Festivals 2020: The best arts, music, books and film events in Ireland

A year of opera, trad, literature, film and much more besides, across the country

Galway 2020: All year long

The biggest show around, all year long, has to be Galway 2020. Galway becomes European Capital of Culture on February 1st, starting a year of over 1,900 events across 154 projects, with local, national, European and international artists and cultural organisations , in the villages, towns, islands and city.

Starting on St Bridget’s Day, February 1st, in Clifden, fiery celebrations across the county over seven nights move closer to the city, with a community cast creating events in Clifden, Spiddal, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Portumna and Athenry reaching the streets and squares of Galway city on February 8th for an open-air finale.

The year’s highlights include: the Connemara landscape illuminated in an epic spectacle Savage Beauty by Finnish light artist Kari Kola; Druid Theatre taking 20th-century Irish one-act plays across the county; a new work by American artist David Best (Burning Man); an epic Gilgamesh by Macnas, written by Marina Carr and designed by Julian Crouch; a JM Synge festival in Galway and Aran; Homer’s Odyssey touring beaches; pan-European Crossing the Line festival of work by artists with intellectual disabilities; Unsung, about mothers and children in State institutions; Branar’s immersive theatre about the evolution of the Irish language. There’s an extensive Wild Atlantic Women for Women’s Day on March 7th and 8th, featuring Margaret Atwood and Derry Girl Siobhán McSweeney, an outdoor sunrise performance and an exhibition inspired by women’s court testimonies of domestic abuse.


New line-up additions include To the Moon, a dream-like immersive lunar exploration by Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang; Tobias Hutzler's Typographies of Light, using light to create a contemplative installation on a Connemara hillside; and Imagining Ireland concert visiting the city. galway2020.ie


First Fortnight (January 1st-31st): The nationwide arts and mental health festival with art, music, circus, film, theatre and spoken word. firstfortnight.ie

Out to Lunch (January 3rd-26th ): Music, theatre, comedy and spoken word in Belfast, with Cerys Mathews, Nine Below Zero, Jacqui Dankworth, Linda Ronstadt and Gary Delaney. cqaf.com

Music for Galway Midwinter (January 17th-19th): Themed concerts, focusing on Beethoven's early solo piano and chamber music, with violin sonatas, string quartets, the Quintet for piano and winds, and the Septet. Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova and French pianist Cédric Tiberghien's perform Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. musicforgalway.ie

Tradfest (January 22nd-26th): Ireland's largest festival of traditional music in Dublin's Temple Bar and beyond: large and intimate concerts (including Hothouse Flowers, Jon Boden and Screaming Orphans, Afro Celt Sound System, Catherine McEvoy), exhibitions, films, workshops, masterclasses, family concerts. tradfest.ie


Festival of Youth Orchestras (February 8th): young musicians and youth orchestras at the National Concert Hall, Dublin. nch.ie

Dublin Chinese New Year Festival: Year of the Rat (January 24th-February 9th): Over 80 events including free family-friendly two-day Spring Festival Fair in the Dublin Fruit Market, also Chinese opera and singing, karaoke, arts and crafts, chess competitions, lion dances, dragon parades, calligraphy and children's events. dublinchinesenewyear.com

Gallery Press 50th Birthday: The poetry and drama publisher celebrates half a century with readings in Trinity College Dublin on February 6th; Cover Versions exhibition in the Royal Hibernian Academy on September 3rd -25th, gala in National Concert Hall on September 17th. gallerypress.com

Spike Cello Festival (February 7th-9th ): Fourth year of the alternative cello festival, including Abel Selaocoe, Clíodhna Ní Aodáin, Gyða Valtýsdóttir, Kate Ellis & Caimin Gilmore, Glasshouse, Two Versus, Christian Elliot, events for young audiences, Yocella. spikecellofest.co

Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival (February 26th-March 8th): Over 110 films, artist tributes, discussions, workshops, including an epic 14-hour documentary revisionist history of cinema: Women Make Film, Irish premieres of female-led Irish movies Rose Plays Julie and Sea Fever; and a public interview with multi award-winning film-maker, Charlie Kaufman. diff.ie

New Music Dublin (February 27th-March 1st): Annual festival of contemporary new music with 17 Irish and 22 international premieres in over 20 events, including works from Gerald Barry, Jane O'Leary, Una Monaghan and Fergus Johnston, and performances from Lawrence Power, Bang On a Can, Andreas Borregaard, Crash Ensemble, the Ligeti Quartet and the Totally Made Up Orchestra. newmusicdublin.ie; nch.ie

Ortús Chamber Music Festival (February 28-March 1st): violinist Mairéad Hickey and cellist Sinéad O'Halloran's Cork city and county festival includes Hickey with American violinist Stephen Waarts, and some stars of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival: Georgy Kovalev (viola) from Russia, Ivan Karizna (cello) from Belarus and Slovenia's Mate Bekavac (clarinet); plus Berlin-based Irish cellist Killian White and from Cork Séamus Hickey (viola) and Gráinne Ní Luasa (piano). ortusfestival.ie


Finding a Voice (March 6th-8th): Concert series of music by women composers from the 17th century to the present, now broadened to include traditional Irish and jazz, in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Composers include Joan Trimble, Ailís Ní Ríain, Siobhán Cleary, Edel Sullivan, Anne-Marie O'Farrell, and a commission from Gráinne Mulvey. facebook.com/findingavoiceclonmel/

Ennis Book Club Festival (March 6th-8th): Aisling co-authors Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, 10 Books You Should Read this year with Ruth Gilligan and Neil Hegarty; writer/performer Lemn Sissay reading from Something Dark; novelist Sarah Moss interviewed by Seán Rocks; a recording of Sunday Miscellany. ennisbookclubfestival.com

St Patrick's Festival (March 13th-17th): The parade, Festival Village and World Food Village, plus shows including Annie Mac, Kojaque, Soulé and Guests; This is How We Fly with Iarla Ó Lionáird; world premiere of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach with Lisa Hannigan and guests; Colm Mac Con Iomaire with the Contempo Quartet and Canadian electro artist Jessy Lanzastpatricksfestival.ie

Hindsight (March 21st-22nd): A development of Hinterland festival in Kells Co Meath, two days of War of Independence talks feature John Borgonovo, Catriona Crowe, Liz Gillis, Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, Ultan Courtney, Liam McNiffe and Myles Dungan. hinterland.ie

Cork International Poetry Festival (March 24-28): Including Irish poets Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Peter Sirr, British poets Jamie McKendrick and Rachael Allen, and US poets Rigoberto González and Carmen Giménez Smith, plus others from Europe and China. corkpoetryfest.net

Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (March 26th-29th): The 15th festival includes Curtis Sittenfeld, Colum McCann, Peggy Seeger, Anne Enright, Louise Doughty, Peggy Seeger, Lemn Sissay, Niall Williams, Mike Hanrahan, Michael Rosen, Rebecca Solnit, Carol Ann Duffy, Christi Lefteri and Paul Muldoon. mountainstosea.ie


One City, One Book (April): The Dublin City Council Libraries' month-long book choice connected with the capital is Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey, a Dublin family and the destruction of alcoholism, seen through a child's eyes. dublinonecityonebook.ie

Cúirt International Festival of Literature (April 20th-25th): The first festival from incoming director Sasha de Buyl. cuirt.ie

Music Town (April 6th-19th): Celebrating diverse music cultures in Dublin. musictown.ie

Cork International Choral Festival (April 29th-May 3rd): Thousands compete and entertain in choral concerts, competitions and world-class performances. Highlights include a concert celebrating Beethoven's 250th; Cork Fleischmann Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of Cantairí Mhuscraí, Cor Cois Abhann and East Cork Choral Society; ONAIR – Vocal Legends; Chamber Choir Ireland, Ingenium Ensemble (Slovenia), and top international amateur choirs competing. corkchoral.ie


Bealtaine (May): Month-long nationwide festival celebrating the arts and creativity as we age, including Ceol le Chéile Donegal Choir of Ages as flagship choir for Dawn and Dusk Chorus events, plus a tour of Pom Boyd's Windy Lady show. bealtaine.ie

Dublin Dance Festival (May 19th-31st): Highlights include Greek choreographer Tzeni Argyriou; aSH, from French director, Aurélien Bory in collaboration with its subject, Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa; and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker returns (after 2109's Rosas danst Rosas) with A Love Supreme, collaborating with Salva Sanchis, based on John Coltrane's album. dublindancefestival.ie

It Takes A Village (May 8th-10th): A festival under cover, with the option to sleep in a bed in holiday village take-over at Trabolgan, East Cork. ittakesavillage.fm

Kilkenny Cat Laughs (May 28th-June 1st): Still laughing in Kilkenny after more than a quarter of a century, now programmed by Collapsing Horse director/producer Dan Colley and Matt Smyth. thecatlaughs.com

Blackwater Valley Opera Festival (May 26th-June 1st): Opera doublebill of Gianni Schicchi (Puccini) and I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) at Lismore Castle, plus recitals in the great houses and churches of Cork's Blackwater Valley. blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com

Summer literature festivals: Kicking off with International Literature Festival Dublin (May 15th-24th) ilfdublin.com; Ireland's oldest literary festival Listowel Writers' Week, Co Kerry (May 27th-31st) writersweek.ie; Dalkey Book Festival in June dalkeybookfestival.org.


Carlow Arts Festival (June 3rd-7th): Almost fully free festival with music, visual art, family events and Virtual Reality. Including Irish premiere Motionhouse/No Fit State's BLOCK, from UK superstars of spectacle/circus, and Oonagh Doherty's acclaimed dance show Hard to be Soft. carlowartsfestival.com

Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas (June 12th-14th): Including both 2019 Booker-winners Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo; Tessa Hadley; Max Porter; Richard Ford; Xiaolu Guo; Marian Keyes; Antony Beevor, Emma Dabiri; Mary Robinson; Ben McIntyre; Manchan Magan. festivalofwritingandideas.com

Hinterland Festival (June 25th-28th): Literature and history in Kells, Co Meath with Jim Crace, Val McDermid, Richie Sadlier, Manchan Magan, Jim Lockhart. hinterland.ieblackwatervalleyoperafestival.com

Bloomsday Festival (June 11th-16th): Dublin's week-long celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses, from breakfasts, readings and street performance to lectures, exhibitions and theatre, from picturesque Sandycove (the novel's opening plunge) to panoramic Howth (the romantic climactic finish). bloomsdayfestival.com

Cork Midsummer Festival (June 12th-21st): Director Lorraine Maye celebrates the festival's 25th year with new work and world premieres, outdoor site-specific performances, and work developed through Irish. Programme from visual curators-in-residence Pluck Projects, new site-specific work by inaugural Jane Anne Rothwell Award-winner soprano Kim Sheehan; work by artist-in-residence Peter Power; Cork Proms curated by Wayne Jordan and John O'Brien at Cork Opera House with music from Beethoven to The Beatles. corkmidsummer.com

Body and Soul (June 19th-21st): Independent summer solstice festival of wellness, art and music, based around sustainability, wellbeing, creativity, culture and family, in Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath. bodyandsoul.ie

West Cork Chamber Music Festival (June 26th-July 5th): 25th anniversary line-up in Bantry includes four quartets (Pacifica, Signum, Doric and Dudok), violinists Vadim Gluzman, Alina Ibragimova, Nurit Stark, Rosanne Philippens and Mairéad Hickey, violists Brett Dean and Dana Zemtsov, and cellists Johannes Moser, Leonard Elschenbroich and Anastasia Kobekina in over 50 concerts across west Cork. Including Bach, Mozart and Haydn; Schubert, Schumann and Brahms; Mendelssohn brother and sister; Ravel and Fauré; Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Weinberg, Bartók and Britten, alongside familiar contemporaries like Peteris Vasks, Brett Dean, Deirdre Gribbin, Sofia Gubaidulina and Thomas Larcher and new names like Caroline Shaw, David Lang and Jake Heggie. westcorkmusic.ie

Kaleidoscope Festival (June 26th-28th): Inclusive, family camping festival in Russborough, Co Wicklow, with music (Basement Jaxx, Divine Comedy), theatre, sports and food. kaleidoscopefestival.ie


Cairde Sligo Arts Festival (July 4th-12th): Songs By The Sea gigs along Sligo's coast, theatre from Hoipolloi's Shon Dale Jones, dance theatre company Junk Ensemble in residency, open submission exhibition at The Model, Tumble Circus Big Top. cairidefestival.com

West Cork Literary Festival (July 10th-17th): Writers visiting Bantry, Co Cork include Jung Chang, Paul Muldoon, Hannah Sullivan, Eimear McBride, Leslie Jamison, Cynan Jones, Sara Baume, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Frank Ormsby and Jane Casey, alongside workshops. westcorkmusic.ie

Earagail Arts Festival (July 9th-26th): bilingual multidisciplinary festival across Donegal, from Arranmore Island to Letterkenny, including five days of songwriting, cultural tours, sessions and concerts in Malin with The Henry Girls. eaf.ie

Galway International Arts Festival (July 13th-26th): The 43rd festival comes slap in the middle of Galway 2020, for which GIAF's Paul Fahy commissioned Irish artist John Gerrard to create two artworks responding to climate crisis on LED walls in a mirror pavilion. Straw Work is at the city's Claddagh Quay from April, and Leaf Work on Connemara's 4,000-year-old Derrimlagh Bog in autumn. Early highlights are the hotly anticipated musical theatre adaptation of Patrick McCabe's Breakfast on Pluto (by Bob Kelly, music by Duke Special, directed and co-created by Des Kennedy), and top acts include the Pixies, The Flaming Lips, Sinéad O'Connor, Jon Hopkins, The Academic and The Stunning. giaf.ie

Dublin Horse Show (July 25th-19th): Showjumping at the RDS, but also craft, food and fashion. dublinhorseshow.com

Tread Softly (July 27th-August 7th): The ninth festival inspired by Co Sligo's landscape and myths includes Bare Hazel responding to north Sligo mythology; Walking Birds Mountain with visual artists, writers, folklorists and archaeologists exploring Sliabh Dá Eán on Lough Gill; large-scale relief sand sculpture on Cliffoney beach; literary broadsheet The Cormorant; underwater exhibition inspired by Book of Invasions. treadsoftly.ie

Spraoi (July 31st-August 2nd): Waterford City is magical for the street art festival. spraoi.com


All Together Now(August 1st-5th): New-ish festival kid on the block in Curraghmore, Co Waterford, includes godfather of punk Iggy Pop and Girl Band alltogethernow.ie

Kilkenny Arts Festival (August 6th-16th): Early highlights from director Olga Barry include a fully staged co-production with Opera Collective of Handel's Semele, directed by Patrick Mason, Christian Curnyn conducting Akademie Für Alte Musick; two world premieres – of new work by US composer Caroline Shaw (Chamber Choir Ireland/Carnegie Hall/Ars Nova co-commission), and by Irish composer Linda Buckley (with Crash Ensemble); UK pianist Imogen Cooper performing Schubert and Beethoven, and Irish Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Choir Ireland performing Mozart's Requiem and Clarinet Concerto, with soloist/conductor Jörg Widmannat; Netherlands-based viol/lute ensemble The Puncke's Delight with guest Malcolm Proud; Austrian violinist and conductor Thomas Zehetmair with the Zehetmair Quartet. Two premieres of dance pieces – one by Luke Murphy/ Attica Productions and John Scott Dance's The Migration Sonata. kilkennyarts.ie

Fleadh Ceoil na hÉireann (August 2nd-9th): This year the Fleadh moves to Mullingar, where it started in 1951, for The Homecoming, epic céilí and competition. fleadhcheoil.ie

National Heritage Week (August 15th-23rd): Communities and cultural institutions, academics and enthusiasts open the door, and the gate, to our heritage. heritageweek.ie

Masters of Tradition (August 19th-23rd): Martin Hayes opens and closes his Bantry festival. westcorkmusic.ie

Waterford Walls (August 20th-23rd): The streets become an open-air gallery of street art. waterfordwalls.ie


Electric Picnic (September 4th-6th): Ever-growing (70,000 capacity this year) Stradbally, Co Laois gig sells out before announcing its lineup (coming in March). This year a new Mind and Body section replaces Body&Soul, which concentrates on its summer solistice, and there's a new section FishTown, with Jerry Fish's Electric Sideshow. electricpicnic.ie

Dublin Fringe (September 5th-20th): The 26th year of the curated, multi-disciplinary festival of the coolest, most cutting edge theatre and performance around. fringefest.com

National Ploughing Championships (September 15th-17th): Mud, marquees and tractors – but a lot more besides, Fenagh, Co Carlow. npa.ie

Culture Night (September 18th): Save the date for the annual cultural feast, now countrywide. culturenight.ie

Dublin Theatre Festival (September 24th-October 11th): Line-up to come, but we look forward to the Abbey's epic new play cycle by Marina Carr, The Boy, channelling the pain and beauty of Greek myth into a new form. dublintheatrefestival.com

Baboró (October 12th-18th): For Galway 2020, the children's arts festival premieres The Veiled Ones, a Junk Ensemble dance about the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren; The Streets Are Ours, a year-long promenade performance project mixing parkour, dance and circus; For the Love of Sweat, devising a new sport. baboro.ie

October and November

Wexford Festival Opera (October 20th-November 1st): Rosetta Cucchi's first programme is inspired by Shakespeare (Ein Wintermärchen by Karl Goldmark; Le Songe d'une nuit d'été by Ambroise Thomas; Edmea by Alfredo Catalani; plus the day-time Pocket Operas/Opera Beag). With a new Wexford Factory Academy for young Irish singers, and 70 performances and events. wexfordopera.com

Bram Stoker Festival (October 23rd-26th): Gothically inspired events in Dublin celebrating Dracula's author. bramstokerfestival.com

Kilkenomics (November 5th -8th): Kilkenny's economics/comedy mashup. kilkenomics.com

Cork Film Festival (November 7th-17th): Award-winning international films corkfilmfest.org

This time next year: (From late November): Expect seasonal events including Waterford Winterval (winterval.ie); Glow Cork (glowcork.ie); Elftown at Galway Racecourse (elftowngalway.com); Ériu, Body&Soul's new winter event; and NYF Dublin (nyfdublin.com).