Craic agus Ceol - music and good times, they're as Irish a combination as a fiddle and bow, Guinness and oysters and the summer months sees plenty of it with traditional Irish festivals and events held all over the country.
Ceilis, feiles and fleadh's have been celebrated throughout Ireland for centuries, with song, dance and storytelling in the old Irish traditions. Providing the music would be the Irish Harp, fiddles, uillean pipes, the bodhran player, the accordion and the penny flute, playing out centuries old songs. They'd play jigs, reels and polkas, for traditional set dancers to lift their sprightly legs to, while Sean Nos singers would sing solo ballads and storytellers would recite age old Irish folklore, as small crowds gathered to hear. This essential part of Irish culture is alive and well and can still be heard and seen today, from impromptu traditional seisuns in pubs, to sell out concerts and at numerous festivals across Ireland.
Two of the oldest traditional festivals in Ireland are the Oul Lammas Fair in Co. Antrim and Puck Fair in Co. Kerry. On the last weekend in August the town of Ballycastle on the Antrim Coast, plays host to the Oul Lammas Fair, a festival which sees the town taken over by a traditional horse and cattle market, while at night the town is filled with the mesmerising sounds of the Bodhran and fiddle.
Puck Fair is renowned in Ireland and along with being one of the oldest fair's it is perhaps one of Ireland's quirkiest. For three days the town of Kilorglin in Co. Kerry, is ruled by King Puck, a goat, crowned and hoisted onto a stage in the centre of the town, while the town's people enjoy three days of revelry and music of all kinds.
Throughout the summer just about every town or county of Ireland holds a Feiles or Fleadh. You'll find the Féile Lughnasa in Co. Kerry, the Féile Iorras in Co. Mayo, the Féile an Earagail in Co. Donegal the Ragus on the Aran Islands, the Siamsa Seisun in Galway and many more. All of which keep alive Irish traditional music and dance in their own unique way.
One of the biggest festivals of traditional Irish music and Celtic culture is the Beo in August, held at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. The Beo can't claim to be the most authentic Irish festival and its only been running for only 7 years, but it is fast becoming one of the largest festivals of traditional music in Ireland, attracting many famous names in Irish Trad, as well as the latest talent in world music from all over the globe.
Across the country there are a huge number of less formal festivals of Irish Trad music, attracting a dedicated local crowd of musicians young and old. The most famous of these is the Feakle International Traditional Music Festival in one of the counties best known for its traditional Irish music, Co. Clare. The Feakle festival involves workshops and tutoring schools as well as concerts by some of the most gifted musicians in Ireland.
Many other Irish Trad festivals you'll find are named in honour of famous musicians, dancers, storytellers and Sean Nos singers from the town they are located. These include the Willie Clancy Festival in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, the Mick and Michael Carr Memorial Traditional Music Weekend in Carrick, Co. Donegal, the John McKenna Traditional Weekend Festival in Drumkeeran, Co. Leitrim, the Douglas Hyde Summer School of Traditional Irish Music, in Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, the Dan Paddy Andy festival in Lyreacompane, Co. Kerry, Frankie Gavin International Fiddle Festival in Galway and the O'Carolan Traditional Irish Harp Festival in Roscommon.
If you get the chance you simply must sit in on an Irish Trad seisun. The interaction and interplay between the musicians is fascinating. The music is seemingly organic, played with the ease of breathing but with a visible intensity. Songs seem to begin with a bizarre moment of musical conversation, as the lead musicians play little pieces of what is to be the next song to each other as if saying ‘it's the one that goes fiddly diddly dee, then fiddly diddly doodly dee' and then they kind of nod in agreement before launching into the tune at breakneck speed. While the haunting voice of a solo Sean Nos ballard will surely have the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end, and tears welling in your eyes. It's an experience not to be missed for any visitor to Ireland.