Northern Ireland has a fun spread of festivals, with most action taking place in the capital Belfast. There is everything from sports and music to somewhat controversial loyalist marches. St. Patrick’s Day, the Orangefest, and Belfast Festival all offer something a little different. Most events take place in May.
St. Patrick’s Day
Ireland’s patron saint is celebrated in Northern Ireland on March 17 as much as he is in the south. Don’t forget, they are Irish here, too (not British), only, generally, with a penchant of separation from the south. People dress up in green, fountains are dyed green, and there are parties in the streets. Head to Downpatrick to visit St Patrick’s grave.
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
This alternative festival in Belfast, early- to mid-May, is especially popular with the younger crowd. It features art, theater, and music through big name acts at venues within the historic arts quarter of the capital. The event goes over about 10 days and is good for all the family.
The Balmoral Showgrounds in Belfast is the setting for Ireland’s main food and agricultural event. It takes place in mid-May over three days and is fun for the whole family, with hundreds of stands, along with show jumping, sheep-shearing, and a zone for kids to have fun.
Lord Mayor’s Carnival
The colorful street carnival is the highlight of this quirky event in Northern Ireland, which celebrates the end of the Lord Mayor’s tenure in late May. Expect floats, lots of dressing up—including the mayor in all his regalia plus gold carriage—and big fireworks.
The 26-mile run goes via the streets of Belfast and draws in thousands of contenders from around the world. The Belfast Marathon takes place at the end of May and also features a shorter, 16-mile fun run, followed by a grand party at City Hall.
This controversial event on July 12 (‘The Twelfth’) dates from the 1700s and features waves of ‘Orange Men’ marching through city streets across Northern Ireland. These Orange Men are Protestant (loyalists) marking their allegiance to William III (William of Orange) of England and there is lots of flag waving. Naturally, tensions among the Catholic community can be high and security is typically heavy. Best seen in Belfast.
Féile an Phobail
The ‘West Belfast Festival’ is one of Europe’s largest community festivals, featuring thousands of local children in a huge procession on Falls Road in Belfast. Big music acts, poets, and comedians accompany the event, which takes place over 10 days in early August.
The Belfast Festival is a massive event attracting around 50,000 spectators with theatre, dance, pop and rock music, classical music, visual arts, and comedy. The event goes over two weeks, late October through early November, and is worth traveling to Northern Ireland for if you’re in the UK/Irish region.