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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine July/August 2002
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Festival Travel
Cultural Travel

Ireland's Cultural Festivals

Listen to and View the Best of the Arts of Ireland

Street musicians in Dublin
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 public.

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.

Irish Festivals

Willie Clancy Summer School

Galway Arts Festival

Kilkenny Arts Festival

Dublin Fringe Festival

Dublin Theatre Festival

Galway Oyster Festival

The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival

Many more can be found at website.

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