This is the year of ‘The Gathering’ in Ireland where the 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish ancestry, whether close relatives or distant lineage, are invited home to gatherings in the towns, cities and villages of this friendly and welcoming country.
Ireland is pulling out all the stops with the best of Irish culture being showcased including the cheerful live music of cosy pubs, the fast-pace of national sports, or the fun and lively atmosphere unique to Ireland.
Whether your great-aunt Maeve is Irish, you’ve always wanted to experience Irish culture, or you just want to head over for the ‘craic’ (fun), this year is the time to go. With so many events happening this autumn in Ireland, we’ve rounded up some of the best for you.
Galway International Oyster Festival
After St Patrick’s Day, this festival is the most internationally recognised in Ireland. Ever watched a tense Oyster Shucking Championship? You can here. You can also see the ‘Oyster Pearl’ being crowned in the festival’s annual beauty pageant, parade through the streets in masquerade during the requisite Mardi Gras-style gala event, and listen to live music while gorging yourself on seafood in the Festival Marquee’s food village.
Established in 1954, this festival has been ranked by the Sunday Times as one of the ’12 greatest shows on earth’ – not bad for an oyster festival. Head over on the last weekend of September and get shucking.
Where to stay
Sleepzone Hostel Galway is situated in the centre of Galway City, close-by to pubs, restaurants, historical attractions and public transport links.
Dublin Festival Season
Dublin doesn’t just give you one festival during autumn – it puts on a whole season of them! From book festivals to theatre festivals, between September and October you’re sure to find a festival that tickles your fancy in Dublin.
Head over for the Fringe Festival, a showcase of the newest and the best Irish arts. Over 1,000 participants are scheduled for this year including artists from the field of dance, music, opera, circus, theatre and visual arts from all over the world. Experimental performance, risk-taking art and innovative works are guaranteed.
Then there’s Oktoberfest which sees the original Oktoberfest make its way over from Germany to give the Irish a taste of the German celebration of beer. A marquee is erected at Georges Dock and revellers are served by authentic Oktoberfest barmaids. Bavarian beer is accompanied by German food, fun and entertainment all within the lively atmosphere of Ireland.
For something a little different, get involved in the Bram Stoker Festival – a celebration of the Irish novelist who penned Dracula. Take a guided walking tour through the Victorian lanes of Stoker’s Dublin; attend a literary workshop or discussion exploring all things horror and vampire; and watch a spooky theatre spectacle in the darkened grounds of Dublin Castle.
Where to stay
The Dublin International Hostel is located close to the city centre and guarantees you a warm Irish welcome. The hostel holds regular events such as pub crawls and bus tours to get you acquainted with the sights and sounds of wonderful Dublin. A common room, outdoor eating area and games room make it easy to get to know your fellow travellers.
Cork Folk Festival
If you want to really immerse yourself in the culture of Ireland, the Cork Folk Festival is the place to go. Folk music is still an important part of Irish culture despite chart music, cinema and modern technology’s influence and, after attending the festival, you may start to hear its influence in the rock ‘n’ roll and pop punk music of more modern eras.
The 34-year-old Cork Folk Festival, held in October, sees some of the biggest names in Irish folk music performing in concert halls, music venues, bars and even on the streets. It’s one of the most important traditional music events in Ireland with Irish dancing, workshops, lectures and children’s events taking place alongside.
For this year’s Gathering, the festival organisers have invited all Irish emigrant musicians back to the Emerald Isle for a ‘giant fling’. It will be the biggest gathering of musicians seen in Cork and a monumental event not to be missed.
Where to stay
The Cork International Hostel is housed in a beautiful Victorian red brick building, near to some great pubs and across the road from University College Cork.
Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival
Lisdoonvarna may not be a large, bustling metropolis like the previous cities, but every year this spa town in County Clare puts on one of the biggest festivals in Ireland. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival attracts tens of thousands of people, some looking for love, some just looking for fun.
During September, every day from 12-noon onwards, dances are put on in locations all over town, with live music pounding until the early hours. The festival has been running for an incredible 150 years and originated when single farmers flocked to the town to find a wife during the era when the town’s mineral waters attracted tourists for the water’s healing qualities.
Now the festival is the town’s main tourist draw and attracts tens of thousands of people per year. Willie Daly, the town’s only official matchmaker, is the man to go to if you’re looking to get paired up with the partner of your dreams.
Where to stay
The Burren Hostel will ensure you’re close enough to all the action. Plus, as well as its convenient location in Lisdoonvarna, the hostel is within close proximity to the stunning Cliffs of Moher – a world-renown natural attraction.