May is a very good month to visit Ireland. The average temperature is in the low 50s, with occasional highs into the 60s (F). Spring is turning into summer, so the magnificent landscape is dotted with new-born lambs, at least 35 of the 40 recognized shades of green are in evidence, and wildflowers are blooming in abundance. Ah, it’s grand, so ‘tis.
To launch the summer in the best way possible, the first weekend in May is a bank holiday weekend (meaning most businesses and schools are closed on the Monday) in celebration of May Day or the ancient feast of Bealtaine.
Here are the best of the festivals and major events taking place in Ireland during May 2014. Enjoy!
Naas, Co. Kildare – April 29-May 3, 2014
Billed as the “grand finale” of the National Hunt season, the Punchestown festival sees top trainers and jockeys from both sides of the Irish sea competing for the final big prizes of the season. Racing is always a great day out, and this 5-day festival is full of thrills and excitement.
Burren, Co. Clare – May 1-June 1, 2014
The Burren is at its finest in May, with hundreds of wildflowers (many unique or rare) in bloom. A series of guided walks with local experts and talks from world-renowned archaeologists, scientists, historians, and botanists are offered throughout the month with the goal of increasing the appreciation and understanding of the Burren’s unique botanical, archaeological and cultural wealth.
Dingle, Co. Kerry – May 1-5, 2014
There’s a little bit of everything in Dingle’s Bealtaine festival: music, art, theater, poetry, song, and all steeped in ancient tradition. The festival, like the Dingle peninsula, is bi-lingual, and visitors will enjoy a window into traditional Irish culture you won’t find at other festivals.
Derry, Co. Derry – May 1-5, 2014
A fusion of modern jazz and the old-school big band sound (that’s coming back into fashion), the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival is one-of-a-kind. Offering everything from the full-orchestra ballroom performance to the intimate late-night speakeasy experience, there’s something for every fan from the footloose and fancy free to the whole family.
Belfast, Northern Ireland – May 1-11, 2014
Now regarded as one of the most-vibrant and dynamic arts events on the island, Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival began as an attempt to create a socially inclusive and high-profile arts festival that showcased an international perspective on arts and culture. Drawing huge crowds, the festival regularly features headline acts from around the world and the Irish diaspora.
Killarney, Co. Kerry – May 2-4, 2014
We love all manner of racing in Ireland, and rallying is very popular. During my childhood, we were regularly packed into a car on the weekends and rushed off to stake out good vantage points at sharp curves on bumpy roads in the middle of nowhere to watch my uncle and other competitors compete at various events on the rally circuit. The Rally of the Lakes takes place in one of the most-scenic parts of Ireland, Killarney in Co. Kerry, and is a wonderful festive weekend for motorsport enthusiasts,
Bray, Co. Wicklow – May 2-4, 2014
The best jazz in this picturesque seaside town in Co. Wicklow.
Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny – May 2-5, 2014
An odd festival at first glance, as it showcases Americana and other forms of “roots” music: Cajun, rockabilly, folk, country, etc., but which are quite popular in Ireland. This is where you’ll see and hear artists you won’t find at other festivals.
Limerick, Co. Limerick – May 2-5, 2014
Music, food, fashion, watersports, and competitive events all capped off with a grand firework display. Riverfest is designed to show off the best that Limerick and the River Shannon has to offer. A fun-filled urban festival with all the amenities.
Kinnitty & Clonaslee, Co. Offaly – May 2-5, 2014
Hikes through the Slieve Bloom Mountains lead by experienced local walkers. There’s something for all levels of fitness. Do bring rain gear and make sure you’re in shape beforehand. This is an event for the fit and dedicated.
Coleraine, Co. Derry – May 10-17, 2014
This leading motorbike race takes place on the public roads (don’t worry, they’re closed) around Coleraine, Co. Derry, and claims it’s the “largest sporting event in Ireland” based on spectators (real and online) over the course of a week of races. Is you thrill to the high-pitched sound of souped-up motorbikes, this is an event you’ll want to check out.
Shanagarry, Co. Cork – May 16-18, 2014
Hosted by the BallyMaloe Cookery School, the Lit Fest of Food and Wine gathers some of the world’s top chefs and cookery experts for a weekend of masterclasses, talks, food tastings, and fun at Ballymaloe House, a 17th century country house built into the remains of a much older Norman Keep. This is the premiere event for foodies in Ireland!
Gorey, Co. Wexford – 22-25th May, 2014
The World Sheep Shearing Championships take place in a different country every year, and 2014 is Ireland’s turn to host. This isn’t a participatory event, as it’s a competitive gathering of the best sheep shearers from around the world all competing for the “Golden Shears,” and it’s a massive agricultural show as well. The atmosphere will be festive, as there will be large arts, crafts, and food markets, so there should be something of interest to everyone as well as a rather unique competition. Anyway, who doesn’t love sheep!
Listowel, Co. Kerry – May 28-June 1
Listowel, Co. Kerry, plays host to a high-profile contingent of international writers and a selection of young up-and-coming Irish authors in this storied week celebrating the written word. There’s even a large amount of children’s programming, making this festival more family friendly.
Ratoath, Co. Meath – May 28-June 1, 2014
Drawing top international competitors in dressage, cross country and show jumping, the Tattersalls International Horse Trials is one of the flagship events in the European eventing calendar. The top-flight horse trials are combined with a country fair to provide good food, entertainment, shopping, and children’s activities, making this a great weekend for both casual and more serious fans of eventing.
Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny – May 29-June 2, 2014
End the month with a laugh or three in Kilkenny City. The Cat laughs festival brings top names from the UK and Ireland together for a fun-filled weekend in the beautiful city of Kilkenny.
Phoenix Park, Dublin – May 29-June 2, 2014
Ireland’s largest garden show takes place in Dublin’s Phoenix Park over the June bank-holiday weekend. Featuring several imaginative show gardens specially constructed for the event, Bloom is an opportunity for all gardeners to get inspired, locate hard-to-find plants, and learn a few trick of the trade. The festival is family focused, with lots of activities for children, opportunities to sample foods made with home-grown ingredients, and numerous sources of entertainment. If the weather co-operates, it’s a glorious weekend in the park.
Lismore, Co. Waterford – May 31 & June 1, 2014
A unique festival presenting opera and classical music in an open-air environment in the grounds of Lismore Castle. A must for opera fans!
Those are the major festivals and annual events that draw the crowds in May. Did I miss any of your favorites? Please let me know in the comments if there are any other May events that you wouldn’t miss or any new events that are worth checking out.
If you are visiting Ireland in May, have a safe journey and I hope you’ll enjoy at least one of these events. Go n-eírí an bóthar leat. — May the road rise with you. (May your journey meet with success.)
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