By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
There’s a lot to love about Ireland in October – and every other month, too, of course.
By October, most tourists have been and gone, their vacations often dictated by children’s school schedules. But don’t worry: There is still plenty to see and do in Ireland in the autumn and the many attractions open to visitors will not be nearly as crowded as they are in the summer.
Among my favorite activities in Ireland at this time of year are the country fairs that showcase the hard work of farmers and their families and are a true reflection of Ireland’s age-old professions and traditions.
One of Europe’s oldest and largest horse fairs – dating back to the 18th century - is in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. The fair is scheduled from Oct. 2 to Oct. 9 this year and attracts visitors from across the world. There are all kinds of equestrian and non-equestrian events at the fair, including music and other entertainment, a dog show, craft show, baking competition, soapbox derby, fireworks and much more. For more information on this fascinating event, visit ballinasloeoctoberfair.com
Another great fair – especially for those like me who can’t get enough of Irish sheep – is the Achill Sheep Show, held outside Patten’s Bar in Derreens on Achill Island, Co. Mayo. The show was first held in 1986, and has been on every year since except 2001 when Ireland was struck with foot and mouth disease (which we call hoof and mouth.) There are many sheep categories and winners take home cups, rosettes, and cash prizes. The show also has vendors selling local crafts, vegetables, floral arrangements, and home baked goods. There are art competitions and fun events for children, too.
This year a group of young farmers from Achill has revived the Keel Sheep Show, which will be held Oct. 1 on the Keel Sandybanks on Achill Island beginning at 1 p.m. Many of these young men and women are past participants in the Achill Sheep Show and formed their group – Na Feirmeori Og – in January this year to revive the show in Keel, which they call “The True Home of the Blackhead Ewe.” See keelsheepshow.blogspot.com for more.
Another fun fair – it opens on Tuesday, Nov. 1, even though it’s been known for years as “The Great October Fair” – is the Maam Cross Fair at Peacocke’s Hotel in Connemara. I’ve attended this fair several times and it’s a real slice of Irish life, a great place to see some lovely Connemara ponies as well as all manner of other animals for sale from goats, ducks, puppies and geese to ferrets.
If you’re anywhere near this fair on Nov. 1, it’s well worth a visit. It’s located beside Peacocke’s, just off the N59 route between Galway and Clifden. In years past, the fair took over that main road but was moved to side roads several years ago for safety concerns.
While you’re there, be sure to stop into the lovely gift shop at Peacocke’s, have a meal in the dining room or pub, or spend the night. Eoin Burke and his wife recently bought the hotel and have extensively refurbished it. We took a short tour of some of the bedrooms this spring and they look great. It is very nice to see Peacocke’s open and thriving because the hotel is in such a great location at the crossroads in the heart of Connemara.
Eoin, a seemingly tireless Irishman, also owns and runs Burke’s Livestock Mart, behind the hotel in Maam Cross, where there are weekly sales of sheep and cattle and occasionally ponies. See peacocks.ie for information on the hotel.
HALLOWEEN IN DUBLIN
October is that special spooky, scary month and the ghoulishness is not lost on Dublin where Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was born on Nov. 8, 1847, in Clontarf on the north side of the city. There’s even a Castle Dracula attraction now in Clontarf where you can book a freaky visit, meet Dracula’s characters, and learn all about Stoker’s life!
Dublin also has a Festival and Parade on Halloween night at Lillie’s Bordello, “Hidden Dublin” Halloween Walks and more. There are many Halloween celebrations throughout other parts of the country as well. Keep your eyes open for all the ghouls and goblins!
Walking festivals and the cooler days of autumn seem to go together, don’t they? There are walking events all over Ireland and they’re fun and a great way to meet people, see and enjoy the countryside.
Here are a couple to consider if you’re in the area: Annascaul Walking Festival, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Oct. 28-31, see annascaulwalks.org for more; Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival, Oct. 28-31 in Glendalough with the meeting point at Brockagh Resource Center. See walkinghikingireland.com/walking-holidays/wicklow-walking-festival/for more information.
The Footfalls Festival presents an opportunity for new or seasoned walkers to try moderate and more difficult trails. Thanks to the festival’s knowledgeable and experienced guides, walkers will also be able to safely try activities that they couldn’t normally tackle alone. One example is the Friday night hike, a “moderate 11km trek” that involves the green road, Trooperstown, and Ballylug Forest.
Visit walkinghikingireland.com for more. And note that there are many more walking events in the autumn all over Ireland including: Antrim Hills Walking Festival; Ballyhoura Autumn Rambling Festival; Carlow Autumn Walking Festival; Foxford Walking Festival and more. See the Irelandwalkingguide.com for more.
CONAMARA SEA WEEK
Over two weekends, from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31, Connemara will celebrate its marine heritage with a “multi-disciplinary festival” that is said to blend myth, magic, and madness. This year is the 32nd annual festival and features events and activities for the entire family.
There’s a family fun day, trad gigs at Molly’s Pub in Letterfrack, concerts in the Gothic church at Kylemore Abbey (just down the road), and contemporary music at Veldon’s Seafarer Bar, Restaurant and Café in Letterfrack, a parade through Letterfrack, guided shore walks and much more.
For more information, visit: ceecc.org/conamara-sea-week.
From Oct. 28 to Oct. 31, jazz enthusiasts can immerse themselves in their favorite music at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, which annually features Irish and foreign musicians at over 70 venues across Cork City. Most of the music is free and the four-day event includes street bands, workshops, master classes and a jazz parade. The festival usually attracts nearly 50,000 fans from all over the world. See guinnessjazzfestival.com for more information.
Not into jazz but love film? How about taking in the 15th annual Clones Film Festival in Co. Monaghan from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30 over the October Bank Holiday weekend? Billed as “Ireland’s Biggest Little Film Festival,” the program will include new Irish and international releases, interviews, documentaries, short film competitions, children’s films, and a live music festival club. The festival will be hosted in Clones’ Courthouse, the old post office and other venues around town.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go. Aer Lingus and other airlines often offer special fall fares because it’s the so-called “off season” for travel. Be sure to visit Ireland.com for listings of lots of great activities in Ireland in the autumn as well as suggestions for accommodation and more. And, Happy Halloween!