Wednesday 21 November 2018

Top 25 small festivals in Ireland: Your summer days out sorted!

Family day out? Look no further than our list of Ireland best small festivals...

Jig in the Park at Cork Midsummer Festival 2017. Photo: Jed Niezgoda
Jig in the Park at Cork Midsummer Festival 2017. Photo: Jed Niezgoda
The Big Grill, in Dublin's Herbert Park
K-Fest. Photo by David Hegarty
Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival
Portumna, Co. Galway - On the Lough Derg Blueway with an Emerald Star cruiser
Sligo Jazz Festival
Katie Kim performing in St. Canice's Cathedral at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2012. Photo: Ross Costigan
Scariff Harbour Festival. Photo: Luke Patterson/Fáilte Ireland
Carol Klein, Carlow Garden Festival. Photo: Jonathan Buckley
Carlow Arts Festival
Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
Dungarvan Summer Music Festival
Earagail Arts Festival in Donegal
Carrickmacross Arts Festival. Photo: Arnis Photography
Zadie Smith
The Kildare Town Medieval Festival
Keith Irish at the Imagine Arts Festival in Waterford. Photo: Mary Browne.

Nicola Brady

You know the big hits. Now get ready for the small wonders, with out pick of Ireland's best off-radar summer festivals!

May

1. Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival

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Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival
 

Where: Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, Co Antrim.

Why: Now in its sixth year, this family-friendly festival in The North is a super fun celebration of our maritime heritage. There are markets, currach races, talks, tours and a sailing regatta. But our advice? Skulk around the Ulster Chowder Cook Off and volunteer your services as taster. You never know!

Details: Mostly free; May 25–June 3; rathlinsoundmaritimefestival.com

If you like that, try: This one’s a no-brainer. The Salmon and Whiskey Festival in Bushmills sounds like a match made in heaven (June 18–19; visitcausewaycoastandglens.com). It’s also in Antrim.

June

2. K-FEST Arts Festival

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K-Fest. Photo by David Hegarty
 

Where: Killorglin, Co Kerry.

Why: This innovative arts festival takes over abandoned spaces in Killorglin and transforms them into pop-up galleries over the June bank holiday weekend. You’ll find all kinds of art on display, from dynamic installations to spoken word and live music. It’s an incredible use of unloved spaces.

Details: Mostly free; June 1–4; kfest.ie

If you like that, try: Down the road in Killarney you can celebrate Independence Day at the 4th of July festival (killarney.ie).

3. Carlow Arts Festival

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Carlow Arts Festival
 

Where: Carlow.

Why: Another artstravaganza, the Carlow Arts Festival is heavy on the quirky theatre and dance. Be sure to check out the remarkable production ‘What Am I Worth?’, a circus show wherein the Extraordinary Bodies group collaborated with members of the Carlow community. One of the best things about the festival is the sliding scale applied to pricing — you can choose from three possible entry prices for ticketed events. A pretty sound system, if you ask us.

Details: Mostly free; June 6-10; carlowartsfestival.com

If you like that, try: Explore the four-day Cashel Arts Festival (September 20–23; cashelartsfest.com).

4. Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival

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Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
 

Where: Westport, Co Mayo.

Why: Westport is a town that’s never short on craic, but for three days in June it’s taken over with an all-strumming, all-plucking bluegrass fest. There are loads of gigs, masterclasses, workshops and sessions taking place all over the town — the final night takes place in Matt Molloy’s yard bar. 

Details: Free to €25; June 8-10; westportfolkbluegrass.com

If you like that, try: Head to Athenry for the Bia Lover Food Fest (June 16–17; bialover.ie).

5. Cork Midsummer Festival

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Jig in the Park at Cork Midsummer Festival 2017. Photo: Jed Niezgoda
 

Where: Cork City.

Why: There are a dizzying number of events taking place as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. With art, music, theatre and dance on the agenda, there’s sure to be something that takes your fancy. There are also huge exclusives, like the world premiere of the stage adaptation of Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It.

Details: Free to €30; June 15–24; corkmidsummer.com

If you like that, try: Hit up Soul in the City, Cork’s combo of soul food and music on the June bank holiday weekend (June 1–3; soulinthecitycork.ie).

6. Irish Aerial Dance Fest

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Irish Aerial Dance Fest
 

Where: Letterkenny, Co Donegal.

Why: There’s something mesmerising about aerial dance. Performers weave themselves up and down silk ropes, performing gravity-inspiring tricks with the grace of a prima ballerina. The Irish Aerial Dance Fest is put on by company Fidget Feet (in its 20th year) with classes, workshops and performances for those better suited to solid ground.

Details: From €15 to €600 (two-week passes); June 24–July 11; irishaerialdancefest.com

If you like that, try: Keep an eye out to see if Letterkenny’s Off The Street food festival returns in 2018 (offthestreetfoodfest.com).

July

7. Earagail Arts Festival

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Earagail Arts Festival in Donegal
 

Where: Co Donegal.

Why: Feeling arty? Well, you’re in the right place. The Earagail Arts Festival turns 30 this year, and there’s a huge array of events taking place over three weeks in Donegal. Expect music from California Feetwarmers, Songhoy Blues and Duke Special, as well as theatre, visual arts, film, literature and circus. Phew!

Details: Free to €25; July 7–29; eaf.ie 

If you like that, try: Cairde Festival in Sligo is home to plenty of artsy activities and events, many of which are geared towards kids (July 7–14; cairdefestival.com).

8. West Cork Literary Festival

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Zadie Smith
 

Where: Bantry, Co Cork.

Why: If you’re an avid reader, this is the festival for you. There’s a stonking line-up of writers attending the week-long event, including Bernard MacLaverty, Joseph O’Neill, Ruth Padel, Zadie Smith (above) and Catríona Perry, so expect readings, seminars and interviews. The folks behind the hugely popular West Cork podcast will be there, too. 

Details: From free to €25; July 13–20; westcorkliteraryfestival.ie

If you like that, try: The Immrama Festival of Travel Writing takes place in Lismore from June 13–17, with adventurous authors Michael Smith and Jacki Hill-Murphy (lismoreimmrama.com).

9. Festival of Curiosity

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A rainbow over the quays in Dublin. Photo: Getty/David Soanes
 

Where: Dublin.

Why: A cacophony of science, arts, design and technology, the Festival of Curiosity is a must for eager minds. Expect to see events like secret tours, night cycles and interactive exhibits, all over the city. The programme is yet to go live, but will be announced in June. Keep your eyes peeled.

Details: Mix of free and ticketed; July 19–22; festivalofcuriosity.ie

If you like that, try: Festivals needn’t be decadent. The first ever Dublin Yoga and Vegan Festival will take place in the grounds of Trinity College (June 10; yogific.org).

10. Sligo Jazz Festival

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Sligo Jazz Festival
 

Where: Sligo.

Why: Part summer school, part festival, the Sligo Jazz Project is an annual celebration of music. This year, the big hitters include a Big Band performance of Donald Fagen’s Nightfly, Brian Byrne’s Goldenhair (inspired by the poetry of James Joyce) and Celtic fusion group The Olllam, featuring Vulfpeck bass sensation Joe Dart, who’ll also be hosting a rare bass masterclass.

Details: July 24–29; from €18-20; sligojazz.ie

If you like that, try: Tread Softly is to Yeats as SJP is to jazz — the Yeats-inspired festival takes place in Sligo in late summer (treadsoftly.ie).

11. Carlow Garden Festival

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Carol Klein, Carlow Garden Festival. Photo: Jonathan Buckley
 

Where: Carlow.

Why: If you’re an avid gardener (or want to pick up some tips as to how to become one) then this is the festival for you. Featuring 21 garden experts, including the woman behind the London Olympic Gardens, you’ll pick up some great tips and inspiration. 

Details: €2 to €35; July 27-August 6; carlowgardentrail.com

If you like that, try: See those flowers in the wild at the Knockmealdowns Rhododendron Walking Festival (June 1–4; munstervales.com).

August

12. Scariff Harbour Festival

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Scariff Harbour Festival. Photo: Luke Patterson/Fáilte Ireland
 

Where: Scariff, East Clare.

Why: Taking place all around Lough Derg, the inland waterways and the local countryside, the aim of the weekend is to celebrate all the areas accessible from Scariff. Everything is outdoors and by the water, so expect lots of boat tours, hoverball archery, water walking zorbs. One for the adventurous water bunnies – a €5 wristband covers all activities and events, aside from one concert.

Details: €5; August 2–5; scariffharbourfestival.ie  

If you like that, try: Take to the streets at the Ennis Street Arts Festival (July 2–8; ennisstreetartsfestival.com).

13. Dungarvan Summer Music Festival

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Dungarvan Summer Music Festival
 

Where: Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Why: One for trad lovers, the Dungarvan Summer Music Festival is filled with incredible acts, performing in three different venues. The fabulous group Lúnasa will be there, as well as multi-media collaborations and performances incorporating spoken word. One of the highlights will likely be the Greenway Sessions, with free live music along the Waterford Greenway.

Details: Ticketed gigs from €20; August 3–5; dungarvansummermusicfestival.com.

If you like that, try: Check out TraidPhicnic in Spiddal for trad, culture and arts (July 6–8; traidphicnic.com).

14. Kilkenny Arts Festival

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Katie Kim performing in St. Canice's Cathedral at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2012. Photo: Ross Costigan
 

Where: Kilkenny City.

Why: One of the best things about this festival is the locations used for events. The music, for example, takes place in St Canice’s Cathedral, with acoustics and a backdrop as impressive as you would expect. This year, there’s a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the latest incarnation of Shakespeare in the Castle Yard.

Details: Free to €40 August 9–19. kilkennyarts.ie

If you like that, try: Rub shoulders with literary legends at the Dalkey Book Festival (June 14–17; dalkeybookfestival.org).

15 Playstival with The Happy Pear

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The Happy Pear Twins Steve and Dave with Dustin the Turkey at the City Specacular Launch.
 

Where: Airfield Estate, Dublin.

Why: Why should adults get all the fun? This one is specifically geared towards kids, with the endlessly energetic Happy Pear twins at the forefront. The aim of this one is to get back to basics — think interactive play stations with no technology to be found. The happy pair themselves will, of course, be providing plenty of healthy sustenance throughout the day.

Details: €12.42 (free for under-2s); August 11–12; playstival.ie; airfield.ie.

If you like that, try: Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular takes place in Cork and Dublin, with plenty more to keep the kids entertained. And it’s free! (cityspectacular.com).

16. Kildare Town Medieval Festival

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The Kildare Town Medieval Festival
 

Where: Kildare Town.

Why: If you fancy throwing on some chainmail and gnawing a turkey leg, this is the one for you. The theme of this year’s festival is “The Vikings are Back”, so expect olde world shenanigans such as medieval re-enactments, willow weaving and archery. Or really get into the spirit with some old fayre throwing games. Raaah!

Details: Free; August 12; kildareheritage.com

If you like that, try: Walk into the past at the Dublin Festival of History (September 24–October 7; dublinfestivalofhistory.ie).

17. The Big Grill

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The Big Grill, in Dublin's Herbert Park
 

Where: Herbert Park, Dublin.

Why: Is there anything as enticing as the smell of meat smouldering on a barbecue? No, there is not. And The Big Grill is like a barbecue on steroids — chefs from around the world come to show off their prowess, using natural charcoal and wood only. Lean in and enter the hot wing eating contest. Get ready for the meat sweats!

Details: From €18; August 16–19; biggrillfestival.com

If you like that, try: Raise a glass at the Dublin Gin Festival Gin Fusion, at Eatyard (May 31–June 3; brew-tonic.com).

18. Waterford Walls Street Art Festival

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Waterford City and the River Suir.
 

Where: Waterford City.

Why: Showcasing over 130 open air murals from international artists, Waterford Walls is a must for fans of street art. As well as guided tours of the artworks, you can join in with interactive live art exhibitions, take workshops and attend expert panel discussions. There are live music trails, too.

Details: Free; August 23–26; waterfordwalls.ie

If you like that, try: Check out the outdoor painters of Wexford’s Art In The Open (July 29–August 6; artintheopen.org).

19. Carrickmacross Arts Festival

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Carrickmacross Arts Festival. Photo: Arnis Photography
 

Where: Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan.

Why: With the aim of making art accessible to everyone, this festival sees a huge number of events taking place all around Carrickmacross. Billed by the organisers as “perfect for families and individuals who want the festival experience without the muddy camping and sleepless nights” you can expect to find art, music, comedy, drama, poetry… the list goes on.

Details: From €14 to €54; August 23–26; carrickmacrossartsfestival.com

If you like that, try: The four-day country music and jiving fest, monaghantowncountrymusic.ie

More: 10 great reasons to visit Monaghan

20. Cape Clear Storytelling Festival

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Cape Clear is having a storytelling festival
 

Where: Cape Clear Island, Co Cork.

Why: If there’s one thing we’re good at in Ireland, it’s spinning a yarn. So celebrate the art of storytelling at this festival on Cape Clear, which has been on the go since 1994. There are all kinds of events taking place, for kids and adults alike, story swap sessions, and even a storytelling boat trip.

Details: Weekend ticket €75; August 31–September 2; capeclearstorytelling.com

If you like that, try: The Festival of Writing and Ideas plays host to and array of renowned writers in Carlow (June 8–10; festivalofwritingandideas.com)

September

21. A Taste of West Cork

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Foodie town: Kinsale continues to attract the numbers.
 

Where: All around West Cork.

Why: So much amazing food comes from West Cork, and this is the place to see (and eat) it all. A Taste of West Cork is one of the oldest food festivals in Ireland, and a celebration of all the magnificent producers in the area. It takes place around 36 towns and villages, and eight islands.

Details: Free to €100+; September 7–16; atasteofwestcork.com

If you like that, try: Still peckish? Head to the Macroom Food Festival in September (September 20–23; macroomfoodfestival.com).

More: Kinsale 2.0: A new wave hits Ireland's original foodie town

22. Shorelines Arts Festival

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Portumna, Co. Galway - On the Lough Derg Blueway with an Emerald Star cruiser
 

Where: Portumna, Co Galway.

Why: A festival designed to foster the arts in the communities of Lough Derg and the Slieve Aughties, Shorelines Arts Festival celebrates art in all forms. There’s a strong emphasis on literature, visual arts, drama and music, and their film game is particularly solid — the festival even spurred a weekly film club.

Details: Free to €20; September 13–16; shorelinesartsfestival.com

If you like that, try: Eat your way around Galway’s westend at Street Feast (June 4; galwayswestend.com).

23. Battle for the Lake

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Francois Colussi kitesurfing, Keel Strand, Achill Island, County Mayo.
 

Where: Achill Island, Co Mayo.

Why: A gathering of kitesurfers from all around Ireland and beyond, Battle for the Lake marks the culmination of the Irish Kitesurfing Tour. One for the outdoorsy folk, Battle for the Lake is the brainchild of Pure Magic, home of adventure on Achill. The big event? The Burning Lake on the final night, with a huge fireworks display.

Details: September 28; battleforthelake.com

If you like that, try: Hit up the surf music festival Sea Sessions in Bundoran (June 22–24; seasessions.com).

24. Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival

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Crowd-pleaser: Michael Brown Oysters in Galway
 

Where: Galway.

Why: Finish out the summer with a seafood feast in Galway. This annual extravaganza is a celebration of all things oysters, with shucking competitions, seafood trails and plenty of tastings (with the obligatory pint of Guinness or glass of Champagne).

Details: From €40; September 28–30; galwayoysterfestival.com

If you like that, try: Keep searching for the pearl at the Carlingford Oyster Festival (August 9–13; carlingfordoysterfestival.com)

October

25. Imagine Arts Festival Waterford

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Keith Irish at the Imagine Arts Festival in Waterford. Photo: Mary Browne.
 

Where: Waterford.

Why: Summer will be a distant memory, but you can finish the festival season with a flourish, thanks to a hefty dose of craic at the Imagine Arts Festival Waterford. Nothing is confirmed as of yet, but you can expect theatre, dance, music, visual art, discussion and debate, with a strong focus on homegrown work. And nothing says Waterford like a “Blaa Battle” — last year the Vikings took on the city folk in a giant flour fight. 

Details: From free; October 18–28; imagineartsfestival.com

If you like that, try: Get fancy at the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival in Lismore (May 30–June 3; blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com).

NB: All prices/dates subject to change

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