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Festivals in Ireland

Seemingly every village and town in Ireland hosts a festival of some kind or other each year. Whatever the pretext for the celebration in question, it is usually an excuse for some raucous partying! Well-established events such as the Cork Jazz Festival and Wexford Opera Festival are actually renowned international events and procuring tickets can be very difficult indeed.

Traditonal music is usually cited as being the most enjoyable aspect of Irish festivals, with many devoted entirely to this. The biggest of all is Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann

The Fleadh Cheoil (Festival of Music) is an Irish music competition run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ) or more commonly known as ‘Comhaltas’.

The first national festival of Irish traditional music was held in Mullingar in 1951. At its inaugural meeting in September 1951, CCÉ came up with the title of Fleadh Cheoil, aiming to make this a great national festival of traditional music. The fleadh has since been held in many different venues.

In the years that followed, the number of would-be competitors grew so large that qualifying stages had to be arranged at county and provincial level. Since then, Fleadh Nua (the new fleadh), Fleadh na Breataine (an All-Britain fleadh), regional fleadhanna in Britain and two major fleadhanna in the USA have also become annual CCÉ events.

From its beginning, the goal of the Fleadh Cheoil was to establish standards in Irish traditional music through competition. The Fleadh developed as a mainly competitive event, but it also included many concerts, céilíthe, parades and sessions.

Today, fleadhanna at each level provide a platform and a meeting place for the thousands of musicians (around 20,000 performers compete in fleadhanna each year), singers and dancers who carry on the tradition.The 2008 festival was held in Tullamore, County Offaly and attracted an estimated crowd of 250,000 people, making it Ireland’s largest festival, music or otherwise.

Saint Patrick’s Day Festival

Saint Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It commemorates Saint Patrick (c. AD 387–461) – the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of Ireland – and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.

It is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official feast day in the early 17th century and has gradually become a secular celebration of Irish culture in general.

Saint Patrick’s feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Irish government began a campaign to use Saint Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture, setting up a group called St. Patrick’s Festival, with the aim to “offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world and promote excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement and marketing activity.”

As well as Dublin, many other cities, towns, and villages in Ireland hold their own parades and festivals, including Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford.

Official Saint Patrick’s Day Festival website

Cork Jazz Festival

The Cork Jazz Festival is an annual music festival held in Cork City in late October every year since 1978. The festival is Ireland’s biggest jazz event and attracts hundreds of musicians and thousands of music fans to the city each year.

Official Cork Jazz Festival website

Wexford Festival Opera

The ‘Wexford Festival Opera’ is an internationally renowned opera festival that takes place in the town of Wexford in South-East Ireland during the months of October and November.

Official Wexford Festival Opera website

Cat Laughs Comedy Festival

The Cat Laughs Comedy Festival is a comedy festival held over the first weekend in June each year in Kilkenny. It was founded in 1994 in response to the burgeoning wealth of Irish comic talent with no clear national outlet for expression.

It is known as a more intimate and laid back festival as there is no competition between the comedians to win awards or sell tickets to shows.

Official Cat Laughs Comedy Festival website

The Rose of Tralee festival

The Rose of Tralee festival is an international competition which is celebrated among Irish communities all over the world. The festival takes its inspiration from a nineteenth century ballad of the same name about a woman called Mary, who because of her beauty was called The Rose of Tralee.

Official Rose of Tralee Festival website

Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival

Famous for its music and festivals, in September each year one of Europe’s largest matchmaking events is held in the town attracting upwards of 40,000 romantic hopefuls, bachelor farmers and accompanying revellers. The month-long event is an important tourist attraction. The current matchmaker is Willie Daly, a fourth-generation matchmaker. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is a month long festival of music, dancing and craic.

Official Website

Galway Races Festival

The Galway Races is an Irish horse-racing festival that starts on the last Monday of July every year. Held at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway, Ireland over seven days, it is the longest of all the race meets that occur in Ireland.

The busiest days of the festival are Wednesday, when the Galway Plate is held, and Thursday, when the Galway Hurdle and Ladies’ Day take place.

Official Website

The Tullamore Agricultural Show

The Tullamore Agricultural and AIB Livestock Show is a family event which is held annually, which has something for everyone. The show attracts large numbers and also has entertainment, foods, crafts, pets corner for the children and provides fun for all the family.

Official Website