To pick the best time for visiting Ireland really is something of a challenge. One thing and one thing only is for certain – decisions should not be based the expected weather. Irish weather has considerable disdain for traditional seasonal constraints upon its behaviour. The summer certainly should be the mildest season of all, however this is not always the case. In 2007 and 2008 Ireland experienced its two wettest summers on record in the majority of the country, with 48 consecutive days of rain recorded in some parts during summer 2007. The lesson to be taken from this is to bring plenty of changes of clothes and shoes, pack an umbrella and jacket, and do not rely on outdoor activities for the entire trip. This is not to say that the weather cannot be glorious for your trip, but take good weather as an added bonus rather than relying on it.
The clever traveller will plan their trip to Ireland around festivals and special events, which generally happen throughout the summer months. It is also at this time of year that tourist attractions and tours will have their longest opening hours. Many will be closed completely during the winter months. Bank holiday weekends will always have a wide variety of entertainment options happening nationwide. From large music festivals to vintage rallies, there is something for everyone. My advise is to travel during the summer months, particularly over the last weekend of each summer month when there seems to be a bank holiday festival in every town and village. The following are some of the festival highlights of the summer months in Ireland;
1. Galway Arts Festival
The Galway Arts Festival is Ireland’s largest annual arts festival, taking place each July in the city of Galway. Now running for 31 years, the Festival collaborates with artists and companies from around the globe to present an amazing and innovative programme of visual arts, music, theatre, spectacle, dance, literature & comedy with hundreds of performers involved. This year it will run from 13th until the 26th July 2009.
2. Calsburg Cat Laughs Comedy Festival
The beautiful little city of Kilkenny is taken over by the Carlsburg Cat Laughs Comedy Festival for the last weekend in May, which is a bank holiday weekend. This internationally renowned festival sells out well in advance so make sure to keep an eye on the Cat Laughs website for the release of tickets. There is a huge demand for accommodation as the city is quite small, so it is important to be well organised on that front also. It is well worth the advance planning though – gigs are intimate and the comedic talent is supreme. There are many good reasons why it is rated amongst the top five comedy festivals in the world. Make sure to visit Kilkenny Castle while you are there.
3. The Dublin Docklands festival
A carnival atmosphere prevails at this street festival on Dublins Docks from the 29th May until the 1st June. Tall Ships, street theatre, musical entertainment, arts and crafts, puppet shows, river cruises, and an outdoor market all combine to make this festival well worth a visit.
4. Oxegen Music Festival
If you love large music festivals, then Oxegen music festival on Punchestown Racecourse, Co. Kildare is compulsory for your trip to Ireland. Held from the 10th until the 12th of July 2009, this three day festival has been voted as Europes top music festival. Tickets are pricey, costing 224 for three day camping tickets. Day tickets can also be purchased for just shy of 100. When the cost is compared with the quality and variety of the line-up (there are approximately 100 different acts in all genres), value for money is evident.
5. Taste of Dublin
This sell-out festival is Ireland’s major annual outdoor restaurant, food and drink festival. Top restaurants and bars host numerous events including tastings, cookery classes, and cocktail classes. Taste of Dublin happens in 2009 in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin from the 11th to the 14th of June 2009.
6. Cork Midsummer Festival of the Senses
A truly fantastic festival running in the city of Cork for the last two weeks of June. It has something for everyone. Grab their brochure and try your best to pick between the numerous theatre, music, art, and dance shows. Several performances are interactive and there is generally quite an alternative feel. International artists perform large gigs through “Live at the Marquee” to accompany the festival, and those concerts continue throughout the month of July. Advance booking is highly recommended.
7. AIB street performance world championship
For something a little different on your visit to Ireland, why not go sample some free entertainment at the world street performance championship from the 18th until the 21st June 2009 in Dublin’s Merrion Square. Participants include magicians, breakdancers, contortionists, piano jugglers, comedians and a whole host of professional entertainers.
8. Wexford Strawberry Fair
Held in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford on the last weekend in June, this long standing festival is an excellent day out. Feast on strawberries and cream, watch street performances, music, pageants, browse markets, and enjoy the craic in the pubs at night.
9. Killarney Summerfest
The popular tourist destination of Killarney in Co. Kerry celebrates with an eclectic range of activities for all tastes from 26th June until the 12th July 2009. While you are there make sure you take a horse and trap around the grounds of Muckross House, and go visit Torc Waterfall. Afterwards continue west towards the stunning scenery around the Dingle peninsula. If you are driving be prepared for some extremely narrow roads!
10. Willy Clancy Summer School
This is a week-long summer school in traditional music and set dance held annually at Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare during the month of July. It commemorates the uilleann piper Willie Clancy, and is the longest running festival of its type in Ireland. It has become a mecca for lovers of traditional music and dance. With up to 150 teachers and hundreds of competent students of traditional music, dance and song, it draws thousands of watchers. Nightly ceilis and set dances with live musicians will create precious memories to be relished.
11. Waterford Spraoi Festival
The August Bank Holiday weekend in Ireland has a multitude of festivals to choose from, but the pick of the crop has to be the Waterford Spraoi. It is an annual riot of colour, energy and excitement with an atmosphere that is unique among Irish festivals. For three days the street scape of Waterford is transformed into a stage for performances from all over the world. The Spraoi Parade with ensuing fireworks display is held on Sunday evening and is the climax of the festival. Spraoi performers have been so successful in Waterford that they have been hired to perform at several other major events, but they save the best for their own festival. Best of all it is all free!
12. Festival of the Connemara Pony
The Connemara Pony is native to Ireland. On the 16th August a week long festival kicks off in its honour at the Showgrounds in Clifden, Co. Galway, with the highlight being on Thursday 20th. Watch numerous trials, competitions and parades and learn about the hardy Connemara pony.
13. Rose of Tralee Festival
From the 21st August until the 26th August Tralee in Co. Kerry hosts the world famous Rose of Tralee festival. This five day events culminates with a personality based pageant in which the Rose of Tralee is picked. There is lots of free entertainment for all the family including open-air concerts, parades, and fireworks, and it is in a beautiful part of Ireland. Make sure to visit nearby small towns and villages such as Castlegregory, where there are fantastic beaches, surfing spots and cliff walks.
These are just a few of the main festivals that occur during the summer months. Obviously there are numerous more happening both during the summer and throughout the year, with some focusing on subjects such as poetry, fly-fishing, gardens, and photography. Websites such as www.discoverireland.ie and www.entertainment.ie are useful for gathering information about events no matter what your interests are or what time of year you go. However, make sure to double check details of dates and times on these websites as they can sometimes be out of date. Enjoy your trip!