8 Most Popular Irish Festival Celebrations to Learn About

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Festivals are happy events where people gather to dance, eat exceptional food, remember great historical times, and have fun together. Yet, this is not what festivals are all about, and there is so much beyond the food, outfits, or any other tradition associated with it. Festivals are events that commemorate special occasions or incidents, revealing the culture and traditions of each country. 

Today, we are shedding light on the Irish festival celebrations. Ireland is a beautiful country with rich history, unique culture, friendly people, delicious food, and amazing landscapes. No matter where you come from, it is always a great idea to learn about the cultures of the rest of the world. And while there are many ways to acquire that knowledge, learning about the happy moments could be the best. 

Walk with us through this exciting list of the most popular Irish festivals. We will get to know what happens at each festival, what people eat because there is always exceptional food during celebrations, and whether special outfits are associated with the event. 

Irish Festival Number 1: St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is the most prominent Irish festival that takes place every year. Some people also call it the Feast of Saint Patrick. It is considered a religious celebration that occurs on 17 March. That day marks the death of the renowned Saint Patrick. 

Who exactly was Saint Patrick? Well, he was the patron saint of Ireland back in ancient times, around the 5th century. He was born in Britain but immigrated to Ireland and took the credit for bringing Christianity for the first time into the country. St. Patrick died on 17 March in 461; that’s why people commemorate his legacy on this day every year. 

Saint Patrick was also a holy man who did many great things in Ireland. Some people used to believe that, thanks to him, snakes no longer stayed in Ireland. He also built lots of schools, churches, and monasteries. 

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Irish Man and Woman Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

On this unique Irish festival, people march in parades in the streets of different cities. They wear green as the national colour of Ireland. It is said that this colour has great significance in the Irish culture for many various reasons. First of all, it is part of the Irish Flag. Also, it is the colour that the mythical creatures, Leprechauns, wear. Most importantly, it is the colour of the shamrock plant that is said that St. Patrick used to explain the concept of the Trinity. 

Irish Festival Number 2: St. Stephen’s Day (Feast of Saint Stephen)

Another Irish festival dedicated to a saint is St. Stephen’s Day. This festival takes place every year on 19 December. People take the time to honour the memory of yet another precious patron saint that greatly influenced Ireland.

Saint Stephen was deemed the first Christian martyr who was killed for his profound faith in Christianity. The Jewish were the ones to kill him in a public place in the city by throwing stones. They accused him of blasphemy, which means speaking ill of other religions of God. Yet, the Irish believe he was a hero and don’t believe the Jewish claims.

Irish Festival Number 3: Samhain Festival (The Irish Halloween)

Samhain is an Irish Festival that takes place on the same day as Halloween, 31 October. It is rather pronounced as SAH-wen than what you are expecting. This festival takes two days, 31 October and 1 November. Both days are considered Halloween or other related festivals across different parts of the world.

People in Ireland consider it to be the festival for the dead. According to myths and legends, the doors of the mortal world are open on this day, and spirits of dead people come into our world. People in the past believed that good spirits belonged to their families who passed away, and there were evil spirits. 

For the belief in the evil spirits, people came up with the idea to wear scary outfits and masks to frighten the evil spirits and send them away. Over the years, this day has become associated with scary costumes and horror movies. Some believe that the American Halloween that is globally famous originated from this Irish festival.

Nowadays, people no longer believe in these mythical stories. They actually celebrate Samhain in happy vibes. They feast on their favorite food, wear fun outfits, and build altars to honour their deceased families. It is also the day that marks the beginning the start of autumn. People call it the beginning of the dark half of the year as the nights become a little longer than the mornings. 

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Children Celebrating Halloween

Irish Festival Number 4: May Day (The International Workers’ Day/Labour Day)

May Day may be one of the famous festivals in Ireland, but it also takes place in different countries, including the United States, Canada, and Egypt. This festival takes place on 1 May, honouring the struggles of workers and people involved in the labour movement. It is also known worldwide as International Workers’ Day or Labour Day.

In Ireland, this day is more concerned with the return of the summer season, which has been celebrated since ancient times. It goes way back to the times before Christianity arrived in Ireland. On this public holiday, people celebrate the arrival of summer by dancing, collecting flowers, and lighting a bonfire. 

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People Celebrating in The Office

Irish Festival Number 5: The Rose of Tralee International Festival

The Rose of Tralee is an international event in several Irish communities. It was inspired by the famous Irish ballad that dated back to the 19th century and was under the same name. This song was written about a beautiful woman called Mary; she was so beautiful that people gave her the title the Rose of Tralee.

Years later, the Rose of Tralee festival became a contest in August, where the women from Tralee took part. However, this rule changed years later to involve girls from parts outside Tralee. Irish girls worldwide or any girl from an Irish descendant can participate. The maximum age of each girl should not exceed 29. The winner is always the girl that resembles the attributes mentioned in the song’s lyrics.

Irish Festival Number 6: Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF)

Art is very appreciated in Ireland, and for that very reason, Galway started holding this famous Irish festival in 1978. This festival was founded by the Arts Society that was in University College Galway. They collaborated with Galway Arts Groups, producing this inspirational event.

This Irish festival lasts two weeks in late July on an annual basis, and it takes place in Galway. Galway Arts Festival exhibits different forms of art, where a diversity of artists contribute to showing their work. It could be anything from street art, dancing, music, visual arts, or theatre. 

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Stained glass window with colored crystals of blue, red, orange, white with a blue sky in the background

Irish Festival Number 7: Summer Solstice (Midsummer)

Irish people love to celebrate the beginning of every new season. Summer Solstice is the festival where the people are delighted for the arrival of summer. In the end, summer is when everyone travels with their families or friends, has fun, and has a great time by the beach, so it is worth the celebration. 

This Irish festival is also known as Midsummer Carnivals. It takes place on 21 June every year. On this day, people from different parts of Ireland head to the Hill in County Meath to watch the season’s first sunrise. Festivals also take place across other cities, where people light bonfires to celebrate the season, go dancing, and exchange gifts sometimes.

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Friends having fun at the beach

During this year, the sun travels a longer distance through the sky. That is why the daytime in summer is longer than the night. It goes the other way in winter when the night is longer than the day. In spring and autumn, both day and night start being equal, and so on. 

Irish Festival Number 8: The Winter Solstice

There is also the Winter solstice, where people mark the beginning of the darkest half of the year. These celebrations go way back to the Pagan times, before Christianity or other religions came forward. This Irish festival is an ancient ceremony; people go outdoors to celebrate the longest night of the year. 

Like many other festivals, people take the opportunity to gather and spend time together. Feasting is also an essential part of celebrations. Yule trees are decorated with beautiful ornaments and illuminating lights. This festival takes place on 21 December, marking the beginning of winter every year. It is also around the same time as Christmas celebrations; thus, people usually link them together.

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A Family Celebrating Winter Solstice along with Christmas

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