities for all ages gets underway over the May Bank Holiday in Co. Louth.
Cork International Choral Festival
One of Ireland’s longest-running choral festivals — it began in 1954 — the Cork event is one Europe's premier international choral festivals. Featuring national and international competitions and concerts of choral music in all its many forms, this event is a tremendous celebration of the human voice.
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
April 27-May 7
Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival is held in the city’s redeveloped commercial quarter, in the shadow of the imposing St Anne’s Cathedral. Now in its 18th year, the event has established itself as one of the most vibrant and dynamic arts festivals on these islands with a broad-ranging programme — music, comedy, cinema, theatre, poetry and literature. Headliners include bluegrass outfit The Americans, poet Roger McGough, comedians Jeremy Hardy and Richard Herring, hiphop from Sugarhill Gang plus many, many more.
Kilkenny Roots Festival
April 28- May 1
Held in the hugely impressive environs of Kilkenny’s mediaeval streets, the Kilkenny Roots Festival presents a huge range of music. Taking place in the city across some 30 venues, over 40 Irish and international acts will perform at around 90 ticketed and free concerts from afternoon until late into the night. A mix of old and new acts will perform on the free pub gig trail, with every musical taste catered for — from swing to bluegrass, rockabilly to cajun, folk, blues and beyond.
As well as presenting the best of new musical talent, Music Cork features industry professionals talking about their work and experiences, and giving hints about how to best make it in the competitive world of the music biz. Speakers this year include Mike Smith, managing director of Warner/Chappell Music UK and Darcus Beese, president of Island Records.
Craggy Island Festival
The Father Ted festival, held on Inis Óirr (Inisheer), Aran Islands, Co. Galway, is a celebration of the brave band of priests in charge of forgiving sins on Craggy Island, but who rarely got it right. Inis Óirr is featured at the start of every showing of Father Ted, while Neil Hannon’s theme music fades away. Nor is it just your usual 'spider babies' and 'freak pointing' – guests this year include Father Damo (comedian and actor Joe Rooney) and Father Eoin McLove (comedian and actor Patrick McDonnell).
International Literature Festival
The International Literature Festival Dublin, founded in 1998, is Ireland’s premier literary event and gathers the finest writers in the world. Irish language writers are featured, as well as children’s fiction writers.