Ireland's Cultural Festivals
Listen to and View the Best of
the Arts of Ireland
| Street musicians in Dublin.
This is the time of year when the Irish
let their hair down. For the next five months, from summer
through fall, festivals of all shapes and sizes take place
throughout Ireland, almost nonstop. Such staples as the
Willie Clancy Summer School in July and the Dublin Theatre
Festival in October remain the defining heartbeat of cultural
Ireland, an opportunity to listen to and view the best of
the arts of Ireland.
The Willie Clancy Summer School, Milltown
Malbay, Co. Clare. Named in honor of the legendary Irish
piper, with a backdrop both relaxed and inspirational, this
school and its surrounding festivities are celebrating their
43th anniversary. Courses are offered to beginners at incredibly
low prices. The cost is €90 ($100 U.S.) and include
admission to lectures, recitals, céilithe or dances,
and a concert finale at the end of the week. All lectures,
recitals, céilithe, and the concert are open to the
The Galway Arts Festival. Once nonconformist,
cheap, and laid back, Galway, long Ireland's cultural capital,
has grown chic and very expensive, catering to the "bo-bo" (bohemian
bourgeois) scene. In short, they've sold out. Unfortunately,
the same can be said of the city's major arts festival.
Its organizers have chosen dazzle over substance, luring
high-profile talent in exchange for ticket prices designed
to exclude. That said, the carnival atmosphere of the street
performers (still gratis, thankfully) and Galway's selection
of great cheap-eats restaurants are a breath of fresh air.
The Kilkenny Arts Festival. Unpretentious
and with the backdrop of the most vibrant small city in
Ireland, this 9-day festival is quite possibly the pick
of the litter. Theatre, music, visual arts, literary events
(Michael Ondaatje was the main attraction last year), and
free shows for the kids tend to be well-balanced. A great
many acts are free, while featured events remain reasonably
priced. Master classes for all ages in everything from percussion
to puppet-making are also offered. The whole scene is simple,
pleasurable, and unmissable.
The Galway Oyster Festival. Dedicated
to the glutton in all of us, this is a much more intimate
affair than Galway's July arts bash. Creamy pints of Guinness
and Galway Bay oysters are the order of the days and nights;
the party overflows onto the streets during this long weekend.
Events include a hedonistic "Mardi Gras" party,
a Gala Ball, and the Guinness World Oyster Opening Championship.
The downside is the price. Lobster bibs by Versace! For
this weekend you just might want to leave the kids at home.
The Dublin Theatre Festival. From the
infamous riots caused by the initial 1907 performances of
Synge's Playboy of the Western World to the perennial debate
on the state of the Abbey Theatre, drama is not taken lightly
in the city of Dublin. Now in its 57th year, the Dublin
Theatre Fest premieres the latest in the mighty canon of
Irish drama, from venerables such as Brian Friel and Tom
Murphy to the younger generation.
Running concurrently for three weeks
in late September and early October will be the Dublin Fringe
Festival. This relative late-comer offers a full plate of
independent theatre, cutting-edge visual arts, music, comedy,
dance, and more.
Wexford Festival Opera. This festival
opens each year with its trademark performance of its rare,
almost forgotten breed of opera and a flashy fireworks display.
This is followed by two very special weeks of 19 sell-out
matinee and evening shows by some of Europe's best contemporary
singers and composers. Centered around the tiny Royal Theatre
in Wexford are an antiques fair and the intimate "singing
and swinging" pubs. Last year all the tickets were
sold out before the festival began, so don't forget to book
well in advance.
The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. Long
heralded as one of the hottest tickets in the European jazz
calendar, this festival has become synonymous with the finest
musicians in contemporary jazz. Free master classes are
on offer to budding musicians, and a series of jazz-related
exhibits and films surround the long weekend, with over
50 pubs, clubs, and venues taking part. Ireland's southern
city knows how to throw a party, with 90 percent of the
music absolutely free.