(Editor’s note: This post was submitted by Three Sisters 2020.)
The Three Sisters region is a unique coming together of three beautiful counties on the southeast coast of Ireland. Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford have joined together as the Three Sisters in an historic bid to win the European Capital of Culture in 2020.
The name was inspired by the three picturesque rivers which flow through each of the three counties: the Nore, the Barrow and the Suir.
Whether Three Sisters is successful or not in its bid to win the European Capital of Culture title, it is a remarkable region and one which the culturally curious should not miss on their European travels.
Let’s explore six of the top reasons for visiting this fascinating corner of Ireland’s Ancient East.
No. 1 – Kilkenny Arts Festival
For more than four decades, the Kilkenny Arts Festival has attracted an international audience with a programme of events that never fails to include performances from some of the world’s finest musicians, writers and artists.
With intimate and magical venues spanning historic castles, churches, courtyards, townhouses and gardens, the Festival takes over the city for ten days every August.
Since its inception in 1974, the classical music has been at the very heart of the Festival. World-renowned classical artists have continued to grace the annual lineup, including soprano Victoria de los Angeles, pianist Alfred Brendel, violinist/violist Nigel Kennedy and violinist Joshua Bell among many others taking part.
The Festival also frequently showcases Kilkenny’s unique baroque performance tradition. (Kilkenny is Ireland’s premier Medieval town – more on that later.)
Major open-air productions of Shakespeare’s plays, poets-in-residence and cross-genre performances of unique musical collaborations are just some of the other events that contribute to a diverse Festival experience.
For the 2016 event, legendary French travelling ensemble Footsbarn will pitch their famous tent in Kilkenny for the Incomplete Works of Shakespeare while Mozart’s Masterpieces will be the theme running through the myriad of classical musical performances from Irish and international artists.
The full Festival programme is available here.
No. 2 – Spraoi International Street Art Festival
Spear-headed by the thrillingly inventive street theatre company Spraoi, this festival is held every August Bank Holiday Weekend in Waterford. It attracts upwards of 100,000 people over the three days.
The Viking-era streets, squares and quays of Waterford provide the perfect backdrop for the modern-day jesters who flood the town from all over the world for the duration of the Festival.
One of the more unusual aspects of this Festival, and the key to most of the street performances, is audience participation. Festival-goers shouldn’t be surprised if a death-defying acrobat steals them away from the crowd as a volunteer or if they are asked to hold a match for a fire-breather!
You can easily lose yourself in the choreographed masterpiece that is Spraoi International Street Festival and rub shoulders with dancers, jivers, jugglers, acrobats, dynamite poetry, circus trickery and more.
If you can only make it for one day, make sure you get to see the annual parade. It is not to be missed! Hundreds of costumed performers will take to the streets on specially crafted floats, breathing fire and creating music and special effects. Believe us, it’s worth missing your flight for!
The 2016 event sees Strong Lady Productions perform LEAP, Teatro Pachuco’s The Saxophone Man, Fidget Feet perform Urban Fly high above the cobbled streets and many more. We guarantee you’ll be booking flights to Waterford as soon as you peek through the full programme.
No. 3 – Wexford Opera Festival
An operatic experience in Ireland may not be top of many expat’s to-do list, but it should certainly be on your lifelong bucket list.
Wexford is home to Ireland’s opera scene and houses the beautiful National Opera House. For more than 60 years, opera-lovers around the world have flocked to the October/November Wexford Opera Festival to witness the world class productions.
The singers, conductors and directors taking part in the event have for years embraced a bold and innovative approach to opera. They have breathed life into forgotten masterpieces which have since been established within the Operatic canon.
Wexford has been honoured to feature significant names in the past, such as Sergei Leiferkus, tenors Juan Diego Floréz and Joseph Calleja, sopranos Mirella Freni and Angela Meade and mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona.
The celebrated American conductor David Agler first appeared at the Festival in 1996 and has since taken over as Artistic Director, witnessing the construction of Ireland’s first custom-built opera house: a state-of-the-art building with two auditoriums capable of staging ever more ambitious and spectacular productions.
Check out wexfordopera.com for 2016’s events.
No. 4 – A Medieval Experience
At any time, anywhere in the romantic city of Kilkenny, you might think you have travelled back in time to the Middle Ages. Would-be Medieval explorers can investigate the only example of a 17th-century merchant house in Ireland, climb around towers, immerse themselves in the Irish ale experience at Smithwicks or get creative at the National Craft gallery.
The crowning glory of Kilkenny’s medieval experience is, of course, the majestic Kilkenny Castle and grounds.
Dating from 1146, the castle stands proud overlooking the river Nore which runs through the city. The castle has always been accessible to local people and families, playing host to a huge number of events throughout the year.
Be sure to check out kilkennycastle.ie for events while you’re in town.
No. 5 – The Copper Coast
This UNESCO Global Geopark and visitor centre spans around 25 kilometres of coastline and is named after copper mines in the area. The beaches, coves and headlands along the route have been formed over the ages by a combination of volcanoes, deserts, oceans and ice sheets.
Walking trail cards can be accessed from the website on your mobile phone, and you can visit the Neolithic dolmens, Iron Age forts, pre-Christian inscribed stones, ruined medieval churches and a spectacular castle, all located in Irelands oldest Geopark.
If stones aren’t quite your thing, the Copper Coast offers eight stunning beaches with a range of activities. Explore the islands and caves by kayak, go angling for sea bass, try your hand road bowling in Fenor or travel in time at Bunmahon geological garden.
A must-see along the coast is Wexford’s stunning Hook Head Lighthouse, Ireland’s oldest functioning lighthouse and a welcome beacon for ships in stormy weather on the Irish seas for decades.
No. 6 – The blaa
A local favourite, this floury bread-roll or bap, has been awarded a Protected Destination of Origin title.
Waterford produces approximately 12,000 of this delicious, fresh bread every day, but expats be warned! You’ll be hard pressed to get your hands on one, given that most bakeries are sold out by the end of lunch hour!
Rumour has it this scrummy bap dates back to the 17th century and that its name is derived from the French word “blanc,” (white) and could refer to the white floury appearance.
This ‘Irish delicacy’ is best eaten buttered and with some bacon, according to the natives.
So there you have it, a guide to one of Ireland’s most enigmatic corners that will have you experiencing the best of Irish music, drama, street performances, history, scenery and local food.
Further information about Three Sisters 2020 can be found at www.threesisters2020.ie
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