Festival filter: Commencing countdown, wellies on
There are about 850 festivals in Ireland this year, and most of them take place over the summer. We asked someone who’s spent the past year as a professional festival-goer to pick his favourites
Doolin Folk Festival
Christy Moore is red in the face telling us that “if it’s music you want, you should go to Clare”. He was singing about Lisdoonvarna, but with Solas, Liam O’Flynn & Paddy Glackin, Kíla and more playing in the nearby Clare town of Doolin, it might be a better bet.
Rosses Point Sea Shanty Festival & Só Sligo Food Festival
Groups from around the world will celebrate seafaring heritage in this scenic part of Co Sligo, through music, song and some gently rolling rí rá. If one too many songs of drownings and storms turns you green at the gills, Só Sligo Food Festival (sosligo.ie) is running from June 11th to 15th; there should be a haul of distraction between hornpipes. Feel free to dress like a pirate.
Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
Irish festival-goers’ taste for old-time Appalachian tunes and kickin’ Kentucky pickin’ could be explained by the licence they give enthusiasts to wear leather cowboy hats and yelp between slugs of cider. There will be a healthy mix of all of the above in Westport.
Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas
Festivals where you can expand your mind without a bag of mushrooms are always worth considering. Novelists, journalists, artists and political pundits will gather to serve up some brain fodder and chew the fat in Co Carlow. Pat McCabe, Lisa Hannigan, John Boorman, John Banville and Olivia O’Leary are among the talking heads.
Body & Soul
Arguably the best Irish music festival of June or July. The buzz at Ballinlough Castle, in Co Westmeath, is often more important than the bands, but Caribou, Buraka Som Sistema, East India Youth and John Grant will have the hipsters hyperventilating. The Soul Kids section makes it a viable option for families. A wonderful mix of bands surrounded by woodland installations and thought-provoking sideshows: this is a party with panache.
Dublin Kite Festival
Last year I couldn’t help but notice that some of the parents were enjoying this free family day out even more than the kids. The festival features kite-making workshops as well as professional kite-fliers.
Westport Festival of Music & Food
When asked to recommend child-friendly festivals to parents who pine for the fields, Westport is always near the top of the list. It’s a bit more expensive than some other festivals if you factor in the extra cost of camping, but the peace of mind is probably worth it. The line-up will polarise audiences, with Bryan Adams at one end of the spectrum and Tinariwen, the Tuareg rebel troubadours, at the other. Thankfully, Kool and the Gang are in the middle – and they should get everyone moving.
Conamara Summer School
Conamara Summer School, on the Co Galway island of Inishbofin, combines poetry, writing and music with local history, botany, marine biology and a host of walks, talks and insights into life on one of Ireland’s most scenic and secluded spots. This is on my summer wish list.
Hay Festival Kells
Bill Clinton has described the original Hay Festival, in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, as the Woodstock of the mind. The Irish offshoot features Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Jeremy Paxman pops up here, too. Nice to see he’s keeping busy.
Light Colour Sound
This newcomer is among the best independent festivals of the summer. Having the savvy to bill And So I Watch You from Afar above the only non-Irish headliner, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, shows that the promoter understands the tastes of alfresco partyers. Perfectly positioned in Co Kilkenny, just off the M9.
Galway Arts Festival
The premiere of Ballyturk, written by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea, will probably be the hottest ticket in town, but The National are bound to create a stir in the Festival Big Top. It’s summer, it’s Galway, you know the craic.
Painfully hip, but a good spot to hop. If the sun shines, Ben Howard will bring the beach vibes and make Marlay Park, in south Dublin, feel like Benicàssim. The lack of residential revellers and a somewhat weaker line-up than last year will mean that not everyone’s mind will be blown, but being able to sleep in your own bed and blow-dry your beard each morning will be an attractive proposition for a lot of party-goers.
It’s not nearly as polished as some other music festivals, but that’s the charm of this gig in the Wicklow Mountains. The crew here are all about the choons and community. Possibly the best place to catch The Hot Sprockets, and while you’re at it keep sketch for New Secret Weapon, Booka Brass Band, Mongoose and the festival favourites Land of the Giants.
This shindig in Tullamore generates more of a festival-in-a-field feel than some similar events. It’s probably something to do with the dreadlock-and-dog coefficient in a wonderful setting with a hip crowd that still has a healthy proportion of lunatics stoking a steam-powered session. The stylish summery pop of We Were Evergreen is highly recommended, as is shaking a leg to Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay and King Kong Company.
Spraoi has managed to keep the vast majority of its events free and has all the good stuff out on the streets of Waterford. Ideal for the buggy brigade to wander around and take in some tumbling, clowning and choons. Watch out for Fidget Feet Aerial Dance Theatre and Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.
Kilkenny Arts Festival
Shakespeare’s Globe makes a welcome return to the Castle Yard with its tent and Much Ado About Nothing. Audiences can immerse themselves in a marathon of Beethoven, with the complete string quartets and complete piano concertos. The Gloaming’s gig is already sold out. Expect world music, home-grown exhibitions, thumping gigs and buzzing streets. It feels as if Brian Cody’s one of the festival programmers.
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
The Sligo session may not fill the boots of last year’s LegenDerry fleadh, but they’re expecting 250,000 punters, plus another 10,000 fiddlers and fluters over eight days. If I don’t manage to find the fella who drinks the pint through the tin whistle after his solo, I’ll be very disappointed.
Moynalty Steam Threshing Festival
An old-fashioned get-together in a field with livestock, baked goods, set dancing, vintage kicks, sheaf tossing, butter making and tractor porn, Moynalty is my festival echinacea, topping up my immune system before I come down with PR palsy from overexposure to marketing types.
Don’t go here looking for latte, Prosecco or Pimm’s. There’ll be rugs for sale from the backs of vans, a strong stench of goat urine in the main square and at least one dodgy country-and-Irish band. That’s what makes it special. It’s unapologetically rural – and if you don’t like it you don’t have to go, but you’ll be missing a wild and memorable weekend.
Numero uno in The Ticket’s reader poll of Ireland’s best festivals. Watching hedonists wearily weave their way tentwards after Ben Klock belted out the last beat at the Rave in the Woods – and stumbling against the oncoming traffic of freshly risen healthy happy couples, pushing prams towards a wheatgrass smoothie and the political cabaret in Mindfield – is just one of the things that make this festival special. There are so many paths to take through the thing, appealing to buzzers, brokers, barristers and the occasional b******s. For three days we all exist happily in this temporary community. Rip up the timetable, drift and enjoy.
Mark Graham’s new book, A Year of Festivals in Ireland, is published by New Island