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Festivals are a natural part of the cultural landscape of Mayo. As the evenings get long and the weather improves, people pour out onto the streets and into venues, including pubs, hotels, churches, and town halls to celebrate and showcase talent.
Westport has over 50 annual festivals, from the Chamber Music Festival to the Folk and Bluegrass Festival, which brings national and international acts to town for “three full days of pickin’, pluckin’, bowin’, blowin’, strummin’, slappin’, slidin’ & old-style harmonisin’ in Ireland’s acoustic-music capital.” In addition, there are masterclasses and workshops and local instrument-makers showcase their work.
There are year-round walking festivals, food, flower and book festivals as well as the Westport Arts Festival, one of the oldest in Ireland, which spans 1-2 weeks each year of music, theatre, literary events, children’s events and a variety of spectacle, including circus acts and performance artists.
From Belmullet to Ballina and Castlebar to Claremorris, there are festivals incorporating music, artisan food, craft beers, a wide range of crafts and ample entertainment.
Feile na Tuaithe (Festival of Country Life) celebrates all things connected with country living and takes place in the Museum of Country Life, in Turlough, near Castlebar. Demonstrations from renowned craftspeople and chefs, craft displays--including stained glass-making, boat-making, weaving and metallurgy--as well as an array of artisan foods, workshops, musical entertainment, family shows and live animals make this a lively weekend each May.
Ballina has an annual Salmon Festival which incorporates music, food, crafts and entertainment and of course, salmon. Swinford locals take to the streets in the Siamsa Sraide, with open air dancing, a ‘crossroads ceili’, music and poetry, historic walks, and to encourage visitors to share their musical talents they have an international busking competition. Erris’ Feile Iorrais (Folk Arts Festival) festival takes place in July and traditional music festivals fill the streets of Louisburgh (during Feile Chois Cuain) and Tourmakeady, whose Ceol na Locha Summer School offers instruction in a variety of traditional instruments, including harp, fiddle, accordion, banjo, tin whistle, flute, bodhran, guitar and concertina. Set in a Gaeltacht area, the workshops are conducted through the Irish language.
Scoil Acla is a small literary gem of a festival in Dugort, on Achill Island, where each year renowned writers and poets come to read their work, conduct writing workshops and meet like-minded lovers of literature.
Culture Night is an annual national event, which takes place all over the country each September. For one evening, cultural centres open their doors for free and invite people to participate to join in hands-on activities from print-making to writing or to attend some of the many events laid on in every town.
Described as “the Santa Fe of the west” by travel writer and Irish Times journalist Manchan Magan, Claremorris’ Open Exhibition is a high quality exhibition of contemporary art, which punches above its weight in the small rural town, which Magan noted has a long tradition of presenting quality international fine art to Mayo audiences.
Some lesser known festivals include the Cruinniu Badoiri Acla, which is all about yawl racing and runs in various locations in Achill through the summer. September brings the ‘Battle for the Lake’ Kitesurfing Festival to Achill, one of the best places in the world for the sport. The general idea is to kitesurf by day and party by night with more than a dozen bands playing over a weekend. Sea-angling festivals, such as the Helm Skate Festival in Westport Quay, sailing festivals like the Clare Island Sailing Festival, poetry and writing festivals and children's festivals such as Roola Boola keep residents and visitors engaged, entertained enlightened and challenged all year-round.