Fall fairs enliven the countryside across Ireland


Ewe being judged at the Achill Sheep Show in Co. Mayo. 	Judy Enright photosEwe being judged at the Achill Sheep Show in Co. Mayo. Judy Enright photos

October is such a lovely month in New England; it’s also a lovely month in Ireland.

There’s not much brilliant foliage on the Emerald Isle, and it can be a bit stormy, but that weather often means lots of gorgeous rainbows and great photos. And, there’s still a lot to do in Ireland even though it’s slightly “off season.” You can visit museums, churches and other attractions (be sure to check to make sure they’re open) or take in any of the many Halloween happenings all over the country.

You can also get out into the countryside and, for instance, join the Oct. 3-5 Carlow Walking Festival (carlowtourism.com) or savor the activities at a country fair where you find “real” Ireland at its very best.

Fall fairs are serious outings for local farmers who exhibit the best of the best from their annual labors. But for tourists and other onlookers, the fairs and their various classes are just great fun to watch and enjoy. They’re interesting and reminiscent of fairs in the Northeast and other parts of this country.


Over the years, we’ve attended a number of Irish fairs, including the Ballinasloe Fair, the Maam Cross Fair in Connemara (both in Co. Galway) and the Achill (Island) Sheep Show in Co. Mayo. Each was different and all were most enjoyable. We enjoyed being part of the buzz and excitement of the crowd, witnessing the anticipation in the ring – especially for the young farmers – and the opportunity to interact with other spectators. If you enjoy watching people, you’ll be in heaven.

Each fall, Ballinasloe hosts one of Europe’s oldest and largest horse fairs, dating back to the 1700s. The October event annually attracts nearly 100,000 visitors from all over the world. The fair is from Oct. 4-12 this year and more information may be obtained from ballinasloeoctoberfair.com.
Sheep Show: Getting ready for a class at the Achill Sheep Show in Co. MayoSheep Show: Getting ready for a class at the Achill Sheep Show in Co. Mayo
You’ll find the annual Achill Sheep Show on the grounds around Patten’s Bar in Dereens on Achill Island, Co. Mayo. It’s a fun event – especially for people watching – and also, of course, for the sheep. The tourist office in Achill Sound can provide more information if you’re out that way.

The Maam Cross fair is another fall fair that usually happens on a Tuesday in October. Check Connemara.ie for more information and the exact date of the fair.

Speaking of Connemara, The Irish Times newspaper sponsored a competition for its readers to choose the five best places in the country “to calm down after going wild.”

Our favorite small, country hotel – Lough Inagh Lodge in Recess, Co. Galway – was among the five finalists. The Times wrote, “Beautifully appointed and located fishing lodge and hotel overlooking Lough Inagh, Connemara, Co Galway. Close to the truly wild 12 Bens mountain range, “the Blueway” and adventure centres at Killary and Delphi. loughinaghlodgehotel.ie”

If you have a Wild Atlantic Way for landlubbers to drive, you should have a corresponding waterway along that same coast, right? (For the uninitiated, the Wild Atlantic Way is a 1,600-mile designated driving route along the west coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal to Kinsale, Co. Cork.)

We read in The Irish Times that last summer, Michael Ring, minister of State for Tourism & Sport, launched “The Blueway,” a project designed to complement the Wild Atlantic Way and “encourage tourists to discover the sea along the West coast.”

As part of the program, organizers developed water activities - such as snorkeling and kayaking - and highlighted local providers and events at five Blueway locations - Boffin Harbour on Inishbofin and Killary Fjord in Leenane, both in Co. Galway, Keem on Achill Island, and Mannin Bay and Old Head (Louisburgh), all in Co. Mayo.

More than 84,000 overseas visitors participate in water sports each year while in Ireland with most of them kayaking and snorkeling, according to Ring. The Blueway supports the development of kayaking and snorkeling water trails in the five locations to create more experiences for visitors traveling the Wild Atlantic Way.

Fiona Monaghan, who heads up the Wild Atlantic Way program for Failte Ireland (Tourism Ireland’s Irish arm), was quoted in The Times as saying at the launch, “We are delighted to support this initiative, which sees the timely development of an excellent Wild Atlantic Way water sports experience, and provides the visitor the opportunity to engage with the sea.

“We have seen first-hand the success of the (Great Western) Greenway in Mayo (from Westport to Achill Island) which boosted local tourism with more than 200,000 visitors last year. As a maritime variant of that initiative, we hope the Blueway can enjoy the same level of interest from visitors both at home and abroad.”

A series of “Blueway Days” took place last summer at the five locations where local activity operators provided equipment and safety advice to those interested in snorkeling or kayaking.


With every new project, there’s bound to be some confusion and there was this spring with the cleverly designed logo for the Wild Atlantic Way, which looks like two connected W’s.

Environmental columnist Michael Viney, a Co. Mayo resident, wrote in the July 19 Irish Times: “The new logo on our road signs had me puzzled for days. Wavy white lines on blue – what was that about? Narrow, wiggly, bumpy roads? Fair enough. Good surfing? Not that way, into the mountains. Eventually it dawned – we’re now part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

“That must be why they’ve mended all the potholes and why the grassy spined boreen down to the strand, clearly just wide enough for one careful driver, has a big, new speed limit of 50km.”


Of course, Halloween is spooky and scary and who could be scarier than Bram Stoker, the Irish novelist and short story writer who penned “Dracula” in 1897? Over the October bank holiday weekend (Oct. 24-27), Dublin City will celebrate the life, work, and legacy of Stoker and his famous novel. The three-day festival will reveal the Dublin of Stoker’s day with walking tours, literary workshops for teens and adults, Stoker-themed theatre, lively discussions on all things vampire, and an evening of spooky spectacles in the grounds of Dublin Castle. See bramstokerfestival.com for more.

And, while you’re in Dublin, be sure to stop by the Ambassador Theatre, on O’Connell Street, to see the display of some 150 life-size terra cotta warriors that guarded the tomb of Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, who died in 210 B.C. The tomb was uncovered in 1974 by farmers digging for a fountain. The exhibit is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. until the end of November.


Congratulations to Kilkenny for winning the 2014 Tidy Towns competition. Kilkenny also won the Irish Top Tourism Town award in 2013 and was named as Condé Nast’s 9th friendliest city in the world!

You can enjoy Kilkenny from Oct. 24-27 when the town celebrates the 8th year of its Savour Kilkenny Food Festival. See savourkilkenny.com for more.

Other food events this month include:
• Dingle Food Festival, Oct. 2-5, in more than 60 outlets, where festivalgoers can purchase tickets and sample local cuisine in various locations from pubs and galleries to shops and restaurants (dinglefood.com);
• 5th annual Monaghan Festival of Food, Oct. 3-5, celebrates the best in local produce in Monaghan and surrounding areas with more than 60 exhibitors (tasteofmonaghan.com);
• Kinsale’s 38th annual Gourmet Festival from Oct. 10-12 (kinsalerestaurants.com);
• Burren Food Fayre in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare on Sun., Oct. 26. (burrenecotourism.com)


No matter where your Irish travels take you, you’re sure to find entertainment and activities along the way. Be sure to watch for reduced airfares and package deals in the fall and enjoy Ireland wherever and whenever you visit.