Dark comes early and sunrise comes late in Ireland as the year turns toward winter and winter holidays. It is a season for family, for gathering in, for the preparation of Advent and the celebration of Christmas. As you travel through Ireland in winter, you will find bright evenings in cities and quiet joys in neighborhoods and out in the country. In every place, you will feel the warmth of welcome.
A journey through Ireland in winter could include holiday markets. Dublin and Belfast, as you might expect, have the brightest and largest of these, usually several each, and well worth seeing if only for the lights. There’s a festive air in the goods and good fellowship on offer too, which you’ll find in other towns and cities across Ireland at this time as well. Just about every town and village sets up a Christmas tree in the town center, and tree lightings are often occasions for festive celebrations, music, and late openings in the shops. Events occur from mid November right up until Christmas, some being one off days and others season long celebrations.
There will be a Taste of Christmas in Dublin, the first year for this event which will include seasonal food and drink, gourmet gifts, master classes, wines and food for sale and presentations by celebrity chefs. At Dublin’s Docklands, the Twelve Days of Christmas will run through almost all of December, with stalls offering seasonal gifts, food and drink available, fairground attractions and carol singers adding to the fun as well. To the south, in Cork, local food, drink, and crafts will take center stage in street stalls, and the music will be local too, featuring Cork based musicians and bands. Over in Tralee, they’ll be featuring a German Christmas market, honoring their partnership with the city of Frankfurt, and Irish food and goods will also be included. Milk Market at Cornmarket Row in Limerick will be the scene for a season long festive holiday market, while mid November will see the Georgian Christmas Market in Pery Square in action, featuring Victorian themed gifts, arts, and crafts. From mid November to mid December, out west in Galway Eyre Square in the city center will become Galway Continental Christmas Market, with traders from many countries in Europe as well as local and regional producers.
Up in Derry, the Guildhall will be all in lights as it hosts a holiday crafts fair, and Saint Columb’s Hall across town will take on a festive air for a holiday ball. In past years when I have been in Derry at the holidays, parts of the city walls have been set atwinkle with tiny lights — perhaps this will be the case this year as well.
Smaller towns have their own share of festivities, too. In Newry, there will be a craft fair which will also feature antiques. The Christmas lights will switch on in Warrenpoint in County Down early in December, adding to the holiday feeling along Carlingford Lough. Across the lough, Carlingford town makes the most of its medieval history and buildings with a week of festive celebrations, and there is always a Christmas tree amongst the shops.
Wherever you are in Ireland at the holiday season, you may find rain, you’ll very likely find windy weather, you could find snow… and you will certainly will find a warm welcome and perhaps even a song or two you will recognize and join in.
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Center photograph courtesy of Joe.ie, top and bottom photographs by Kerry Dexter