The Decades Festival of Cork, Ireland

A trip back to many different time periods, all in just two days time.

Every August, the city of Cork transforms into a location filled with the cultures of the past.  This city is already famous for its many great festivals, and the Decades Festival is another unique one that nearly everyone can enjoy.  Though it was only begun just a few short years ago, it’s already catching on and is likely to continue to entertain both the locals and visitors to Cork for many decades to come.

During the Decades Festival, venues all over the city transform into places from the past.  Dozens of pubs participate in the event, each picking a different theme and attempting to change their place of business into a representation of the era they choose.  From the roaring 20s to the war-era 1940s to the 70s disco scene and even the age of punk rock, whatever you can think of from the last 100 years is likely there somewhere.

As part of the transformation, the pubs alter their interiors, putting up decorations and even having their staff dress in period costumes.  Music, drinks, food and entertainment are just a few elements that one might expect to find out of our current time.  Each venue also encourages their customers to arrive in costume to complete the picture and help to create an environment that all who attend can enjoy.

Best of all, there are no charges involved in Decades other than what one normally might incur from drinks, food and covers.  This is, essentially, one big costume party that’s been broken into many disparate parts.  And to make things even better, the legal limitations governing when bars must close are lengthened a bit, so the party can keep going.

So if you happen to be visiting Ireland during this time, definitely take a stop through Cork.  Make sure to bring a costume or two though, so you don’t end up looking like a time-tourist.

Ireland’s Street Performance World Championships

The best of the strangest in street entertainment.

If you’re a lover of entertainments that carry a more bizarre feel to them, then the Laya Healthcare Street Performance World Championship in may be right up your alley.  Each July, over the course of two weekends, both the city of Cork and of Dublin are host to this amazing events that features some of the most unique performers in the world, all come together to show of their talents in this championship event.  In total, more than 250,000 people come from around the world to witness the thousands of performances each year.

Some of these performers have skills that one might find at a carnival, such as jugglers, sword swallowers, puppeteers and contortionists.  Others are straight out of pop culture’s past, such as those displaying feats of hula hoop skill, beat boxing and break dancing.  Still others are a bit more traditional, instead putting on shows of street comedy, music and dancing.

The whole thing is, naturally, set in a carnival-like atmosphere.  There are rides, games, food vendors, art installations and plenty of other attractions.  The world championships are a family-friendly event, meaning that there’s plenty to do for those of all ages and interests.  And best of all, the event is put on promote various charities, so you know your money is going to a good cause when you attend.

Those seeking a more unique look at Ireland and its culture will find the Street Performance World Championship to be a great choice.  If you come to see them, however, make sure to get a list of times for the performances you wish to see.  There are tons of them taking place all over and often they draw large crowds, so you’ll need to show up early if you want a good spot.

Here’s a small example of what one could expect to see at this event on any given year:

Street Performance World Championships 2011

The Rose of Tralee International Festival

Finding the lady who embodies the spirit of Ireland.

Each year in County Kerry, in the town of Tralee, the end of August brings with it a festival to celebrate all-things Irish and crown one girl with the title of the Rose of Tralee.  This event has been taking place for more than 50 years and today is one of Ireland’s largest festivals.  This isn’t your typical beauty pageant, however, as the girl chosen doesn’t have to prance about in a swimsuit or show off her good-looks in any way.  The true Rose of Tralee is meant to embody the spirit of Ireland (and the spirit of the song for which the festival is named) and thus wins the competition with personality alone.

Any woman who is Irish or happens to be of Irish decent can participate in the contest.  Not every girl can join in, of course, and the way to get to the competition in Tralee involves winning one of the regional contests in other places around the world.  The best 30 are chosen and brought to this final event and from there the winner is chosen.  This new Rose of Tralee will be expected to act as an ambassador of sorts for the rest of the year, representing Ireland in an iconic fashion.

The Rose of Tralee judging and crowning is set among a backdrop of Irish-themed cultural events.  There are carnivals, street entertainers, live musical performances, theater events, circuses, markets and a fair.  More highlights include a grand fireworks display and the aptly named Rose Parade.

Going to see the Rose of Tralee International Festival is about more than just attending a beauty pageant - it’s about immersing one’s self in all-things Ireland.  It is a fun and festive environment and a great way to experience Irish culture, seeing some of the best sides of both Ireland and its people.

This year’s Rose of Tralee competition has already passed by, but next year promises just as much entertainment as every year before it.  If you happen to be in Ireland during late August, stop by the town of Tralee and take part in this long-running and uniquely Irish event.

Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival

Month-long celebration of traditional matchmaking

Matchmaking has long been a tradition in Ireland as people skilled in the art of finding the right person for another try their hands at creating some lasting relationships.  That tradition has become so embedded in the culture of some parts of the island country that in one particular town, Lisdoonvarna, they have a month-long festival celebrating it.  Yes, it’s several weeks of dancing, drinking and having fun based around nothing more than hooking up.


The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival takes place throughout September and into the beginning of October each year.  More than 100,000 people come from around the world to be a part of the festivities and, should the spirits be willing, have fourth-generation, professional matchmaker Willie Daly find the one they should spend the rest of their life (or at least the rest of the festival) with.

The events don’t take place on any fairgrounds or at a specific venue.  Pubs and hotels all throughout the area each lend their facilities to the many matchmaking occasions.  The various events follow a general schedule for the month.  There are dances happening from Monday to Thursday of each week, special dances on the weekends and a racing weekend to start off the month.  The days start at noon each day and run late into the night.

For singles that want to give it a shot, there’s a whole month in which to plan your Ireland vacation.  You can stay for as little or as long as you like and take time on the side to visit some of the many sights around Lisdoonvarna.  There are plenty of people to meet and if you don’t like the pickings one week, you can take off and return later.  Or, if your matchmaking proves to be a failure, you can always come back the following year.  In fact, there are plenty of people who do.

Killorglin’s Puck Fair

Hundreds of years of Irish tradition

The city of Killorgin in Kerry, southern Ireland, is home to one of Ireland’s oldest traditional fairs.  The Puck Fair is on record as being held for at least 400 years and likely has roots in older fair traditions that have been going on for much longer, evolving into the celebration that exists today. 

Every year this event takes place at the same time, from August 10th to the 12th.  As one of the oldest fairs in the country, it has appropriately taken its place as one of today’s most popular attractions for visitors to Ireland.  More than 100,000 people come to Killorgin each year to take part in these three days of festivities.

Several legends are associated with the founding of the fair, though none can be confirmed as the historical truth.  Some tales say that the fair’s beginning lies in a goat that was driven away by invading armies, managed to reach Killorgin and, as an embodiment of the mythological Puck, warned the people of the town so that they could prepare and defend themselves.  Other, more rational stories say that it was begun as an attempt by a local landlord to outsmart the government.  Either way, the people of Killorgin have carried on this tradition into the modern day.

The amounts of activities at Puck Fair are seemingly endless.  The whole affair begins with a parade and the ritual coronation of King Puck - a goat wrangled up and chosen to represent the Puck of myth.  This lucky goat will remain penned up throughout the event so that people can bestow their thanks and good wishes upon him and following the end of the fair he will be released back into the wild.

In addition to the titular activities, there is also a fireworks display, open-air concerts day and night, various competitions and workshops, street performers, dancing, a horse fair, local crafts, animal shows, theater and storytellers.  Stalls with food and things to purchase are everywhere as well.

The event is an assortment of many types of entertainment, most of them designed to be accessible to families with children.  Puck Fair is a carnival-like atmosphere done in a uniquely Irish style and the perfect event to accompany any Ireland vacation.  If you really want to get a feel for what the people of Ireland are like, take some time out to visit Puck Fair and find out why it is known world-wide as one of the country’s most popular events.

Road Bowling: Not golf, not bowling, totally Irish

Also known as bullets, the tradition of road bowling is believed to have originated somewhere in Northern Ireland more than 300 years ago.  It fell out of favor for a while, but has recently made a resurgence both in Ireland and other places across the world.  Wherever one has a low-traffic road, the potential to throw some bullets is there.  Best of all, it’s a cheap and fun way to pass the time on a lazy day.

The goal of road bowling is to take a small metal ball, toss it along a road and try to hit the finish line in as few throws as possible.  It’s kinda like softball and kinda like bowling.  It’s also a bit like golf if you took out the clubs, made the ball bigger and only played a single course.  You do get to keep the caddy, but he’s called a road shower instead and his chief function is to give you advice on how to play a particular course.

Rules of the game are few and pretty simple.  The ball has to be a certain size and weight.  There’s a mark in place that the thrower runs toward, tossing the ball before they cross it.  When the ball completes its journey, a new mark is put down and the process continues until reaching the finish. 

The ball has to be rolled unless there’s an obstacle that makes that impractical, such as a sharp curve or right-angle corner.  In that case, the ball can be lobbed, but if it misses the road the thrower has to try again with plus-one on their shot count.  Courses are generally a mile or two and whoever gets to the finish line with fewer shots is the winner.

It’s a simple and fun tradition of Ireland that is taking its place among the favored activities of people everywhere.  North America in particular seems to have a love of this old sport.  And though some train hard in an effort to take titles and become the best, it’s just as perfect for those that want a casual, affordable game for the weekend.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

If you’ve ever lived in a college town in the United States (or anywhere with a large enough Irish population), you know that St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest party holidays there is.  Though families with strong Irish heritage may spend it in a traditional manner, sitting down with loved ones and eating corned beef and cabbage, the majority of the world sees it as a day of drinking and revelry.  The college town I happened to live in for nearly a dozen years (which will remain unnamed) celebrated by arriving at the bars come 6 a.m., drinking until passing out and then waking up to do it all again before the day expired.  In Ireland, some of this is the same, but the fanfare and celebration that doesn’t involve beer is much richer.

Originally, St. Patrick’s Day started out as a religious holiday.  It has transformed significantly over the years, both in

 Ireland and overseas.  Now it is a festival atmosphere, with feasting, parades and pub crawls.  In fact, much of what the holiday has evolved into in Ireland comes from the changes made by Irish immigrants in the U.S., filtering back across the ocean.

First and foremost, St. Patrick’s Day is for being with family.  The table is set with plenty of food and relations come together to enjoy stuffing their bellies.  Unlike the U.S., where the aforementioned corned beef and cabbage is the main fair, in Ireland the main dish consists of either Irish 

bacon or chicken. 

Secondly, celebrations for the holiday last for four days, leading up to the titular Sunday.  Parades are common in the bigger cities, the largest taking place in Dublin.  These events are bright and colorful, with people in the gathered crowds all wearing their traditional Irish green to mark the occasion.  There is music and dancing and a generally festive atmosphere.

Eventually, this calmer form of entertainment comes to an end and the last day, St. Patrick’s Day, ends with the drinking madness that most people are familiar with.  Pubs in cities like Dublin become so crowded with tourists and locals that it can often be 

difficult to get one’s drink.  People from all over the world are attracted to the grand parties that Ireland has to offer from this, it’s most world-famous of holidays.  If partying is your thing, consider trying out a St. Paddy’s Day in Dublin.  The inebriated, friendly, party atmosphere is sure to not disappoint.  Just don’t get drunk and act like a stupid tourist, or they may end up banning outsiders from the country for good.

Exploring the history of Dublin, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland is the capital of the country and its most populace city, with more than two million people in residence.  The history of the city goes back nearly 2000 years, when it was just a small settlement.  It would evolve and expand over the centuries, much of it due to the great building projects of English colonists, eventually becoming the great city that it is today.

The older areas of the city display much of the history of Dublin.  Both Irish and English influences have created the old town which straddles the Liffey River.  In addition to the many historical sights that one can see while in the city, there are plenty of things to do for those looking for something a little more fast-paced.

There are a few famous historical landmarks in Dublin that should not be missed.  Dublin Castle is the

 result of a 13th century expansion on a 10th century fortification and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the entire city.  The Christ Church Cathedral is a marvel of architecture nearly 1000 years old.  The 800-year old St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest church in Ireland, founded beside the famous well where St. Patrick was said to have baptized his converts during the 5th century.  Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university and has been continually in operation since 1592.  Its treasury also happens to be the location of the famous Book of Kells.  And, of course, there’s always the Guinness brewery.  While these are some of the more prominent attractions, they are far from being a comprehensive list of all the wonderful history and architecture in the city.

After a day of sightseeing, one can find any number of places to relax and unwind.  There are pubs, clubs and restaurants in abundance.  Spending time in Dublin can be a little bit expensive, however, so visitors are advised to being along enough money to enjoy themselves.  This city has been the inspiration of many famous writers over the centuries and what exists today, after more than 1800 years of transformation, is a beautiful cityscape

 of historical and modern times blended together to create one of the most spectacular cities in all of Europe.

The Giant’s Causeway

On the northern coast of Ireland lies a natural phenomenon that is truly amazing to behold.  It’s called the Giant’s Causeway, and it is a feature composed of more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, formed over millions of years by volcanic activity in the region.  Together they form a carpet of stepping stones that descend from the land and into the sea.  Surrounding the Causeway is a remarkable landscape made up of cliffs, bays, amazing rock formations and the occasional ruin.  Combined, this creates one of the most visually striking locations in the world.

The legend of the Giant’s Causeway tells of how it first came to gain the name.  An Irish warrior by the name of Fionn

 Mac Cumahaill built the stepping stones in order to fight his rival in Scotland.  When he discovered that his enemy was a giant, he fled back to Ireland, the giant Scotsman in pursuit.  When his rival came to look for him Fionn had his wife cover him in a blanket and pretend that he was their baby son.  The Scotsman, seeing the size of the supposed baby, feared that the one who had fathered it must be enormous and so fled back to Scotland, destroying the center of the causeway in the process.

People come from all over the world to see this wonder of nature.  It is one of Ireland’s biggest tourist draws and has been for many decades.  It doesn’t cost anything to visit and so makes a perfect addition to any tourist’s Ireland vacation.  Tours are available for those that wish to learn more about the legend surrounding it and the more scientific aspects that caused its formation.  The Giant’s Causeway is a must-see for any who take

 some time out to visit the magnificent Irish isle.

The Aisling

Vision Poetry


The “aisling” is an interesting genre of Irish poetry drawing from three different streams of tradition: the pre-Christian belief in a “goddess of sovereignty,” a French tradition in which the poet claims to have had a vision of a supernatural woman, and the tradition of embedding political commentary in popular song and verse.

The pagan Gaels of ancient Ireland believed in a myth of sacral kingship in which the king ensures the prosperity of the tribe by marrying the goddess of the tribal territory in a symbolic ritual. This goddess was known by many different names, but scholars often refer to her as the “sovereignty” goddess. There was a different manifestation of the sovereignty goddess for each distinct tribal territory, but thee was also one for the entire island of Ireland.


In the aisling, the poet describes a vision in which a “heavenly woman” appears to him and laments for the loss of her true king. Of course, the poet cannot call her a goddess after the Christian conversion of Ireland, so he uses the euphemism “heavenly woman” instead. This woman is the sovereignty goddess, and by saying that she has lost her king she is in effect denying the legitimacy of the reigning (British) monarch and his claim to authority over Ireland. In the aisling poem, the most ancient pagan symbolism is used to bolster Irish resistance to British rule, more than a thousand years after the formal end of pagan religion in Ireland.