A trip to Ireland means a traditional friendly welcome, amazing scenery, a great deal to see and do and a myriad of Celtic experiences to engage in with plenty of interesting characters to encounter along the way.
One of the best ways to get to grips with the Irish and their lifestyle is to embrace one of the literally hundreds of festivals of every conceivable size, shape and theme that go on throughout the year.
Anyone who has been will tell you that getting up close to an Irish festival is a pleasure for all of the senses – it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to experience life on the Emerald Isle.
Joining in with one of these festivals, as cities, towns and villages convene for an infusion of the renowned Irish craic, adds an extra dimension to a trip to the land of saints and scholars.
It puts you in direct touch with the friendliest people on the planet, as well as providing authentic cultural experiences, fabulous food and endless leisure possibilities: everything you could need for a great time.
All of the ingredients for a memorable trip are assembled in abundance in Northern Ireland, where there is a particularly strong line-up of events in 2012.
As well as opening a host of brand new world-class visitor attractions, the region is this year holding an array of special festivals related to important anniversaries and milestones in its history.
The capital city Belfast, for instance, widely regarded as the new must-see European destination, is the focus for the worldwide commemorations and celebrations for the 2012 centenary of RMS Titanic.
The city that designed and built the transatlantic liner has already witnessed the opening of the world’s largest Titanic-themed visitor attraction and the hosting of an amazing Titanic Belfast Festival.
In June it will continue the 2012 celebrations with a Land of Giants festival (30 June), the biggest outdoor arts event ever seen in Northern Ireland.
The inspiration comes from Northern Ireland’s ´giants´ – among them the mighty Titanic herself; mythical warrior Finn McCool of Giant’s Causeway fame; and those towering symbols of Belfast, the Samson and Goliath cranes located in the old Harland & Wolff Shipyard which built Titanic.
Considering where it will take place – the original slipways of Titanic and with the backdrop of the iconic Titanic Belfast building – the gigantic theme is highly appropriate.
Astounding acrobatics, aerial dance, carnivals, music, multi-media shows and mind-blowing pyrotechnics are all on offer, making this an unforgettable way to experience the new and rejuvenated Belfast and get up close to the people of Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second city, is also very much to the fore in the festival mix for 2012.
It will be well worth stopping in this historic walled city for the Peace One Day concert on midsummer’s day (21 June) – this is actually the opener for the London 2012 Festival that will run alongside the Olympic Games and it also marks the start of the three-month countdown to Peace Day on 21 September.
International acts such as Imelda May, Newton Faulkner, Guillemots and Wonder Villains will rock the city; Derry~Londonderry will be put on a rocking party in response.
As the nominated UK City of Culture for 2013 Derry~Londonderry already has a well-earned reputation as a welcoming, happening and culturally animated place to visit.
Drop anchor there too if you fancy exploring the salty sights and sounds of a maritime-themed festival showcasing the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, visiting an Irish port for the first time in 2012.
The 10-strong fleet is due to arrive in Derry~Londonderry in late June-early July to conclude the transatlantic stage of the 40,000-mile race, the longest ocean-going event in the world.
The city’s own yacht is competing in the race to highlight its UK City of Culture 2013 status and the local population is preparing to provide a four-day Irish welcome home festival like no other.
The Irish capital is one of the easiest places to start a holiday in Ireland – vibrant and friendly Dublin is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, combining all the features of a major city with all the character of a traditional Irish town.
Put down your roots there for a few days (31 May – 4 June) at Bloom, Ireland’s largest gardening, food and craft festival, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular show gardens, live cookery and craft demonstrations, free gardening advice from the experts, workshops on all things horticultural and great live music.
Ireland’s celebrity chefs will be in attendance, as will many of the country’s brilliant and dedicated artisan food producers, well worth meeting.
Taking place in Dublin’s famous Phoenix Park, children go free (up to three with each paying adult), so there is a substantial family element also.
As befits the capital however, one of best festivals in Ireland in 2012 will sail regally into Dublin in August, when the city becomes the final host port for the amazing Tall Ship Races spectacle.
The Tall Ships Festival (23–26 August) will see up to 100 vessels arriving at the thriving Dublin Docklands area for a four-day extravaganza.
With activities for all ages available, the atmosphere around the Docklands will be international and electric as the renowned Irish welcome is extended to the crews and majestic ships from as far away as Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and the USA, as well as European and Baltic countries.
Visitors will be able to board the ships, meet the sailors, as well as take in free street entertainment, live music, parades, funfairs, treasure hunts, street food, water sport activities and much more.
Encountering new people and soaking up the party atmosphere is what an Irish festival is all about, and doing so will be easy at another major Irish city, Cork, renowned for its culinary flair and vibrant cultural scene.
The Cork Midsummer Festival (21 June – 1 July) is well-known for offering experiences that appeal to everyone.
Now in its fifteenth year, this festival’s speciality is putting on extraordinary theatre, dance, music, opera, visual arts and street arts shows from around the world.
It will be in all of Cork’s major venues as well as in surprising locations around the city.
Cork Midsummer Festival overlaps also with another long-running event in the city of substantial appeal to music lovers.
Live at the Marquee (7–28 June) is a series of live gigs that has lured the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Lady Gaga to perform in Cork in the past; this year acts include Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Irish folk legend Christy Moore.
The festival scene in Galway is regarded as the best in the country, and indeed the west coast city’s reputation as a cultural centre of excellence and festival destination throughout the year is pretty much unsurpassable.
July 2012 is particularly unmissable because the city has been selected as the host port for the Volvo Ocean Race Grand Finale (30 June – 8 July), but just days later one of the most significant arts festivals in the world, the Galway Arts Festival (16–29 July), also kicks off.
If your holiday on the west coast takes you near this historic city in July, you are in for an incredible party.
The Volvo Ocean Race will be a major festival of maritime sport, culture and arts, entertainment and Irish food; festival goers will be completely spoilt with amazing entertainment.
Thrilling in-port racing takes place against the backdrop of a ‘Race Village’ set up in Galway harbour and featuring shows, hospitality, exhibitions and entertainment as well as a ‘Global Village’ embracing the cultures from each of the race’s stopovers around the world.
The Galway Arts Festival meanwhile is the ultimate summer getaway for culture-seekers.
Over 150,000 people attend, at least a third from overseas.
Hundreds of writers, artists, performers and musicians will create a host of significant theatre, spectacle, street art, music, comedy, literature and music experiences over a stunning fortnight of cultural activity and celebration not to be missed.
A stop off at the popular Galway Races (30 July – 5 August) will complete your festival schedule in Galway. Fancy your chances on the horses with a bit of Irish luck or showcase your style at the glamorous ladies day.
The streets of Galway will be alive with music, dance and festivities this summer – a programme not to be missed.
In August the festival action switches to the medieval city of Kilkenny.
Having run for an incredible 39 years, Kilkenny Arts Festival (10–19 August) is renowned for inspiring the locality with exciting events for all the family.
This year it will feature Irish and international visual art, world and traditional Irish music as well as classical music, theatre and dance, jazz, literature, film, indie music, craft, children’s and street events.
Kilkenny also puts on eagerly anticipated The Cat Laughs Comedy Festival (31 May – 4 June) in the summertime and its fantastic overall festival offering is typical of the major Irish cities.
The opportunities to meet and celebrate the Irish culture are endless. Outside the cities festivals of all kinds happen right across Ireland, with almost every small town and village in the country flying the festival flag for some reason or other at some point in the year.
How come so many are condensed into one relatively small island?
Well, the Irish just love a festival. It’s in their nature to throw out plenty of creative ideas for a celebration and then draw everyone into their culture.
Colourful, vibrant and full of fun – all you have to do is join in.