20 fun-loving festivals

Last year, Mark Graham attended 183 Irish festivals, and wrote a weekly diary of his experiences in The Irish Times. Here, he selects his 20 favourites for summer 2013

Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 01:00

My aim last year was to hit three festivals every week for 12 months, but I overshot my target a little. It coudn’t be helped: there are just so many of the damn things. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I visited towns and villages that I never knew existed and became something of an expert in the festival field.

Since completing the year-long camper-van odyssey, have I kicked the habit? Nope. Over the June bank-holiday weekend I went to seven festivals. I may be addicted.

Earlier this year I began compiling a list of Irish festivals for an app I’ve just released. I counted 721 festivals taking place in Ireland this year, and that doesn’t include all the family gatherings.

The range is staggering. History, satire, walking, film, art, scarecrows and dung all take centre stage at some wonderful weekends around the country.

Here, I’ve tried to to compile a list of the top festivals of July and August. I just about managed to whittle it down to 20. That was tough going, and I’ve left out some really good ones.

I’ve a bit of a kink in me: while the big summer sessions boasting headline acts, healing fields and gourmet burgers will always attract me like a hog to a particularly pungent truffle, the quirkier, less-publicised events float my boat too. I’m likely to be as excited about Castleconnor Cow Dung Festival in August as about any of the rock ’n’ roll extravaganzas, so you should take all my recommendations with a fist of salt. I’m easily led.

Galway Film Fleadh, Galway, July 9th-14th
This the Daddy when it comes to festivals in the flicks. It attracts international names, and though it might lack the beach-resort glamour of Cannes, a bottle of Buckfast down at Spanish Arch can be just as rewarding in the right company. . . But bring a jacket. galwayfilmfleadh.com

Street Performance World Championships, 
Dublin, July 12th-14th, and Cork, July 20th-21st
Some of the best street performers from all over the world will tumble and cartwheel into Dublin and Cork to strut their stuff in parks in both our nation’s capitals (someone owes me a pint of Murphy’s for that one). And it’s nearly free. The competitors don’t get paid per performance; instead they’ll be passing around the hat after each of their turns. When you see what some of these freaks get up to, you won’t mind sticking your hand in your pocket. spwc.ie

Galway Arts Festival, Galway, July 15th-28th
Still the top-dog of arts festivals, although there are one or two pups snapping at its heels. World-class theatre and exhibitions are on offer, but book shows early. The music leaves a bit to be desired, but Grizzly Bear stands out. galwayartsfestival.com

Glasgowbury, Co Derry, July 19th-20th
This one might surprise you, and not just because it takes place near Draperstown, Co Derry. It was started by a dude whose name is Glasgow (aha!) to promote and provide a platform for independent music. It’s not just a weekend event: the crew run gigs, workshops and classes throughout the year. “Small but massive” is their motto and they live up to it. Definitely worth consideration as an add-on – or alternative – to the usual summer sessions. glasgowbury.com

Longitude, Marlay Park, Dublin, July 19th-21st
From where I’m sitting, the strongest music line-up of the summer. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Django Django, Gold Panda and Hot Chip will be circled on my race-card. The hipsters will be clambering over one another to get to this one; expect skinny jeans that are positively subcutaneous. No camping here, but it won’t matter – there’ll be enough crashing on mates’ couches to ensure the interlopers to Das Kapital and the city slickers probably sell this one out. longitude.ie

Durrow Scarecrow Festival, Co Laois, July 28th-August 5th
The populace make scarecrows and place them all over the town, in their gardens, on their roofs, climbing out the window of the bank and even in the river. I challenge you to go to this and not crack a smile. My favourite from last year was a Chuck Norris scarecrow complete with shotgun and some dead crows with a sign in front of it reading: “Chuck Norris doesn’t scare crows . . . he kills ’em.” durrowscarecrowfestival.com

Vodafone Comedy Festival, Dublin, July 26th-28th
Top names from Ireland and around the world help a fun-loving crowd wet themselves laughing at Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens. Dylan Moran was the hottest ticket at Kilkenny’s Cat Laughs in June; there’s another chance to catch the bumbling genius here. The line-up is as strong as Kilkenny’s, but The Dubs have shown they can spring a few surprises on The Cats. vodafonecomedy.com/dublin

Random Acts of Kindness Festival, Clonakilty, Co Cork, July 19th-21st
The idea sprang from floods that hit the town last year. A group of kind-spirited folk decided the place needed a shot of sweetness and light to brighten the mood. The idea caught on and a deluge of daycent daoine will descend on Clonakilty for the festival’s second outing this year. raokclon.com

Knockanstockan, Co Wicklow, July 26th-28th
This, in my opinion, is the best independent Irish music festival. The acts won’t be as polished, the production won’t be as slick and the budget won’t be as large as some other festivals, but the sense of community and the ethos behind the event can’t be beaten.

I asked the Bean a’ Tí of the Eco Bus Cafe, the excellent fodder wagon that pops up at most major Irish music festivals, what her favourite festival was and she offered up this session in Blessington, Co Wicklow, without any hesitation. So I’m not just fond of this one ’cos I’m playing at it. (But do keep sketch for King Kong Company. I hear their drummer is amazing.) knockanstockan.ie

Indiependence, Co Cork, August 2nd-4th
Bastille, The Fratellis and We Are Scientists will pull in a good few punters; both And So I watch You From Afar and the wonderful King Kong Company feature on the bill here too.

Mitchelstown is positioned well to ensure that there’ll be a decent crowd from Cork, Tipperary and Waterford. Hopefully there’ll be no cases of trenchfoot this year. indiependencefestival.com

Oxegen, Co Kildare, August 2nd-4th
Back with a bang. I have a hankering to see Rizzle Kicks live, and if I was a teenage festival fiend who enjoys buck-lepping about in a field, this would be the spot. But I’m not quite brave enough to step into the hormonal cauldron of Punchestown. oxegen.ie

Castlepalooza, Co Offaly, August 2nd-4th
Another full-on festival in a field, but this one at Charleville Castle, in Tullamore, is probably the best value of the summer. Tickets are €79 for the full weekend, including camping, and a beer voucher system ensures you don’t get ripped off once you’re inside the gate.

This shindig’s justifiably loyal following are up for good times, and should be guaranteed them with music from And So I Watch You From Afar and Le Galaxie. castlepalooza.com

Spraoi, Waterford, August 2nd-4th
One of the huge pluses of this festival is that they’ve maintained an ethos of providing the vast majority of the events free of charge and out on the streets. A great spot for families to wander around and take in some quality street theatre. spraoi.com

Muff Festival, Co Donegal, August 2nd-5th
I just hope they have T-shirts this year. mufffestival.com

Puck Fair, Killorglin, Co Kerry, August 10th-12th
Ireland’s longest running festival with a charter that dates back 400 years. They’re masters at it. It’s unapologetically rural – down to the rugs for sale from the backs of vans – and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go, but you’ll be missing out on a memorable weekend. puckfair.ie

Kilkenny Arts Festival, August 9th-18th
Not as flash as Galway, but it’s hot on its heels in terms of quality, and the music programme might just have beaten Galway by a nose in the past couple of years, with its focus on small, niche but high-quality gigs. kilkennyarts.ie

Castleconnor Cow Dung Festival, Co Sligo, August 18th-19th
It’s not glitzy. It’s not very cultural. It’s a fundraiser for the local GAA club that has used a bit of imagination, and if you can pull this one out of the bag when talking to well-travelled festival folk, you’ll earn serious kudos. I wouldn’t head west solely for this affair, but if you combine it with a surf at Easkey and a ramble up Ben Bulben, it’d make for a decent dirty weekend in Sligo. And Cow Dung roulette is definitely worth a whirl. castleconnor.sligo.gaa.ie

Electric Picnic, Co Laois, August 30th-September 1st
Still the heavyweight champ of summer hooleys. There was a huge amount of second-guessing before its late launch, but launch it did and every little festival monkey could breath a sigh of relief and proceed with their summer as planned.

Initial worries about a weaker than usual line-up have been assuaged. The Picnic has much more under the hood than music: food, literature, green crafts and a host of sideshows make sure you’re never stuck for distraction.

Last year I watched children, hipsters, yummy mummies and pensioners dancing to instructions issued from a day-glo lycra-clad Mr Motivator, all with huge smiles on their faces. It was a festival highlight of the year. electricpicnic.ie

Valentia Isle Festival, Valentia, Co Kerry, September 13th-15th
Spirit of Folk Festival, Dunderry Park, Co Meath, September 21st
Okay, technically these two are autumn festivals, but Valentia Isle and Spirit of Folk are fabulous affairs and I can’t leave them out of a list like this. These two festivals have a wonderful laidback vibe and are the perfect way to wean yourself off the outdoor sessions before the dark evenings draw in. Wrap up though. valentiaislefestival.com and spiritoffolk.com

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