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The Best Festivals in Ireland

Ireland may be small in size but it's big on music, arts and culture. And there's no better place to witness this passion than at a festival in Ireland. From techno to traditional music. From street art to storytelling. Ireland has a festival to suit every age and interest. This is a guide to the best festivals in Ireland month by month for 2019.
Dublin City at night

The best festivals in Ireland, month by month

January: TradFest Dublin City

Next Festival Dates:  January 22nd – January 26th 2020

A violinist at TradFest Dublin - January

When it comes to festivals in Ireland, TradFest is Ireland’s largest traditional music festival. The festival which started in 2006 takes place across the city in a number of Dublin‘s historic pubs and venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, City Hall and St. Stephen’s Church. The later better known as ‘The Pepper Canister’ in Dublin. Along with traditional music, this winter festival also features folk, nu-folk and rock and roll. 

Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland

Festival Tips: Keep an eye out for the Front Row Sessions. These gigs take place in the intimate settings of pubs in Dublin City, usually around Temple Bar. They give you the chance to witness your favourite singer or musicians up close and personal. If you have children then you’ll be interested to know that there’s a TradFest Children’s Hub. This event is presented by TradFest and takes place at The Ark in Temple Bar.

February: Dublin International Film Festival

Next Festival Dates: February 26th – March 8th 2020

Dublin International Film Festival - February

Not only is The Dublin International Film Festival Ireland’s most popular film festival. It’s also one of the top ten film festivals in Europe. Presenting the best in emerging Irish and international film, the festival also includes Q&A sessions, workshops, talks, exhibitions and awards.

Ha'Penny Bridge, Dublin, Ireland

Festival Tips: Take note of the films, workshops, Q&A session and talks and get your tickets early to save disappointment. Also if you sign up to the DIFF newsletter you’ll be able to keep up to date with future festivals and events.

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March: St. Patrick’s Festival Dublin City

Next Festival Dates: March 13th – March 17th 2020

Friends celebrating St Patrick's Festival in Dublin - March

St. Patrick’s Festival Dublin City is not only one of the best St Patrick’s Festivals in Ireland, but also the most well known world-wide. St. Patrick’s Day falls on March 17th annually. And the festival usually takes place across five days. The highlight of the festival is the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the 17th at 12 noon. It works its way through the city along O’Connell Street dazzling spectators with fantastic storytelling by means of street theatre and music.

Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland

Festival Tips: There are a number of events taking place throughout the city for the festival. They range from free to ticket only events so avoid disappointment if your interest is in the later and book your tickets early. If attending the St. Patrick’s Day parade, arrive early to your chosen point along the route from Parnell Square to Kevin Street. 10am is a good time to get a good spot.

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April: West Waterford Festival of Food Dungarvan, Co. Waterford

Next Festival Dates: April 17th – April 19th 2020

West Waterford Food Festival - April

The West Waterford Festival of Food has been going strong since 2008. It’s set in the picturesque harbour town of Dungarvan in Waterford. If driving from Dublin it’ll take you a little over two hours and twenty minutes to reach. One of the best food festivals in Ireland, West Waterford Festival of Food is a celebration of locally produced food and drink. From trails and tours to talks and tasting experiences, the festival is also a family-friendly experience with outdoor entertainment and food markets that take place in a number of landmark sites around the town – from the Farmers Market at Gratton Square, to Quayside Market at Davitt’s Quay.

Selection of cheeses at a market

Festival Tips: Keep an eye out for the special tasting events and tours and book your ticket early. If making a family day out or weekend of it, pack a picnic blanket and buy your lunch at the food markets. Then make your way over to the green area next to Dungarvan Castle and enjoy sampling your locally produced and bought snacks.

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May: Uisneach Bealtaine Fire Celebration The Hill of Uisneach Co. Westmeath

Next Festival Date: May 9th 2020

People around the fire at night - Uisneach Bealtaine Fire Celebration

Uisneach Bealtaine Fire Celebration, which is one of the most sacred festivals in Ireland, takes place on UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Hill of Uisneach each May. The Hill of Uisneach is considered the most sacred and historical place in Ireland. It’s also known as the centre of Ireland, because at its heart lies the ‘Aill na Mireann’, or the ‘Stone of Divisions’. Also known as the ‘Cat Stone’ this was considered the point where the five provinces of Ireland met. The fifth province, being a province of magic, imagination, an ‘otherworld’ so to speak, was known as Mide.

The Uisneach Bealtaine Fire Celebration took place each year in May to welcome Summer. On this night a fire was lit. This was a signal for fires to be lit on hills across Ireland. They say that when looking down on Ireland this created an eye of fire with Uisneach being the pupil of the eye.

Festival Tips: The festival is a ticket only event, so be sure to get your ticket in time. Children can attend for free. Expect food stalls, music and dancing. There are also talks where you can learn about the history of the Uisneach and the Fire Celebration. Gates usually open at 5pm.

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June: Seafest Cork City Quays 

Next Festival Date: June 7th – June 9th 2019

Seafest Cork City Quays - June

Seafest is Ireland’s largest maritime festival that takes place at the Cork City Quays. It runs from the Friday to the Sunday of the June Bank Holiday from 10am to 6pm, making it an ideal free family-friendly festival. Celebrating all things maritime, the festival includes interactive activities for all ages. From boarding vessels to sailing them. From learning about the sea and sea creatures to dining on them! There’s a dedicated Kids Zone and a Music Stage.

Cork by night

Festival Tips: Check out the Seafest website for the list of vessels you can board, they range from trawlers to Tall Ships! And if seafood tickles your fancy then keep an eye on the Bord Bia Seafood Sessions hosted by some of the best in the Irish Food Industry. These sessions include demonstrations on how to prepare and cook your locally sourced seafood.

July: Galway International Arts Festival

Next Festival Date: July 15th – July 28th 2019

Street in Galway - Galway International Arts Festival - July

The very first Galway Arts Festival took place in April 1978 thanks to a group of student friends from University College Galway’s Arts Society. Since then the festival has become one of the best known summer festivals in Ireland and worldwide. The first Irish festival to ever have a website, it went live in 1992. But this hasn’t been its only first, as it has championed many firsts – from musical to theatrical performances. It changed its name to Galway International Arts Festival in 2014. And today it continues to host an award-winning festival full of celebration for the arts.

Galway harbour

Festival Tips: There are a number of free events that one can attend – from photographic exhibitions to street performances. However, if you spot a favourite musical act, be sure to get your tickets early. Venues range from well-known music venues with a capacity of about 1,500 people to the purposely built ‘Big Top’ in the city centre, that holds about 4,400 attendees.

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August: Kilkenny Arts Festival

Next Festival Date: August 8th- August 18th 2019

Kilkenny Arts Festival - August

Founded in 1974, Kilkenny Arts Festival has had nearly half a century to perfect its festival offering. Known for its celebration of Irish and international musicians, performers, writers and artists, this medieval ‘Marble City’ does it in style over ten days every August. Regarded as one of the best festivals in Ireland, the Kilkenny Arts Festival takes over the city. From townhouses and their gardens to historic churches, and of course the grounds of the majestic Kilkenny Castle. The festival which has its roots in classical music, also highlights the spoken word, theatre and dance.

Kilkenny Castle, Ireland

Festival Tips: Booking is essential for many of the musical and theatrical events. If travelling and visiting the festival with children you’ll be happy to know that there are usually a number of events open to them around the city, from street performances to theatre productions. A full list of festival events are available to view from June.

September: The Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival

Next Festival Date: September 27th – September 29th

The Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival - September

Launched in 1954 the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival is one of the longest running festivals in Ireland. It is known nationally as one of the best festivals in Ireland and has been referred as one of the best festivals in Europe. Along with lots of oyster eating, the festival celebrates with musical performances, street performances, talks, walks and the renowned ‘Irish and World Oyster Opening Championships’ also known as ‘shucking’ for those in the know.

Colourful houses at Galway harbour, Ireland

Festival Tips: The festival is more of an adult affair with ticket booking essential for the opening night, the championships and the Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball. However, the celebration on the Sunday of the festival is usually a free family-friendly day. This part of the festival includes a seafood showcase, demonstrations and children’s activities both in the specifically built festival marquee and around the city centre.

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October: Bram Stoker Festival Dublin City

Next Festival Date: October 25th – October 28th 2019

Bram Stoker Festival Dublin - October

Described as ‘Four Days of Deadly Adventure’ the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin is just that. The festival which celebrates everything gothic and ‘halloweeny’ takes place across the city, from local parks to national landmarks. There are a number of events for night owls, and lots for children to enjoy too. Visit Ireland’s oldest library, March’s Library, where Bram Stoker himself frequented. Or book a ticket to a horror-filled play in church – last year The Horrors of Black Church took place in the The Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. Visit Stokerland at St. Patrick’s Park with all the family and watch frightfully good street performances, or get your face painted.

Dublin Castle, Ireland

Festival Tips: Booking is essential for some events. Others are on a first come, first served basis. The Macnas Parade that takes place each year is a must experience. Performed by the internationally renowned performance company, Macnas, the parade is a highlight of the festival. Suitable for all the family, the amazing spectacle they provide is free to attend, and has taken place across different routes through the city over the years. Last year it went from Moore Street to Halston Street in Dublin 1. The best tip is to get a good viewing spot before the parade sets off at 7pm.

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November: Mayo Dark Skies Festival  

Next Festival Date: November 1st – November 3rd 2019

May Dark Skies Festival - November

Mayo Dark Skies Festival takes place along the Wild Atlantic Way in the towns of Newport, Mulranny and Ballycroy in County Mayo. This three-day festival includes talks, workshops, walks, and of course stargazing. From storytelling by torchlight in ‘Teepee an Seanchai’ (a Seanchai is a traditional Irish storyteller) to stargazing walks along the Great Western Greenway. Mayo Dark Skies Festival is about three communities coming together to educate, entertain and enliven the natural skies of the Wild Atlantic Way. Learn about astronomy, science and the environment. Witness the beauty of the natural dark skies of Mayo (there are over 15,000 hectares of it) and how to preserve them.

Father and son looking at the stars through a telescope

Festival Tips: If you are planning to attend the talks at the festival for the whole weekend then a Weekend Pass might be worth your while. The walking and stargazing events are free. The majority of the workshops are free. And children go free.

December: New Year’s Festival Dublin

Next Festival Date: December 31st 2019

New Year's Festival Dublin in December

New Year’s Festival Dublin is made up of three celebratory events at Custom House Quay. These are all ticketed events. The Countdown Concert which takes place at Custom House Quay at 8pm has a limited number of tickets on sale. It usually features renowned Irish and international music acts.

The Liffey Lights Midnight Moment Matinee takes place between 6pm and 7pm and is a build up to The Liffey Lights Midnight Moment. This takes place from 11.30pm. Both of these events are free but tickets are essential and must be booked in advance. If you’d like to ring in the new year in Dublin City illuminated then these Liffey Lights events should be on your list. Expect a spectacular display of lasers and aqua beams, DJs, musicians, aerial and aquatic acrobats – all performing and welcoming a new year on the waters of the River Liffey.

Dublin by night

Festival Tips: New Year’s Festival Dublin is the biggest festival in Ireland to welcome in the new year. So on that note get your tickets for the free Liffey Lights events quickly.

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The 12 best festivals in Ireland for 2019

JanuaryTradFest Dublin
FebruaryDublin International Film Festival
MarchSt. Patrick’s Festival Dublin
AprilWest Waterford Food Festival Dungarvan, Co. Waterford
MayUisneach Bealtaine Fire Celebration Co. Westmeath
JuneSeafest Cork City Quays
JulyGalway International Arts Festival
AugustKilkenny Art Festival
SeptemberThe Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival
OctoberBram Stoker Festival Dublin
NovemberMayo Dark Skies Festival
DecemberNew Year’s Festival Dublin

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