A guide to the festivals (probably) taking place in Ireland in 2021

Contingency planning is the name of the game for arts festivals and events in the coming year

Normally right now we’d preview 2021’s festivals and cultural events. But after a year like no other, and ever-shifting goalposts, it’s difficult to predict what’ll be possible at various points in 2021. The resilience and hope of organisers programming and scenario planning despite all this is impressive and heartening.

They’re taking varying approaches, some planning live events with optimism and caution, others blended events, others still holding back; all aware plans may change nearer the time.

Here, then, is a selection of the approach and vision of some festivals for 2021, as of early January – all details, including dates, subject to change and change again, so keep an eye. Hold fast, there will be joy this year.


First Fortnight Mental Health Art & Culture Festival January
The 10th, now month-long festival was largely planned for Level 5, to reach a wide audience across the country safely. With arts and mental health conversations badly needed, there's 70+ pre-recorded and live streamed digital art events – film, music, spoken word, comedy, discussions, theatre, workshops – to enjoy from home.

Midwinter Festival Goldberg, January 22-24
Music for Galway's festival streamed online from St Nicholas Collegiate Church, with concerts of world-class musicians interpreting Bach's masterful Goldberg Variations, and Bruno Monsaingeon's film The Goldberg Variations - Glenn Gould Plays Bach.

The Irish Times Winter Nights Festival, January 25-29
Online festival of conversation, culture, and ideas (following 2020's Summer Nights' debut) features Irish Times writers joined by Paul Howard, Edith Eger, Dara Ó Briain, Emma Dabiri, Mairéad McGuinness, Nicola Sturgeon, Micheál Martin, Luke O'Neill, Dara McAnulty, Gabriel Byrne, John King, and more. €50 for all events (subscribers half price).

The Winter Series, January 7-March 30
New online conversations series, in the style of Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas, "to help people through the dark winter months, and hoping it might be a forerunner for a half-active summer", says producer Hugo Jellett. Conversation-makers include Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell; Antony Beevor and Christina Lamb; Chrissie Hynde and Fiachna O Braonain; David Putnam and Carole Cadwalladr; Philippe Sands and Ayelet Waldman; and Carl Bernstein and Fintan O'Toole.

TradFest, January 27-31
A reimagined version spreads events through the year including five nights of TradFest@Home in January streamed live from Dublin Castle's State Apartments, plus plans for a rising stars international showcase and live Dublin concerts in summer, audiences capped at 50.


Dublin Chinese Lunar New Year, February 9-14
Celebrations have moved online, including talks, recipes, lectures, workshops. Offline, Dublin will again go red with buildings lit for the festival.


Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, March 3-14
Since the last international film festival to dodge the global shutdown last year, director Gráinne Humphreys' team has plotted delivering this festival no matter what. "A wonderful sense of solidarity has developed across the international film community and 2021 will benefit from partnerships and collaborations from around the world."

A hybrid structure (drive-in, cinema and online) reflects core elements of the traditional festival, using technology to reach more audiences and going beyond usual venues (from Junction 6 on the M50 to Los Angeles). It is launching February 3rd, with new Irish and international features and documentaries, seven programmes of short films, archive programmes, virtual red carpets, artist tributes and Q&As. There’s a retrospective on black women filmmakers, including Belle (Amma Asante) and Maman(s) (Maïmouna Doucouré) and the world premiere of Rachel Carey’s Irish comedy Deadly Cuts.

Finding a Voice, Clonmel, March 5-8
Celebrating music by women composers with theme "It's About Time" both rhythm/tempo/duration and day/month/year. Whether there can be a live audience is unknown, either way they'll be livestreamed from Clonmel's Museum of Hidden History.

Ennis Bookclub Festival, March 5-7
Ireland's largest bookclub gathering will feature On a Journey, an online programme of writers Naoise Dolan, Kevin Barry, and Roddy Doyle in site-specific locations related to their work. Plus a new book celebrating 40 years of Salmon Poetry, and an autumn event.

St Patrick's Festival, March
"Planning for the 2021 national St. Patrick's Festival is in full swing," says Aileen Galvin. "While the dates and the format will be confirmed shortly, we're developing a rich programme of events to mark our national day, celebrating Ireland's contemporary culture and traditional heritage, to connect the Irish across the world."

Mountains to Sea, March 27-28
Caught in the headlights with a week to go last year, in 2021 Mountains to Sea goes entirely online ("we're not chancing anything live as it's far too risky"says programme director Liz Culloty), celebrating new and not-so-new books, promising thought-provoking discussion of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Planning to stream from heritage buildings, plus outdoor events and celebration of the bicycle, honouring Flann O'Brien. Early confirmations include Rebecca Solnit, Cathy Rentzenbrink and Noam Chomsky.


One Dublin One Book, April
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession (Bluemoose Books) is the 16th choice in Dublin City Council's reading initiative. People are invited to read the novel (available at public libraries or local bookshops), about two friends trying to find their place in the world, during April and attend online events with the author (programme early March).

Cúirt International Festival of Literature, April 21-25
One of the first festivals to migrate successfully online last year plans a hybrid mix of in-person and online events. Programme early March.

Irish Association of Youth Orchestras festival, April 17
Instead of its usual February National Concert Hall festival, IAYO will celebrate its birthday on April 17th in whatever way possible at that time, with members and young players who are still cut off from their orchestras and friends. Young players can contribute to a stay-at-home stitched-together performance of new work by Vincent Kennedy, plus hoping for some form of real-life performance.

Ballydehob Jazz Festival, April 30-May 3 
Assuming restrictions on audiences through 2021, BJF plans: a series of streamed performances of cutting edge of contemporary Irish jazz; multidisciplinary premiere of Paul Dunlea's Roaring Water Suite (Loch Trasna), exploring local War of Independence and Civil War stories, with live audience and streamed; annual Day of the Dead jazz funeral parade, celebrating lives that never got a proper send-off during Covid; plus collaboration on street art, mural, street dance and spectacle.


Bealtaine, May 1-31
Age & Opportunity's month-long celebration arts and creativity as we age is uncertain whether it will blend in-person and online, or be entirely online.

Dublin Dance Festival, May
World-class, daring and topical dance from home and abroad via an innovative programme of live and digital events, for May festival and through the year. DDF supporting artist-in-residence Oona Doherty developing her choreographic practice.

International Literature Festival Dublin, May 20-30
After One For The Books online in October 2020, ILFDublin returns to May with hybrid online/offline events (details in April). Plus Off the Page events (including Zoe Suggs and Amy McCulloch ) on January 17th.

Galway Early Music Festival, May 20-23
International festival of medieval, renaissance and baroque music by international and national musicians, workshops, heritage activities - hopefully offline, but online if necessary.


Carlow Arts Festival, June 4-13
Carlow returns with a hybrid of live, digital and participatory experiences, including exciting large-scale events (on the Braun site) with architect Emma Geoghegan, dance and film with Emma Martin and Luca Trufarelli; outdoor circus and spectacle with Spraoí and Tumble Circus; expansion of digital strand featuring more bespoke VR work by Irish artists; and a large scale, high-profile visual art commission.

Forbidden Fruit Festival, June 5-6
Scheduled to return as Dublin's first festival of the summer, curator Will Rolfe of POD says "Like many festivals in our period, including European giants like Primavera, Melt & WeLoveGreen, we have gone on sale with early-bird tickets for 2021" and are finalising line-up. "We feel it's hugely important for general wellbeing to have events like ours as a release. Our country has lots of incredible talent on and off the stage, we need to get back to live experiences and entertainment." POD continues to liaise with stakeholders and statutory agencies in "getting us back there".

Great Music in Irish Houses Festival, June 8-13
Ireland's oldest chamber music festival strives to increase public reach and engagement in new ways for its 50th edition. They hope for concerts before live audiences (considerably reduced by social distancing), outdoor performances, and online concerts.

The Grand Stretch/Coiscéim Coiligh, June 11-20
A new season of arts events brought to life by artists and cultural organisations across Ireland, sharing the resilience, creativity and connection at the heart of the arts. The Arts Council's programme promises to re-invigorate us, emerging from Covid's impact. Curated by Schweppe Curtis Nunn from an open call, with applications from January 11th.

Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas, June 11-13
"Our most optimistic selves hope to meet on the grounds of Borris House in June, in the company of some 60 writers and thinkers, enjoying the early summer sunshine among our vaccinated neighbours" says producer Hugo Jellett. Less optimistically, it may involve in-person events, streamed – or even moving to a new event and new location in September.

Nenagh Children's Film Festival, June 11-13
Three-day online festival of film, short film, animated and student screenings, workshops.

Cruinniú na nÓg, June 12th
Ireland's national day of creativity for children and young people plans nationwide blended online and in-person events this year (subject to change nearer time).

Cork Midsummer Festival, June 14-27
"We're building on our experience of delivering live, digital and participatory events at height of the pandemic in 2020 to present an ambitious blended programme in 2021", says director Lorraine Maye, who's working with artists, partners and communities "to plan a festival within Level 2 parameters – as a starting point – with the flexibility where possible to adapt to higher restrictions." The festival includes world premieres, commissions, surprising locations and Midsummer celebrations for all ages.

Dalkey Book Festival, June 17-20
Tentatively planned; possibly blended.

Body&Soul, summer and September
The team plans a series of small, intimate events on summer weekends in Ballinlough Castle grounds, says festival director Avril Stanley, continuing its curated live music, wellness, long table banquets, spoken word, comedy and art, with individual safety and space foremost, and very limited capacity. The annual Body&Soul Festival will be in September (date announcement in March after further Government clarification on camping festivals).

Hinterland, June 25-27
Keeping it flexible, including dates, for now (see panel), this year's smaller festival of literature and arts in Kells has events lined up so far: rehearsed reading from Matt Spangler and Kellie Hughes' adaptation of Striking Back, Mary Manning's memoir (with Sinead O'Brien) of the 1984 Dunnes Stores strike, and Fishamble's performance of Deirdre Kinahan's Embargo.

West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Bantry, June 25-July 4
More than 80 international musicians in Bantry for 10 days performing 100+ concerts: a "Festival of Impossible Choices as concerts will run simultaneously in several venues due to drastic limits on audience numbers at any individual concert". Choose from performances of complete quartet cycles by Weinberg and Bartók, complete cello sonatas by Beethoven and Martinu, Bach's complete Cello Suites, Schumann's complete violin sonatas, a Mozart-plus series and complete Mystery Sonatas by Biber and David Lang.

Mount Congreve Nature & Nurture Restival, Waterford, June 30th
Wellness, nature and nurture "restival" on the 70-acre site, with yoga classes on the lawns, meditation workshops, forest bathing walks. Tickets from May.

EVA International Biennial of Contemporary Art 
Following autumn's phase 1, dates TBC for phases two and three, featuring artists including Jasmina Cibic, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, and new work by Em'kal Eyongakpa and Orla Barry, at venues and outdoors in Limerick and online.


Longitude, July 2-4
Promoters MCD has announced first round of acts for the Marlay Park, Dublin, event, with headliners Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator and A$AP Rocky, and tickets on sale.

Cairde Sligo Arts Festival, July 3-11
Including To the Lighthouse illuminated outdoor spectacle by LUXE; Tumble Circus' Travelling Cycle Circus; new theatre by Brokentalkers and Brú Theatre and new writing from the west featuring Kevin Barry, Louise Kennedy and Una Mannion. Festival director Tara McGowan seeks new ways to create art, "exploring safe outdoor environments and tailored indoor happenings mixed with streaming".

Clonmel Junction Arts Festival, July 3-11
Its 20th anniversary theme is identity, and Junction is also developing a geodesic festival dome for 2021 – both an agile performance space and a mobile broadcasting unit – to allow for a blend of streamed and live performance.

Galway Film Fleadh, July 6-11
After pivoting online last year, it "fervently hopes to welcome audiences back to packed premieres by the Corrib in July". Meantime its retrospective of classic Irish films like Poitín and Hush-a-Bye Baby streams online until January 21st.

West Cork Literary Festival, Bantry, Co Cork, July 9-16
"At this moment it's impossible to imagine July, but we remain hopeful we'll welcome writers and audiences back to Bantry and that we'll celebrate together," says festival director Eimear O'Herlihy. She foresees a hybrid of live in-person and streamed events, plus online workshops and readings through the year. "We remain committed to supporting writers and will bring their work to readers no matter the circumstances."

Galway International Arts Festival, July 12-25
"We're planning a couple of scenarios for what shape the festival may take, with safety first and foremost in mind, for artists and audiences," says artistic director Paul Fahy. "Hopefully by summer we will have come together to comfortably enjoy live performances again." The 44th GIAF programme is due in May; lineup so far includes world premiere of Landmark/GIAF co-production, Medicine by Enda Walsh (starring Clare Barrett, Aoife Duffin, Domhnall Gleeson, Sean Carpio) and Heineken Big Top concerts including Pixies, Flaming Lips, The Stunning, The Academic, Jon Hopkins, Kaiser Chiefs and Sinéad O'Connor. Before that, Galway 2020 commission Mirror Pavilion is at Derrigimlagh Bog, Connemara (March 20th March-April 11th).

Spraoi International Street Arts Festival, Waterford, July 30-August 1
"Spraoi anticipates continuing scheduling disruption in 2021," says director TV Honan. "As a producing festival it'll respond with events through the year", starting with Prism, a large-scale outdoor mixed-media arts installation, premiering in Waterford in March for the Spring Equinox. They're performing at Carlow Arts Festival in June and the street festival is scheduled for August.

All Together Now, July 30-August 1
The festival at Curraghmore Estate, Co Waterford is set to return on the August bank holiday weekend for what ATN curator Will Rolfe of POD hopes will be "an unforgettable celebration of togetherness". Underworld was recently announced as a headliner, with full line-up coming.

“With incredible progress of vaccines and vaccine rollout globally, we’re confident at this point of having a festival season. Ultimately the statutory agencies will have the final decision. We’ll exhaust all options to make the shows happen, as having to wait another year would be a huge disappointment”, for audiences and “artists, technicians, event specialists, and the whole ecosystem and creative industry behind events like ours. We thank our audience who have shown us great support over the last year and we look forward to welcoming them back to Curraghmore.”


Tread Softly 2021, August 2-20
Sculptor Bettina Seitz explores the mythic Sligo landscape with Ancestor, installation on an uninhabited island off Sligo's coast, inspired by the last people to live there. Walking Birds Mountain 3 sees visual artists and writers responding to stories and myths associated with the caves of Kesh. Ten professional sculptors lead by Jackie McKenna will work with the local community creating large-scale bas relief sand sculptures along the Sligo coastline.

Kilkenny Arts Festival, August 5-16
Olga Barry's team plans a hybrid festival, with a significant portion made so it's adaptable for online in case live attendance can't happen. Kilkenny remains "absolutely committed to the irreplaceable nature of live performance and the essential exchange of energy between performers and audiences".

Plans include premieres of new works with partners Chamber Choir Ireland, Crash Ensemble and Irish Chamber Orchestra; new theatre, outdoor theatre and spectacle productions, exhibitions and an online programme, responding to public health guidelines at the time. Dates may change if worsening public health requires longer technical/rehearsal to make work safely.

Waterford Walls International Street Art Festival, August 13-22
Taking a blended approach, showcasing 20 mural artists painting 20 large scale mural artworks, Franco-German-Irish artist mentorship, guided art trails, artist talks, exhibition. Plus a new digital arts programme with VR art trails and exhibitions, podcasts and a digital app.

Music Current Festival, autumn
Forward-looking festival of new contemporary music, making and sharing live music, sees composers and performers from Ireland and worldwide coming together in Dublin to write, collaborate, share and perform new music.


Electric Picnic, September 3-5
Shortly after 2020 had to be cancelled, promoters MCD announced dates for this year's large-scale festival in Stradbally, Co Laois.

Sounds from a Safe Harbour, Cork, September 9-12
"Like so many things at present, the exact form for the 2021 iteration of our festival is fluid. What is certain is our community of artists is eager to make new work and we are finding a way to present it all," says director Mary Hickson.

Dublin Fringe Festival, September 11-26
Having brought artists and audiences safely back together in 2020, DFF is staying nimble to create a festival of new and inventive art experiences, "finding a way to reach you wherever September finds you – at home, in your favourite park or back in a beloved theatre". Open call for submissions early 2021.

Ortús Chamber Music Festival, September 3-5
In February since 2016, joint artistic director Sinéad O'Halloran is postponing Ortús to early September, hoping it will allow a full weekend of chamber music in Cork city and county with Irish and international musicians.

Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, September 10-19
Planning that "some of the world's greatest guitarists, actors and troubadors will descend on a small seaside town in the southwest of Ireland", the festival hopes for performances, workshops and sessions "with real audiences as well as virtual… (headstocks crossed!)"

Music in Monkstown, September 9-12
Classical music festival in Monkstown Parish Church, Co Dublin, includes founder and clarinettist John Finucane, pianist Finghin Collins, The Piatti Quartet, soprano Sharon Carty, plus fringe events. "Given everything at the moment, we'll wait and see how things progress. If there is difficulty staging live concerts, I plan to livestream," says Finucane.

Dublin Theatre Festival, September 30-October 17
The festival is optimistic and excited about returning with live performances for in-person audiences. In the lead-up, collaborating with artists and venues, the programme will be responsive to Government guidelines on gatherings and health and safety. DTF says it will continue to play its part supporting the recovery of the theatre sector which has been so badly affected by the pandemic. In November 2020, it announced development funding for 13 projects, for public showings from spring 2021.


Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, October
Celebrating 25 years with events "to be enjoyed both in the festival's home of Galway, and audiences around the globe". Plus Rise, in spring, with Galway 2020, collaborating on contemporary dance, parkour, circus skills and performance art.

Waterford's Imagine Arts Festival, end of October
Planing dance, theatre, music, visual art, heritage, comedy, literature and spoken word across the city for its 20th anniversary, with events online too, over the final 10 days of October.

Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival, October 15-24
Smashing Times and Front Line Defenders partner arts and human rights organisations showcasing human rights defenders and the role of arts in promoting rights; in-person and online events.

Spleodar Halloween Arts Festival, October 23-31
Tipperary's 21st children's festival, workshops, performances, live music, and dance for young audiences and their families, online and in-person.

Wexford Festival Opera, October (dates TBC)
WFO "hopes for a brighter future ahead" and plans a full festival this October for its 70th anniversary, with contingency in place. Following last year's successful livestreamed festival, "the team is looking forward with confidence under the very creative artistic directorship of Rosetta Cucchi". Meantime Wexford Factory singers share events online through the year.


TULCA: Festival of Visual Arts, November
The 19th multi-venue, artist-centred festival of contemporary art in Galway city and county adapted practices in 2020 and looks forward to presenting works live, and online through publication and podcasts.

Cork International Film Festival, November 4-14
Building on its digital experience last year, CIFF2021 plans a blended physical and digital festival of Irish and international film, with a festival hub at the Gate Cinemas and other Cork venues, combined with its new digital festival platform. Year-round it continues film and mental health outreach, cross-border documentary talent development and digital archive.


City of Dublin Winter Solstice Celebration Festival, December 21
Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality event online and outdoors with artists, and communities marking the shortest day of the year.

Nano Nagle Place, through 2021
Events marking 250 years since sisters moved into its first Presentation convent in Cork, including a Georgian Christmas in December and an exhibition.

The elastic year: Galway 2020

Galway 2020’s European Capital of Culture continues through March 31st after Covid curtailed and cancelled many 2020 events, though many survived, including Mirror Pavilion, DruidGregory and Aerial Sparks, with more than 500 artists’ work supported since March.

"The collective creativity of our cultural partners, our artists and our team working together during various lockdowns and restrictions, to rethink and reimagine the programme showed a very real resilience and a very true brilliance," says head of programme Marilyn Gaughan-Reddan. "This programme showcases the high level of work created here in Galway and we're delighted to share the collective imagination of these artists and communities with the world." galway2020.ie

The 18 projects scheduled for this end phase include:

Cellissimo (March 21-28): Music for Galway's cello festival re-awakens, with a similar core programme, but combining live and streamed online events, with top international cellists, including orchestral concerts, chamber music, Beethoven Sonatas, Bach solo performances throughout Co Galway, masterclasses, traditional music.

Hope it Rains (until March 31, possibly longer): Turning our bad weather to good use, with street art and installations across the city.

Gilgamesh (January-March): Storytelling masters Macnas's dramatic spectacle of the first ever hero's journey has morphed into a series of short films, "a digital storybook", on www.macnas.com, with the final scripted by Marina Carr; plus plans for large-scale city murals.

Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work (March 20-April 11): following John Gerrard's city installation for Galway International Arts Festival for Galway 2020, the striking outdoor installation will be at Derrigimlagh Bog, Connemara.

Wires Crossed (March 27-28): Participatory project promoting wellbeing, safe risk-taking and social inclusion through funambulism – wirewalking using a balancing pole. Free funambulism workshops, showcases and performance from Galway Community Circus and European Funambulism Network and opening a new Irish Centre of Funambulism.

Options A, B, C, D: contingency planning

While some early 2021 festivals had to migrate online, others are crossing fingers, for now. Programme director Myles Dungan’s approach for Hinterland in June reflects others’ thinking too, though he admits “I’m tempting fate even thinking about it”.

The speed of vaccination will influence decisions, and Hinterland won’t make definitive calls until March. It’s likely smaller this year “because of a fear of having to completely repurpose at short notice”. The preference is for an in-person festival on its usual dates, but “Plan B would be to postpone by four to eight weeks if we were sure that would guarantee a fully in-person event late summer”.

If there’s no hope of that, Plan C is a hybrid festival: online plus in-person socially-distanced, with audience capacity of Level 1 or 2. Plan D, “an undesirable prospect”, would be for a Level 3+ online event.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times