8 Irish Festivals Making a Glorious Return This October

The state of Irish festivals under lockdown

One of the most frustrating things about the Coronavirus pandemic has been the constant cancellation of events and festivals around the country. Stay at home and social distancing measures meant that anything involving groups of people was cancelled. The uncertainty of the trajectory of the virus meant that some Irish festivals that we thought might actually go ahead were cancelled at the last second, further adding to our collective frustrations.

Many Irish festivals and events that involved months and even years of planning and preparation were also cancelled, which was devastating news for the event organisers and hopeful attendees alike – Galway’s turn as the “European Capital of Culture 2020” being one of the biggest tragedies.

Thankfully however, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine rollout has been ongoing now for several months, and nearly 90% of the eligible population over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

This means that all major Covid restrictions are finally about to be lifted. With things due to go back to some semblance of normal on October 22.

The restrictions that are being lifted include:

  • Physical distancing requirements 
  • Needing to wear masks while outdoors or in private settings
  • Limits on the numbers allowed at indoor and outdoor events
  • restrictions on religious or civil ceremonies
  • Limited numbers being allowed to meet at private residences 
  • Needing to provide proof of vaccination to participate in any events
  • Restrictions on “high-risk” activities like nightclubs

So, blissfully, festivals are making a return this year, and just in time for one of the most fun holidays we have: Halloween.

So, what events can we actually, genuinely, look forward to? Here’s just some great  Irish festivals and events happening this month.

Cork Guinness Jazz Festival


Fans of jazz rejoice.

After its disappointing cancellation last year, the Cork Guinness Jazz festival is making a return this month, and just in time for the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Guinness announced back in September that the festival is due to take place over the bank holiday weekend from the 22nd – 25th of October. This marks a huge milestone for the events industry and musicians in general. 

The festival always brings a huge amount of vibrancy to Cork city, and there is no doubt that this year will be no different – perhaps even a bit wilder than before. Expect Cork to be absolutely bursting at the seams with the sound of jazz.

Acts include Marc Copland, Jenny Greene & Generic People, King Kong Company, and many many more. The festival will be closed by hip-hop legend Yaslin Bey (FKA Mos Def), so we’d highly recommend trying to get tickets for that. 

Check out the full list of acts, venues, and prices on the official website.

Wexford Festival Opera


Wexford is not necessarily a county that many people would think of when they hear the word “opera”, but the Wexford Festival Opera is a huge event, not only in the town, but in the world of opera in general, winning Best Festival at the 2017 Opera Awards.

2021 is a particularly special year for this festival, as not only does it mark its return after last year’s cancellation, but it also marks its 70th anniversary.

The festival is known for breathing new life into forgotten masterpieces and has earned its reputation for high-quality productions that bring thousands of people from all over the world to Wexford town every year.

These productions are hosted by the breath-taking National Opera House in the centre of Wexford.

The festival will take place from the 19th – 31st of October, and like every year, the opening of will be celebrated with a stunning firework display over the River Slaney, which can be seen from Wexford’s quays. Tragically, the opening ceremony fireworks display will not go ahead in 2021 either.

The festival’s shows include events, talks, concerts, and of course, plenty of opera. Some notable examples include talks like a Dr Tom Walsh Lecture with Colm Tóibín: Music & Silence: James Joyce’s Songs, and Impossible Interviews with Michael Dervan, concerts like Angela Meade Gala with the Wexford Festival Orchestra, and operas like Alfredo Catalani’s Edmea, and Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

 Check out the full line-up, and ticket information on the official website.

Imagine Arts Festival – Waterford

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The Imagine Arts Festival in Waterford also celebrates a milestone in 2021, this year marking its 20th anniversary. It was set up by arts workers who felt that Waterford was in need of a proper artistic platform, and that has been provided.

This year’s festival will take place between the 15th and the 24th of October and will also include the Waterford Writers Weekend from the 19th to the 24th. As always, it will host a wide range of performances, and will be promoting established and emerging artists from all over the world.

Some of the acts include music performances from Aoife Nessa Francis, NEALO, and Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin. Art exhibitions from artists like John Shinnors, Mick Mulcahy, and Casey Kirby; and various other workshops, theater performances, and events. 

This year’s festival promises to enhance Waterford’s tradition as a centre for the arts by making events available to a wider audience than usual.

The types of events include:

  • Rock and folk music
  • Trad music
  • Comedy
  • Classical and brass
  • Dance
  • Literature and spoken word
  • Children’s events
  • Visual art
  • Theatre acts

Check out the full list of acts here.

Spleodar Halloween Arts Festival – Nenagh


Since its inception in the year 2000, the Spleodar Halloween Arts Festival has been providing young people and their families with participatory arts experiences. They engage with their artists in a creative way and give local artists a platform to showcase their work.

It is a festival mainly intended for the local people of Nenagh, but of course, people from all walks of life are welcome.

The festival includes many events for children including music creation workshops, painting classes, stories, talks, and wreath making workshops. Many of these events will be conducted online to ensure the safety of all participants.

Some events, however, will still take place in person, including a “Treasure Haunt”, a ghost stories trail, and movie screenings.

The festival will take place from the 29th – 31st of October with online workshops and activities beginning on the 25th.

Check out the full schedule of events here

Derry Halloween

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The largest Halloween celebration in Europe, Derry Halloween, is making a full return in 2021, after hosting the festival online in 2020. This kept the Halloween spirit alive, while also protecting the health and safety of lovers of all things Halloween.

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, Derry Halloween will extend beyond the walls of the city for the first time to create an ambitious project called ‘Awakening in the Walled City’. 

“Each of our Spirit Worlds will generate its own magic and enchantment. With three Spirit Worlds in the city itself, one in Donegal and one in Strabane, we merge our city with the Worlds Beyond the Walls.”

Taking place from the 29th – 31st of October, this festival focuses on preserving the celebration of ‘Samhain’ and marking the end of the summer. There is a huge range of events to enjoy for the entire family, including music, storytelling, and many daytime and night-time activities.

Check out the official website for more information.

Belfast International Arts Festival

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The city’s longest running international arts event, this festival has been going on since 1962, making it the oldest festival on this list.

The Belfast International Arts Festival is actually already underway, taking place over the course of an entire month, from October 6 until November 7th, there are a massive range of events to enjoy, which thankfully can be experienced live this year.

This year’s edition explores contemporary matters of interest including gender equality, multiculturalism, the climate crisis, and democracy.

Don’t worry about being too late, there are still plenty of tickets for many events available. For all the information you need to attend, visit the official website

Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival

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The Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival is the result of a collaboration between Smashing Times and Front Line Defenders, and highlights the extraordinary work of human rights defenders in Ireland and around the world, past and present, and the role of the arts and artists in promoting human rights today’. 

Running from October 15th – 24th, this year’s festival will feature both online and in-person events. Each year, the festival has a different theme, this year’s being Hope, Courage, and Resilience: The Story Continues. It will primarily focus on celebrating human rights and linking the arts to civil society.

The Opening Ceremony will be hosted on the Roof Garden, Chester Beatty, Dublin, and will feature speakers from Smashing Times and Front Line Defenders, as well as performances from singer-songwriter Carla Ryan, and violinist Lisa McLoughlin-Gnemmi.

Find more information, as well as a full list of performances and events here.

Baboró International Arts Festival for Children – Galway

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Baboró International Arts Festival for Children focuses on encouraging children to engage with the world through their experiences with the creative arts. 

Held in Galway every year, this festival was another casualty of the Covid lockdown restrictions, and was cancelled in 2020. This year however, it is making a return and is being held from the 4th – 17th of October.

It is a festival where children are put first, and are free to play in and explore the theatres and galleries of Galway. Events will be held both online and in person and will feature storytelling, music, visual arts, theatre, audio, and many more. 

If you share Baboró’s opinion that children need to enjoy and experience art and culture while their minds are developing, then please check it out.

Check out their website to learn more about events, and book tickets.


As difficult as these last two years have been, Irish festivals are making a glorious return at long last. We can expect that this is just the beginning, and we’ll soon be free to madly flock to whatever events we please, whenever we please.

Imagine that.



Thomas Cleary
Thomas Cleary

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