The Irish like to celebrate – as you may have noticed if you’ve ever attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade, but there’s more to Irish festivals than the well-known stalwarts. This year, venture beyond the Rose of Tralee or the Galway Arts Festival and take a look at some of these slightly off-the-wall events:
Although it ran for a total of just 25 episodes, the last of which aired in 1998, the Irish sitcom Father Ted still attracts a massive cult following – as you will see if you head to the Aran Island of Inis Mor in February. The series, which followed the farcical escapades of a trio of Irish Catholic priests on a remote outpost called Craggy Island, has inspired an annual celebration of everything Ted-related. (Warning: If you’ve never watched an episode, the following events will mean little to you.) “A Song For Europe,” the “Lovely Girls” competition, and the priests and nuns sports day are just some of the main attractions. There’s even buckaroo speed-dating – all in appropriate priestly fancy dress, of course.
All-Ireland Stone Skimming Championships, Kerry
Part of the Fenit Seabreeze Festival, which takes place in the North Kerry seaside town in June, the All-Ireland Stone Skimming Championships celebrate one of life’s overlooked skills. Stone skimming may never be an Olympic discipline, but it still takes practice and skill to flick a flat stone across the surface of the sea to yield the maximum number of bounces. Anyone can enter the Fenit competition, with the winner going on to represent Ireland in the battle for the title of World Stone-Skimming Champion. And if your wrists just aren’t up to champion skimming, you can always try the tug of war or donkey derby instead.
Puck Fair, Kerry
Take one wild mountain goat, crown him king, place him on a “throne” overlooking a small town in Kerry for three days of revelry, and you’ve got the annual Puck Fair. Believed to be Ireland’s oldest festival, it dates from 1613 and takes place in Killorglin from August 10th to 12th every year. Although the origins of the fair are debatable, a popular story is that when Oliver Cromwell sent his men to attack the area, a wild goat that fled before the advancing army alerted the townspeople to the impending danger, giving the locals time to prepare. According to this version of events, the crowning of King Puck is intended as a tribute to the goat. Whether or not this is true, the fair continues to be one of Ireland’s most colourful, continuing a tradition of horse and cattle fairs, music, parades, and fireworks.
Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, Clare
Matchmaking may not be as popular as it was in previous centuries, but thousands of single people still flock to the Clare town of Lisdoonvarna over six weeks every September and early October for the chance of romance – or at least a fun weekend. Willie Daly, who runs a local riding centre, is the only official matchmaker remaining in County Clare, and even he only practices part-time, but very little real matchmaking takes place at the festival anyway. Instead, it has developed into Europe’s biggest singles’ event, with dances running from noon each day and continuing into the early hours. If you don’t find love, you can always enjoy the set dancing exhibitions and live Irish music.
Irish Conker Championships, Kilkenny
Conkers are not just for kids, as the people of Freshford in Kilkenny have been demonstrating since 2000, when they launched the first Irish Conker Championships. Unleash your competitive spirit with a horse chestnut on a string and discover whether you are the best nut swinger in the land! Scheduled for Sunday October 27th 2013, the Irish Conker Championships involves contests for adults, children, and teams, and the competition gets quite intense, so the organisers recommend that you start practicing as soon as the first horse chestnuts fall from the trees.
Aoife O’Carroll is a staff writer for Nova Car Hire, a convenient website for arranging car rental in 26,000 locations worldwide, including car hire in Ireland.