The Best Festivals & Fairs in Northern Ireland this Summer
by Paul Joseph | Published May 13, 2016
From bustling towns and cities to peaceful lakelands, lush green forests, towering cliffs and heart-stopping beaches, Northern Ireland is one of the UK’s finest destinations at any time of year. But the summer months, in particular, have the added advantage of some superb festivals and fairs. Here are 12 of the best.
Irish Game Fair & Fine Food Festival
Shanes Castle, 25 – 26 June
While much of Northern Ireland today consists of major cities and conurbations, the rural way of life remains close to the heart of its citizens. Each year, the country’s rich pastoral heritage is celebrated at the Irish game Fair & Fine Food Festival, an action-packed two-day event for anyone with a keen interest in the Irish countryside, young or old. Held in the beautiful surroundings of Shanes Castle, a ruined fortress near Randalstown in County Antrim, the festival serves to promote all things rustic, including country sports, farming and conservation. The programme features an array of entertainment and educational activities, such as hunting, shooting and fishing displays and competitions, as well as a wide variety of food stalls. If you can’t make it June, there’s also a sister festival, held at Birr Castle, which takes place in August. (Photo: Irish Game Fair & Fine Food Festival)
City of Derry Guitar Festival
North West Regional College, 26 – 28 August
In an age where kids spend most of their time on tablets and phones, the art of learning a musical instrument is starting to feel like a quaint remnant of the past. But events like the City of Derry Guitar Festival serve as a much-needed reminder that there is huge enjoyment and satisfaction to be gained from mastering a tool of the musical trade. Now into its 14th year, the festival is held in partnership with North West Regional College and features a host of top quality concerts and performances by renowned guitarists from across the globe, including local talent from Northern Ireland itself. As you’d expect, there’s also a strong educational component, with master classes, workshops and ensembles, all held in a relaxed and informal environment. So whether you’re already on your way to becoming the next Eric Clapton, or have never picked up a guitar in your life, the festival offers a fun and engaging experience for all. (Photo: Paola Capatti)
Foyle Maritime Festival
Queens Cay, 9 – 17 July
If you’re taking part in a 40,000 mile ocean race, the least you can expect is a hearty reception when you pitch up on land for a well-earned break. Happily, the people of Derry are more than keen to oblige, as the city once again marks the stopover of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race with a vibrant week-long festival as it welcomes the Derry-Londonderry-Doire yacht racing team back home. One of 15 port stops across six continents, the Clipper crews can expect to be greeted by a throng of crowds at Queens Quay, as well as an array of displays and events, including water athlete performances, arts and crafts, a pirate style treasure hunt through the city, and an outdoor concert. Though few would begrudge the weary racers if they simply fancied a quiet sit down and a cup of tea. (Photo: Foyle Maritime Festival)
Fiddler’s Green International Festival
Rostrevor, 24 – 31 July
There are fly-by-night festivals and then there are festivals that have become part of the fabric of the community in which they are held. The latter description certainly applies to the week-long Fiddler’s Green International Festival, which was celebrates its 30th birthday this July and promises another hugely diverse programme of activities and attractions. Taking place in the charming village of Rostrevor in County Down, the family-friendly festival – which began as a humble one-day event back in 1987 – has grown to become an exceptional and hugely popular celebration of music, art and culture. In fact, there’s so much to see and do, it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with…live outdoor music (of all genres), art exhibitions, a literary pub crawl, arts and crafts workshops, children’s entertainment, awards ceremonies to honour Irish musicians and a lunchtime folk club. All, of course, accompanied by lashings of that famous Irish ‘craic’. (Photo: Fiddler’s Green International Festival)
River to Lough Festival
Antrim Castle Gardens, 2 July June
When school’s out this summer, Lough Neagh and its waterways will host the River to Lough Festival for the first time at Antrim Castle Gardens. Now in its third year, the award-winning food festival will sail into a new venue to celebrate the world renowned Lough Neagh Eel. A truly family friendly event, it includes cookery demonstrations and lessons, an eel heritage exhibition, storytelling by Lough Neagh fishermen and line demonstrations. Live entertainment will get the toes tapping and children can view heritage boats and tour the community garden. There’ll also be a pop-up restaurant serving a traditional eel supper – though be sure to book in advance. (Photo: River to Lough Festival)
Walled City Music
The Glassworks, 2 – 5 June
Founded in 2008 with the overarching aim of bringing outstanding classical music making to the heart of cultural life in Derry, Walled City Music attracts artists of international calibre from around the world. Held in the historical and eye-catching environs of The Glassworks, formerly a Presbyterian Church, this year’s festival will present four action-packed days of high-quality classical music concerts and events, featuring renowned guest artists including Andy Akiho and Ian David Rosenbaum, Jeremy Denk, Measha Brueggergosman and the festival’s Co-Artistic Directors, Cathal Breslin and Sabrina Hu. In addition to its annual festival, Walled City Music also runs workshops, masterclasses and other activities, designed too help and encourage people’s skills in the field of music-making. (Photo: Walled City Music)
Danny Boy Jazz and Blues Festival
Venues across Limavady, 9 – 12 June
Jazz and Blues fans visiting Northern Ireland this June are in for a serious treat. Celebrating its 20th birthday, the Danny Boy Jazz and Blues Festival comes to the market town of Limavady in County Londonderry and is promising to be the biggest and best yet. To mark the two-decade milestone, the festival will be putting on an extra night’s music and fun, as well as hosting a Curtain Raiser gig in the Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre. Notable names featuring in this year’s line-up include Dave Martin – a well-respected figure on the Northern Ireland music scene – and Blues guitar legend Ronnie Greer. (Photo: Danny Boy Jazz and Blues Festival)
Heart of the Glens Festival
Cushendall, 6 – 14 August
One of the most successful community festivals in Northern Ireland, the 26th anniversary of the Heart of the Glens Festival will see a typically varied and entertaining programme of family-friendly events. Taking place in the village of Cushendall in County Antrim, the festival will open with fireworks, while throughout the week there will be the usual favourites that have made this one of the most eagerly awaited events on the national calendar, including the Lurig Run, Vintage Family Fun Day, Dance Workshop, a mouth-watering food village and cookery demonstrations. Another highlight arrives on Friday 12th August, when hundreds of revellers descend on the village for a night of live entertainment. Will you be one of them? (Photo: Heart of the Glens Festival)
Hillsborough International Oyster Festival
Hillsborough, 30 August – 4 September
How many oysters can you eat in three minutes? Most people wouldn’t know, but at Ireland’s array of annual oyster festivals the competition is the main game. Now in its 24th year, the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival is one such occasion, with the current Guinness World Record made at the 2005 edition, with an eye-boggling 233 in three minutes. Anyone who thinks they can do better will have the chance to put their molluscs where their mouth is this coming August, when the event returns to Hillsborough village, Co. Down and at venues across the surrounding area. As well as the World Oyster Eating Championship, the 2016 programme will also include other perennial favourites such as the Oysters Masters Golf Day, the Pearl and Oyster Ball, Super Car Sunday and the Soapbox Derby. (Photo: Hillsborough International Oyster Festival)
Stendhal Festival of Art
Ballmully Cottage Farm, 12 – 13 August
Celebrating the creativity of artists from all over Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and further afield, this is much more than just a music festival. Set in the picturesque surroundings of Ballymully Cottage Farm on the outskirts of Limavady, Stendhal Festival of Art brings an all encompassing artistic experience to the Roe Valley – home of “Danny Boy” the iconic Irish ballad. In 2003, it was voted Ireland’s Best Small Festival and its reputation has continued rising ever since. As well as live music, the event also hosts dance, theatre, arts and crafts markets, sculptures, poetry readings, workshops, comedy, morning yoga and much more. (Photo: Stendhal Festival of Art)
Hilden Beer & Music Festival
Hilden Brewery, 26 – 28 August
Ireland’s longest established open-air festival, the Hilden Beer and Music Festival has been a staple on the country’s annual calendar since the inaugural edition in August 1984. The event has taken on a whole new life in recent years thanks to the increased popularity of craft beers and live music in Northern Ireland. Today more than 20 musical acts perform over a full weekend, with a line-up featuring rock, ska, blues, traditional and singer song writing talent, often found dolling out their sounds in the landscaped Giant Tipi Garden. Furthermore, with over 30 beers available from a wide range of attending breweries, it’s fair to say that local produce and tradition are at the heart of this hugely popular festival. (Photo: Hilden Beer & Music Festival)
Sea Bangor Festival
Bangor, 4 – 5 June
Taking place in a tented village in Quay Street, this popular maritime festival is packed to the brim with fun activities for all the family. Highlights include the “Big Bangor BBQ” competition which includes demonstrations by celebrity chefs, sausage making challenges and a kiddies’ illusion show. There’s also maritime themed street theatre, a live music programme, a gourmet food fayre, an aerial display from the Twister Aerobatic Team, state-of-the-art water toy demonstrations and a chance to sail the high seas on the spectacular “Mercedes” ship, with morning and early evening trips available across the two days. (Photo: Sea Bangor Festival)
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