What's on in Ireland in 2006
The Irish don't need much of an excuse to throw a party. They set about enjoying themselves as often as possible and they even have their own name for it - craic! Having and enjoying the craic is an essential part of Irish life and one that they celebrate with a huge number of festivals, fairs and events throughout the island, all year round.
From international music and arts festivals and major sporting events, to localised traditional rural fairs, there always seems to be something going on in Ireland whether you're in bustling cities like, Dublin, Cork or Belfast or some quaint coastal village or rural hamlet in the middle of nowhere.
In 2006 Wicklow, known as the ‘garden county of Ireland', is celebrating its 400-year anniversary with a special year round programme of events, from seasonal walks of the famous Wicklow Mountains, to food fairs and festivals of music and horticulture.
This year is also the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, and Ireland will host a festival of events presented in connection with the Austrian Embassy in Dublin. These events include a Gala Concert on January 26th and a series of concerts at the Dublin's Freemasons Hall in November, and Huge Lane Gallery from September to December.
Also in Dublin throughout the months of February and March is Six Nations Rugby, where Ireland go head to head with England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy. Which, depending on your interests, means days of rough and tough rugby action or days when you have no chance of getting a hotel room in Dublin.
So running through the highlights for each month, for January, as well as the Gala Concert on held in Dublin on the eve of Mozart's birth, in Sligo they'll be celebrating someone a little more close to home, as the Yeats Winter School holds a weekend of lectures and poetry with winter walks through the Sligo countryside, that inspired many of the poet laureate's writings.
In February the cultural theme is continued in Belfast, with a production of Romeo and Juliet by the Russian State Ballet at the Grand Opera House. While at the other end of the spectrum is the Bogman's Ball in Connemara Co. Galway, a black tie ball to mark the end of the turf-cutting season.
The month of March is when the Irish festival calendar really kicks off, with carnivals and festivals held throughout the country to mark St Patrick's Day on 17th March. Dublin attracts around 1.5 million people to its St Patrick's Day festival, while each small village in Ireland will hold their own celebrations and the Guinness will be in constant flow.
Despite the showers, April sees a host of sporting events, which attract huge numbers of spectators. There's horse racing at Cork and at Punchestown, just outside Dublin as part of the Easter racing programme, while in the quaint town of Ballydehob on the West Cork coast there are annual trotting races with horses from all over Ireland. If its horse power of a different kind you're into, then head to Killarney, Co. Kerry for the Rally of the Lakes, one of Ireland's premier motor sports events.
In May, the town of Bray, along the south east coast just outside Dublin, holds its annual international Jazz Festival. And while we're in Country Wicklow, there is the Wicklow Gardens Festival with private and public gardens on view and various horticultural displays. In Belfast, May is the month of the Lord Mayor's Carnival, where they hold a colourful carnival throughout the city's streets.
As the days get longer in June, people gather around some of Ireland's famous Neolithic sites to celebrate the summer solstice. Tickets for Newgrange at this time are like gold dust, but onlookers can gather at standing stones around Drombeg, Beara and Kenmare to see how they align with the sun on the 21st. June 16th is Bloomsday, a day in the life of Leopold Bloom from James Joyce's classic Irish novel Ulysses, and you'll see a few other characters from Joyce's novel in the streets of Dublin on this day.
July 15th to 21st is Cork Week - a maritime festival and regatta held in Crosshaven attracting yachts from around the world. Cork Week precludes a number of smaller boating events across the West Cork coast and other music arts and food festivals throughout the area such as the Kinsale Arts Festival. While up at the other end of the country two of Ireland's foremost poets are celebrated in the month of July. The Raglan Road Festival in Monaghan celebrates the county's most famous son Patrick Kavanagh, while in Sligo they have the Yeats Festival of poetry and literature.
The month of August sees a number of popular, traditional and very Irish festivals. In Kenmare there is the Traditional Irish Fair, which though only 15 years old, sets out to celebrate the old ways of the old country with traditional music and crafts on display. But for something more authentic, head over the hills to Killorglin for Puck Fair. The origins of this three day festival are largely speculative, but for hundreds of years the townsfolk of Killorglin have celebrated the crowning of a goat with music, traditional horse markets and plenty of craic. Another traditional August fair is the Oul' Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, County Antrim in the North, which is said to hold one of the oldest horse fairs in Ireland. For a horse fair of a different kind there is the Dublin Horse Show at the RDS, a very prestigious and important event in the equestrian society calendar. While in Galway in August, you'll find the Galway Races - renowned as one of the most colourful meetings in the racing calendar. To finish the month off there is a show of fine fillies of a different nature with the Rose of Tralee Festival in County Kerry. This beauty pageant has run since 1959 and is a hugely popular national televised event, while the town of Tralee celebrates with street carnivals.
September brings to a climax the season of Ireland's two main sports; Football and Hurling, with all Ireland Finals played for each sport at the spiritual home of Gaelic Games - Croke Park in Dublin. For seafood lovers this month sees a number of festivals celebrating Ireland's oyster catch with the world famous Galway Oyster Festival, the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival and the lesser known Hillsborough Oyster Festival in County Down, Northern Ireland. If your looking for romance, (and you haven't got lucky over summer) head to the famous Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival in county Clare, where Willie Daly may set you up with the love of your life.
October in rural Ireland is traditionally the threshing month - that is, it's when farming communities get together to harvest the crop. Nowadays its just another good excuse for a party and you'll find threshing events in towns and villages throughout the countryside. In Listowel in October, they celebrate the works of J.B. Keane, who wrote about the old ways of rural Ireland in famous novels like ‘The Field'. The town holds the J.B. Keane Festival centred on the pub J.B. Keane's run by the writer's son. October is also a big month for Cork, when the city hosts both its Film and Jazz festivals. October 31st sees the traditional Irish festival of Samhaim, which the American's turned into Halloween, and one of the best and most colourful Halloween celebrations can be found on the banks of the Foyle in Derry with a huge costume carnival and fireworks display.
The winter months in Ireland are certainly quieter - the nights draw long and the weather isn't conducive to outdoor activity, but there are things going on. In November in County Armagh you'll find the great William Kennedy Piping Festival and the Patrick Kavanagh Weekend in Monaghan, celebrating the poet's birthday. While in December Christmas dominates affairs with more, low-key localised family orientated events. St Stephen's Day is certainly a day to enjoy and is when two of the most important Irish Race meetings take place - the Leopardstown Christmas Festival near Dublin and the Limerick Christmas Races.
So whatever time of year you plan to visit Ireland you'll always find some way to enjoy the craic!
Until this time next month...
Conor B & Seamus.