Unusual Irish Festivals
The Irish sure love their parties and fleadhs (that would be “festivals”, to you and I). Besides the festivals of Cork and Galway as outlined in previous posts, the Republic of Ireland plays host to a whole slew of other festivals that it celebrates throughout the year, each for a different occasion or purpose. Take heed that while some of which may fall under what most people are accustomed to celebrating (like art or dance festivals), others may be centered about more bizarre premises. With that in mind, here are just a handful of eccentric festivals celebrated within Ireland.
1) The Rose of Tralee International Festival
Where It’s Held: County Kerry, and all over the world.
What It Is: The festival has founded its way, thanks to Irish diaspora, to many parts of the world, though the largest of which still resides in County Kerry. Though it may come across as a sort of glorified beauty pageant, the festival should not be merely dismissed as such. Instead, in its 53rd year, it is one of Ireland’s largest and longest running festivals and its very essence is the celebration of Irish culture.
How It Came About: It’s based on the eponymous love song written by William Mulchinock, a wealthy merchant in the 19th Century, who was head over heels in love with his maid, Mary O’Connor. Their love was frowned upon, and given their different social castes, never to be. Today’s festival as we know it stemmed from Tralee’s Carnival Queen, which was resurrected following the war.
What Goes On: Every year, young women all around Ireland, and wherever the Irish diaspora is found, take part in their local Rose of Tralee contest. Each of such contests is a unique combination of beauty, talent, personality, and a matter of just how in touch with their culture the girls are. The winners of each local contest would then move on to take part in a regional contest, and following that, they would adjourn to County Kerry, where the finals are held year after year. Of course, what would an Irish festival be without street carnivals and parades? County Kerry becomes a bustling hub of activities, comprising various street carnivals, music gigs, firework shows, and street theatre each year, when the prospective Roses of Tralee descend upon it.
How Deserving It Is Of A Spot On This List: For some, it may be perceived as a thinly-veiled beauty pageant, masked by flimsy attempts at bringing culture into the picture. For the non-cynical, however, the festival is one of celebrations, fireworks, and good looking lasses; good looking lasses whose talents may involve such Irish traditions as being able to pull off a mean Riverdance routine. This, in itself, has granted it a place as one of Ireland’s most unusual festivals.
2) Carlingford Leprechaun Haunt
Where It’s Held: Carlington, County Louth.
What It Is: It’s just what its name might suggest.
How It Came About: Ireland’s Slieve Foy Mountain is the country’s – and probably the world’s – last known leprechaun habitat. In fact, this has even been recognized by the EU, which granted it the title of a Special Protection Area in 2010 for Little People. Cute, right?
What Goes On: Their penchant for green get-ups aside, it's no surprise that leprechauns hold an intrinsic tie with Ireland. People come from far and wide to take part in the nation’s collective effort to hunt for leprechauns. This hunt takes place every summer near the specially protected area, with cash incentives for each specially hidden leprechaun to be found. Attendees have to acquire a prospecting license in order to participate in the hunt, with each going at 5 Euros. Proceeds, of course, go to charity. Organizers do have one rule, which is that any real leprechauns (read: not the ones planted by them to be exchanged for cash prizes) should be left unharmed and uninterrupted. Attempts to capture them on attach leashes to them will, of course, not be tolerated.
How Deserving It Is Of A Spot On This List: About 8 out of 10 bizarre-shaped stars, I’d say. Imagine people of all shapes and sizes decked out in full-blown leprechaun gear (as it is encouraged and widely adhered to) crouching low, looking about for tiny, sprites. Still, it makes for a fun, family activity, which ties in uniquely Irish values as well. Plus, it celebrates the EU’s decision to gamely protect the 236 leprechauns alleged to still be living in Ireland.
3) Puck Fair
Where It’s Held: Killorglin, County Kerry.
What It Is: Undisputedly Ireland’s oldest traditional fair, the festival revolves around hundreds of thousands of people gathering in the otherwise sleepy town of Killorglin to bear witness to – and celebrate – the crowning of that year’s King Puck. Sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it?
How It Came About: This curious celebration dates as far back as to the 17th Century. As legend has it, the British forces under Oliver Cromwell were in the midst of seizing a nearby countryside, when a heard of mountain goats grazing in the McGillycuddy Reeks nearby were disturbed. This male goat (or puck) had had enough of Cromwell’s pesky men, and broke from the perk. It then proceeded to run all the way to Killorglin. When the townspeople saw him, they took it as a sign that the British forces were soon approaching, and therefore took the necessary measures to protect themselves from the oncoming marauders. Evidently their gratitude was not a fleeting one, as we still see the people of Killorglin crowning the nobel puck’s descendents, and holding fairs in his honour year after year.
What Goes On: Every August, large crowds gather in celebration of the crowning of a new exalted monarch – a goat from the mountains. That’s right, the newly anointed King Puck, would then be hoisted onto a platform around 10 meters in the air, while the rest of the town extends their celebrations to three days.
The first of which is known as the Gathering Day, which traditionally sees traders from the travelling community joining in on the festivities, whereupon the Coronation Parade would take place around the tall platform in the town’s epicenter, followed by processions from the local community.
It is only after this that the King Puck is crowned. The second day is when cattle markets are held, and on the third day, the King Puck would be dethroned (and presumably sent back into the wild to live like its brethren, never to experience anything quite like this again – until the next year, hopefully).
The atmosphere is thick with joyous festivities, as the town’s pubs brim with happily tipsy people, celebrating their goat friend.
How Deserving It Is Of A Spot On This List: Repeat its name 3 times fast. But aside from that, I guess the festival doesn’t register as all that unusual, upon delving into its origins. Still, a goat in a crown? Fully deserving of its spot!
With this, it can be reasonably deduced that the people of Ireland are an appreciative lot; they hardly run out of occasions to celebrate and commemorate, and are always up for a drink or two, a party here, or a parade there. And who’s complaining?