Festivals in Ireland – History – Part 3.

Phil Lynott Statue off Grafton Street, Dublin

History of Festivals

– Musicians- Bands played-U2- Thin Lizzy – Chieftans- Rory Gallaher.


Ireland has a great range of festivals held mainly in the summer months. These festivals have grown from a music base of festivals since the 1970s.  This piece looks at the development of the festival in Ireland as we now know them, with details of the main festivals in each decade and some of the musicians and bands who played.  

Some of these festivals hold great memories for  Irish people who attended a festival in their youth. Some festivals such as Lisdoonvarna have been immortalised in song.  Some of the biggest groups in a decade have played in Ireland, as we are a country of musicians and music lovers.  We have listed festivals under 3 headings -each with their own Blog and this is the History of Festivals.

  • 1. Festivals with Special interests– There are so many festivals to choose from. Pre-book tickets for events you want to attend when booking flights to Ireland and build the holiday around the festival you choose. Festivals for Young Adults – present-day festivals you can include in a holiday in Ireland. Note the age group varies depending on the festival!
  •  2. Festivals for Young Adults – present-day festivals you can include in a holiday in Ireland. Note the age group varies depending on the festival!
  • 3. Festivals in Ireland – History – since the 1970s.

Lisdoonvarna Folk Festival, Co Clare

Rory Gallagher at Macroom Mountain Dew Festival










 Festivals in the 1970s. 

  Festivals took place before the 1970s, but most were traditional music festivals organised by Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann. There was no link between these music events and more modern rock, pop or jazz music. 

Macroom Mountain Dew Festival, Co Cork –

In a small town 42 km west of Cork city a local committee started the Mountain Dew Festival in 1976. This was one of Ireland’s first modern rock music festivals, intended to help the town which was suffering economically. Rory Gallagher, the famous Cork guitarist and rocker, was the biggest headline act in 1978. The town was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of 20,000 music fans to a town of 3,000 people.

The women of the local ICA made the sandwiches and the men managed the festival which took place in a large field just outside the town. If you misbehaved the Gardai dropped you 7km outside the town and allowed you to cool off as you walked back to Macroom.

Carnsore, Co Wexford –

This was a free festival beside the sea in Wexford in 1978 to protest against plans to build a nuclear power plant nearby. Acts included Clannad and Christy Moore.

Lisdoonvarna Folk Festival, Co Clare –

Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare was Ireland’s version of Woodstock from 1978 to 1983. The festival was held in a field outside the town and was immortalised in song by Christy Moore. Acts included Jackson Browne, The Chieftains and UB40.

U2 at Slane Caslte








Festivals in the 1980’s

Festivals were started by organisations who wanted to raise funds, some using their own large venues such as GAA grounds and race-courses. These were mainly one-day events.

Siamsa Cois Laoi, Cork 1978-1988 

Took place in the  Pairc uí Caoimh GAA grounds beside the River Lee in Cork city. The stage was set up on the pitch and large crowds attended over the years.  Micheal Jackson bound his ‘Bad Tour’ in 1998. Many other international acts played here such as Joan Baez, Status QUo and Glen Campbell. THe money made from these concerts went towards paying off the debts of the Cork GAA board.

Slane Castle, Co Meath

Started with Thin Lizzy in 1982 in a natural amphitheatre in the grounds of Slane Castle, Co Meath.  It has always been a one-day event. Other acts have included U2, Bob Dylan David Bowie

and Bruce Springsteen.

Croke Park

Croke Park Dublin is the HQ of the GAA and hosted its first concert in 1985 with U2 as the headline act. Since then it has hosted numerous one-off concerts and occasional series of gigs over a few days with more recent acts including Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran.

Lark on the Lee 

In 1985 as a free concert organised in the Lee Fields by RTE 2FM and Cork 89FM Radio. It was famous as 1985 had a surprise appearance by U2. 


Feile Festival Mob – source Eamon Brennan of Thurles Camera Club.

Bus to the Feile  Festival








Festivals in the 1990s in Ireland 


Feile was the premier festival of the first half of the 1990s and held over 3 days in the GAA  Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary in August 1990 and became known as the Trip to Tipp.  Feile means Festival in Irish. Headliners included Meat Loaf and Van Morrison. Thurles continued as the venue until 1994 and having the campsite close to the festival grounds was an integral part of the attraction.

Feile returned to Thurles in 1997 before taking a long break until Feile Classical was staged in 2018. In 2020 there is a plan to have an exhibition of Féile Memorabilia.    Exhibition in August. For details on Facebook or email any photos, posters, flyers to feilearchivethurles@gmail.com


Feile Punk Hairstyles in 1990’s Ireland. Source – Eamon Brennan

Festivals in Ireland








Festivals  in the 2000s 

Festivals became more professional with more boutique festivals coming onstream with much more sophisticated organisation and a greater range of services and facilities.

Witness Festival 

This festival ran from 2000 to 2003, stating at the Fairyhouse Racecourse in CO Meath and sponsored by Guinness. Acts included Davidy Grey and Beck. IN 2003 the Witness Festival moved to Punchestown Racecourse in Co Kildare. In 2004 it changed its name to Oxygen. and ran every year expect 2012 until 2014. IT started as a two-day event, expanding to a three-day Festival from 2008 and became Irelands biggest festival. It also became a 100% carbon neutral event. HEadliners have included the Who, Kings of Leon and Coldplay. The Festival did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19.

Electric Picnic

THis is an arts and music festival staged since 2004 at Stradbally Hall in Co Laois and is now seen as Ireland’s top music event. It has tended to have a more eclectic music mix than other festivals with quality services and eco-friendly initiatives. It started as a one-day event but grew to a weekend-long event the following year.  

Kilmainham, Dublin

Kilmainham has played host to the two day Forbidden Fruit Festival in the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art for four years since 2012. Acts have included New Order and Public Enemy. In other years the venue has hosted one-off concerts with acts as varied as Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen and Ennio Morricone.


The Longitude Festival started in 2013 in the grounds of Marlay Park in South Dublin run by the organisers of Oxegen and spanning Friday to Sunday in mid-July. Hosted over multiple stages, acts have included Kraftwerk, Hozier and 1975. In recent years Longitude has featured more hip hop and rap artists such as Stormy and Travis Scott.


This blog should be read with the other 2 Music Festival blogs detailing the modern festivals which take place throughout the year in Ireland. We have a rich heritage of festivals large and small, music, food, horse-racing, and many more interests.

 For 2022 look at the festivals you might be interested in and book tickets to some events well in advance of your trip, assuming they will take place after Covid Restrictions.  Attending a festival helps you get to know Ireland, its people and the landscape in a different way. Each listing has a link to the festival homepage for more details. When planning a holiday in Ireland let ActivityDays help you to arrange a bespoke holiday in Ireland.  

Have we forgotten any important festival?     info@ActivityDays.ie

 This blog should be read with the other 2 Music Festival blogs detailsing the modern festivals which take place throughout the year in Ireland. We have a rich heritage of festivals large and small, music, food, horse-racing, and many more interests. Information provided by to help you plan your holiday in Ireland in 2021. Have we forgotten any important festival?     info@ActivityDays.ie

Electic Picnic 2019

Electric Picnic









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