Engaging Ireland News

Current news and information about Ireland and Irish travel

Travel Alert: Vigilance vs. Fear

From the U.S. Department of State website (http://travel.state.gov/travel), on October 3, 2010, the Bureau of Consular Affairs posted the following alert to U.S. citizens who plan to travel in Europe during the next four months:

“The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe.  Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks.  European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests.  U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.  Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services.  U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.

We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al-Qa’ida.  Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.

We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website. Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 from elsewhere in the world.

For information on general crime and security issues, U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country-Specific Information as well as the Worldwide Caution, which can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. For further information on safety tips while traveling abroad, U.S. citizens should also consult the following website:http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html

This Travel Alert expires on January 31, 2011.”

While we certainly advocate that travelers should be vigilant, we also believe that this is part of the world we live in now. There are certain people out there who will attempt to make a statement and further their own agenda by causing chaos and harming others. This travel alert is a good reminder that we should be attentive and watchful, but the government is not saying that we shouldn’t travel to Europe. They’re just saying that people should pay attention. Good advice. Not just because of potential terrorists, but because it’s a good idea in general.

So there’s no need for fear, just vigilance. Go. Travel. Have fun. Be safe.

Posted 7 years, 4 months ago at 7:51 pm.

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Cork Folk Festival 30th Anniversary

If you thought the festival season was over, you should think again! The Cork Folk Festival (sponsored by Beamish) will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2010 with a full slate of entertainment. The main attraction to the festival is music; however, there are other activities as well, including a parade up Oliver Plunkett Street on Sunday, sean nos and set dancing workshops, music classes, an open-air food market, and a free music trail at over 18 pubs around Cork City. There are even activities for the kids.

For more information or to purchase tickets, drop by their website at http://www.corkfolkfestival.com/. While you’re at the website, be sure to take a look at the beautiful print that the festival commissioned local artist and musician, Colm Murphy, to produce to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the festival. Only 200 numbered and signed prints will be made available, and the website tells you how you can get one for your very own!


Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:04 pm.

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Ploughing Championship – Not Just for Farmers

On Monday, 6th September, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr. Brendan Smith T.D., officially launched Irelands largest outdoor agricultural event, the National and European Ploughing Championships in Cardenton, Athy, Co Kildare, in its staggering 79th year. This is the second year running that the event has been held at the Athy site such was the success of last year’s event.

Unique to the event this year, on day two and three of the National Ploughing Championships, the NPA will host the European Reversible Ploughing Contest for the first time. The competition will attract twenty six competitors from thirteen countries. Two competitors will compete from Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.

Ireland has two representatives in this competition, in the form of last year’s winner, John Whelan from Wexford (who brought the title to Ireland for the first time last year when he won in the Czech. Republic) and fellow Wexford man Dan Donnelly who has previously been runner-up in the European Contest, strengthening our chances in the finals this year.

Breaking record levels for the ploughing championships this year has been the huge number of enquiries to the NPA head office for trade and exhibition space, with over 1,100 trade stands now on offer for visitors, something of interest for all that attend.

Site owners, the Fennin and Fox Families are delighted to be hosting this years prestigious event, one of the biggest in Europe. The Fox family are particularly delighted to be involved as last year they provided land for car parking. However this year, their land will be hosting the European Reversible Championships.

This year’s Ploughing Championships will play host to no less than 17 All Ireland Ploughing finals over the course of the three days. Horse Ploughing, Vintage Ploughing, Conventional and Reversible Ploughing and the Queen of the Plough will be just some of the finals taking place.

At this year’s event you will see showcased millions worth of agricultural machinery, the country’s prize livestock, forestry village, a bio energy village, tented lifestyle village, food fair, craft centre, educational & business arcade, state agencies, national radio stations and sporting associations.

On the social side , fashion shows, food halls, huge variety of exciting fast food options, bars, and live music all day on the bandstand, a Hunt Chase, pony games, vintage threshing, sheep dog trials, sheep shearing, sheaf tossing, and a few more surprises in store!

The National Ploughing Championships in Cardenton, Athy from Tuesday 21st to Thursday 23rd September. For more information and a list of events and exhibitors, visit the National Ploughing Association website at www.npa.ie.

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 7:30 am.

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Ranelagh Arts Festival

From the Ranelagh Arts Festival website (http://www.ranelagharts.org/) “Who We Are” section:

 ”A group of Ranelagh residents came together in 2005 to deliver an innovative and inclusive Arts Festival for the local community from 29th September to 2nd October 2005. Our objective was to establish an annual arts festival for the people of the village and beyond. The aspiration of the committee was to create a diverse programme with something for everyone. The programme featured local artists and musicians, performances by children from the area, poetry, plays and film, as well as internationally recognised artists. “

The website further describes the festival as: 

  • An Arts Festival for the community, organised by local residents;
  • Our contribution to building a sense of community and celebrating Ranelagh, past and present;
  • An opportunity to promote the importance of the arts in people’s lives;
  • A festival for all age-groups, to be enjoyed by everyone living and working in Ranelagh and surrounding areas.

Included in the offerings are events related to literary arts, theatre arts, music arts, visual arts, cinematic arts, and other genres.  The 2010 Ranelagh Arts Festival runs from September 29 through October 3, and a full online program is available at http://www.ranelagharts.org/RAF_Prog_2010_Web.pdf. With a wide variety of venues and genres, there’s surely something for everyone at this festival!

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 3:49 pm.

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The Great Cliffs Balloon Race Takes Flight

Photo by Eamon Ward

Over 700 helium-filled orange balloons filled the sky at the Cliffs of Moher as schoolchildren from across north Clare took part in a spectacular visual display at the Cliffs on Tuesday, 7th September as part of the tourist attraction’s campaign to be selected as one of the ‘New7Wonders of Nature’. The students formed a giant ‘7’ on the cliff side and simultaneously released biodegradable balloons, marking the start of the ‘Great Cliffs Balloon Race’.  Each balloon is printed with the ‘Vote for the Cliffs’ logo and a contact message to encourage people who find the balloons to contact the Cliffs. A prize will be awarded to the person who finds the balloon that has travelled the furthest distance.

 The iconic County Clare landmark was shortlisted in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition in July 2009, along with 27 other sites, from over 440 participants representing 220 countries. In excess of one hundred million votes were cast in a global poll to determine the shortlisted sites. Among the other shortlisted sites are the Amazon Rainforest (South America), Table Mountain (SA), Black Forest (G), Vesuvius (IT), Galapagos Islands (EC), The Great Barrier Reef (AU) and The Grand Canyon (USA). 

 According to Katherine Webster, Director of the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience: “We are very grateful to the schoolchildren and their families for making today’s spectacular visual display possible and for the great assistance we have had from over 20 primary schools in North Clare.  The Great Cliffs Balloon Race will help spread the message about our bid to be named one the New7Wonders of Nature which, if successful, would be a major coup for Ireland to have one of the new seven wonders of nature.”

“We are the only Irish entry remaining in the competition and the potential benefits for Ireland are enormous particularly for Irish tourism bringing in thousands of additional visitors to the country each year”, Ms. Webster added.

The official New7Wonders of Nature list, which is subject to a worldwide poll, will be declared on 11 November 2011 (11-11-11).Competition organisers, Swiss non-profit New 7 Wonders Foundation, expect to collect a total of one billion votes in the campaign overall. Votes can be cast at www.new7wonders.com/n7w, so get in your vote now!

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 1:35 pm.

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Packing Tips for Your Trip to Ireland (Part III)

Your most important document.

In this final installment of packing tips, we’ll take a look at some of the more dreary and tedious aspects of preparing for travel and gathering in some of the loose ends and tidbits of information that we missed in the first two parts of the series.

The first item of business may seem completely obvious, but it’s something you need to remember to do: Make copies of the confirmations for any of the reservations you have made related to this trip (flight information, accommodation confirmations, rental car, etc.). Be certain that you have contact phone numbers for all of these places, including the airline(s) you’ll be flying. If you miss a flight or a flight is cancelled, it is sometimes easier and faster to call the airline to re-book than it is to stand in line with everyone else who are trying to do the same thing. If you have purchased travel insurance and/or international medical coverage, be sure to take that information with you as well. We generally take an envelope or a folder that contains all of these copies and information.  Some people have said that they take photographs of the documents with their cell phones, and that’s fine, but we think you should have hard copies of the documents as well.

In addition to taking copies of documents with you, you should make a couple of extra color copies of your passport. Leave one at home with someone you would be able to get in touch with easily should you lose your passport. If you are traveling with other people, exchange copies with them.

We’ve seen packing lists where the author suggests you take your address book; however, this is can prove a bit cumbersome. If you’re taking a cell phone with you on your trip, you can generally add the address information to your “Contacts” list, but we’re going to suggest something a little different. If you’re planning to send postcards or packages from Ireland, make address labels with your printer at home and take those with you. We use the labels to save time when writing postcards or sending items home ahead of us. It saves precious vacation time when you’re on the road.

If you take prescription medications, leave the medications in their original pharmacy packaging/bottles with the labels on them. Be aware that some medications that are legal by prescription in the United States are illegal to possess at any time in other countries. Be sure to check consular information sheets for the countries you’re planning to visit before you attempt to get on the plane. Don’t plan to have a prescription from your personal physician filled by a pharmacy in Ireland. You would have to get one from an Irish physician, so be sure to bring enough medication for your entire stay.

Speaking of medications, if you have any issues with motion sickness, you should bring something to help with that. There are over-the-counter products available in Ireland, but we generally suggest that people bring ginger pills (which are much less expensive and don’t make you tired), which you should take about 30 minutes ahead of any activity which might potentially cause you problems (flights, boat trips, etc.).  In the United States, you can generally purchase ginger pills at stores that sell dietary supplements. Travis has had some fairly severe problems with motion sickness in the past, but he does really well with the ginger, even on a boat in open seas when the weather is a bit dicey.

Make photocopies of any credit cards that you are taking with you as well. You can leave those and your passport copy with your trusted person at home. If you should lose a card or have your cards stolen, you will have all the contact information and card numbers in one place, so you can quickly notify all of the appropriate people. You can keep those numbers stored in your cell phone, but if your phone is stolen along with your cards – say your day pack is stolen, you won’t be able to easily get the information from overseas.

If you are planning to take your cell phone with you to Ireland, you will want to do a few things in preparation. First, check to make sure your cell phone is unlocked for use in Ireland.  We realize that most people are already savvy to this, but we just want to remind you! Second, if you have a smartphone, you will want to check with your provider about getting an international data plan. Unless you leave the phone in “Airplane” mode (in which case you can’t make or receive phone calls) or keep it turned off, your phone will be continuously hitting the satellite or nearest wireless and an exchange of data will be made. You could find yourself with a hefty phone bill  (to the tune of several hundreds of dollars) after you get home! If you need a phone while you’re in Ireland, but you don’t need to be available at your normal phone number for people at home to contact you, you can purchase a relatively cheap pay-as-you-go phone once you get to Ireland. Some people prefer this method to taking their own phone, but some people don’t want to have a different phone number while they’re traveling.

A note about travelers’ checks: You can take them with you to Ireland, but you will need to cash them at a bank, and you will be charged a fee for that service. Many places in Ireland no longer accept travelers’ checks. And, as there are ATMs all over the country, there really isn’t any need to have the checks, in our opinion. You can get cash as needed via a debit card, and many of your costs related to lodging, eating, and entertainment may be paid for with credit or debit cards (generally accepted are Visa, MasterCard, and American Express). When asked if you want your charge done in euros or dollars, do not let them charge in dollars, as you will get a very poor exchange rate on top of the fee that you’re assessed for the privilege!

The last item we will mention in our packing tips is guide books. This is a very personal decision, we feel, so we won’t tell you which one you should take. Go to a bookstore or look at an online bookstore and select the travel guide that you feel will provide you with the information that is most applicable to your personal tastes and that provides good information about the places you want to travel. Even at that, you don’t necessarily have to drag the whole book with you to Ireland. If you want to you, you can buy the books you like and then photocopy or tear out the pages that pertain to your itinerary.

Good planning ahead of time will make for a more enjoyable and relaxing trip. Until next time, we leave you with this well-known Irish blessing. Slán abhaile!

May the road rise to meet you...

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 4:19 pm.

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Packing Tips for Your Trip to Ireland (Part II)

Don't skimp: Get a good-quality electrical adaptor with surge protection.

In our previous article, we discussed what kind of and how much luggage you should bring, what types of clothing and footwear you might want to pack, and how to be a bit prepared for the weather in Ireland. In this article, we continue our discussion of what to pack for Ireland with a look at some things you might not think about when making your packing list (and you should use a packing list).

Most people know that they’ll need an adapter for the electrical outlets. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find. You will be sorry when your blowdryer, curling iron, rechargeable batteries, or (worst case scenario) laptop are fried! Spend the extra $10-15 and get a good-quality adapter with hi/lo settings and surge protection.

You will probably want to bring extra memory cards for your digital camera as well. Unless you have a laptop or other storage device available to which you can upload your photos, it’s a good idea to have extra storage available. To hold your memory cards in one place, you might consider purchasing a case that can hold several cards. For around $10, we purchased (from one of the office store chains) a hard-sided case that can hold up to a dozen SD memory cards.

Whether you are driving in Ireland or using public transport, you should purchase a good map. Our favorites are the Michelin Ireland map – not the one with Ireland and Britain; the one with just Ireland – or the Ordinance Survey Ireland (OSI) maps. We have found that these maps, along with a GPS with a current map (for those of you who will be driving), have saved us from being hopelessly lost many times. On the other hand, they also have helped us be more brave about driving off on those smaller, unmarked roads that look like they may lead to a wonderful adventure, because we are assured that we will be able to get back to where we need to be…eventually! If you’re exploring Ireland on a tour or only plan to stick to major roadways, almost any map of Ireland will suffice.

Small LED flashlight.

Pack a small torch (flashlight) for you trip. You might not see why you would need one, but we can tell you from experience that there are many times this will come in handy. If you get a flat tire late in the day or at night, if you end up out walking/hiking/exploring later than you had planned to, if you lose an earring under the bed, if you come across a rarely-explored cave or castle, you will be very happy to have a flashlight. It may sound ridiculous to say, but Ireland becomes black as pitch after the sun sets, if you’re not in area that has streetlights (which is most of Ireland). You can get a very small LED version for just a few bucks. If you don’t want to bother with carrying batteries, you can purchase a wind-up model for a few dollars more.

If you wear contact lenses, be sure to take extra lenses with you and/or back-up glasses. If you have worn corrective lenses for any length of time, you probably already realize you should do this, but sometimes the most obvious items get left behind!

First-time visitors to Ireland should be aware that many lodging accommodations do not provide a facecloth/washcloth. If you can’t live without one, be sure to pack one in your carry-on. We have noticed that department stores and stores that sell towels generally have them available for sale (in case you forget one), and some hotels and spas that cater more to foreign visitors may have them, but you might just have to ask for one.

Something else you’ll want to think about while you’re traveling: How will you keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean ones? Unless you’re planning to wash clothes every day (and are sure that they’ll be dry by morning, if you’re moving from one accommodation to the next each day), you’ll want to keep them separate. What we’ve learned to do is to pack a few gallon-sized zipper-top plastic bags to take along until we find a place to wash the clothes. If you’re staying in self-catering that has washing facilities in the unit, you don’t have to worry about this so much, but you might want to take some long in case you get wet socks or clothing and don’t want them to get anything else wet! (Take an extra pair of socks and change of clothing along in the car or your daypack if you’re going out walking or hiking…just in case it rains unexpectedly.)

Carry a journal or sketchbook...

We also suggest that any traveler to any destination carry a journal/sketchbook and a glue stick, so you can document your impressions and memories of your travel as they occur. If you aren’t journaling several times a day as you go, take a few minutes out of each morning or evening to write in your journal. While we are artists, we don’t generally consider ourselves to be artists who draw or paint especially well, but we have taken to stopping at places we visit to try to sketch what we see: people, animals, plants, buildings, whatever… Doing so provides us a different perspective on places that we may have visited many times. Give it a try!

In our third, and final, part of this series about packing for your trip to Ireland, we’ll take a look at some other things you’ll want to think about with regard to paperwork and traveling with medications. Until we meet again, slán abhaile!

Posted 7 years, 5 months ago at 11:38 am.

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Packing Tips for Your Trip to Ireland (Part I)

Only bring minimal luggage, especially if you're using public transportation.

Ireland doesn’t tend to be a dressy, fussy place where you’ll need lots of clothes and accessories and extra shoes to have a great time. Jeans and casual shirt or khakis and a sweater will do you just fine in most instances. We like that about Ireland!

Bring as little luggage as you possibly can. We generally only travel with a carry-on convertible bag (as we showed you in our last blog post) and a smaller messenger bag or tote. If you’re planning to use public transportation at any time when you’ll have all of your luggage with you – even if it’s only for the train ride from the airport to your hotel in Dublin – you will want to have a little baggage as possible. Plus, if you follow our tip to get the smallest vehicle you can fit in, you won’t have a whole lot of room for luggage in the boot, and you’ll want to put your bags in the boot. If you’re traveling from town to town with all of your belongings each day (or every few days), you may be stopping to have lunch or visit a site on the way, and you don’t want your luggage in the back seat announcing the fact that you are a tourist with all of your stuff. There may not be as much crime in Ireland as there is where you’re from, but it does happen. Don’t help thieves target you; it’ll ruin your holiday.

But let’s just take a moment right now to talk about the elephant in the room: it rains in Ireland, sometimes a lot. You need to be prepared for everything from light drizzle to torrential downpours with mighty winds. Though thunderstorms are rare in Ireland, they are not completely unheard of. To prepare for the rain, we have purchased good quality rain coats that work as windbreakers as well. We also have rain hats that have fairly wide brims to keep the dripping water off our faces and necks.

For several reasons, we generally do not travel with an umbrella. We like to have our hands free to use our cameras and video equipment (or to hang on to a railing). There’s no point in taking a cheap umbrella to Ireland, and a good quality umbrella takes up more room in our luggage than we are willing to sacrifice. The wind can render your umbrella useless anyway. To sum up, if it’s only a soft day (not raining hard), we wouldn’t really need an umbrella, and if it’s raining and blowing too hard, the umbrella is useless at best and broken at worst.

There were several times on our first couple of trips to Ireland that I was wishing I had a pair of gloves to keep my hands warmer. I now take along a pair of those little stretchy gloves that don’t cost much and don’t take up much room in the suitcase. Even if they get wet, my hands are warmer!

So, what should you wear? Even during the summer months, the weather can fluctuate a great deal, including the temperature. Days will generally start out cool and can get quite warm by the afternoon. Dress in layers that you can peel off and put on as the weather dictates. Due to the fact that the ground is quite uneven in many places, you should not plan to wear to high heels or shoes with narrow heels. Wear good walking shoes, hiking boots, or supportive sandals as appropriate. And, when wearing walking shoes or hiking boots, be sure to have good socks made for walking. It does make a difference to your poor, tired feet at the end of the day! Also, if you can waterproof your shoes or boots, do so before you travel. In the United States, you can purchase spray-on products that do a good job of helping keep water out of your shoes (unless you’re walking through deep puddles or it’s raining buckets).

Next time, we’ll give you some more tips for packing for your trip. Until then, slán go fóill!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 9:26 am.

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Why Travel Light?

We each take one of these carry-on bags. We can pack for about 10 days in this one bag.

In these days of baggage fees and lost luggage, we still see people at the airport checking three bags or more for two people. Unless you are traveling with specialized equipment (e.g. you’re a professional photographer or a professional musician in a band), you can pack for a week or more with one carry-on bag.

Unless you’re traveling to a place that has few places to purchase supplies, you can leave out many of those liquids that people carry. Since you’re only going to be bringing a carry-on bag, you’ll have to fit all of your liquids into that one quart-sized bag that you are allowed. Why not leave the shampoo, hairspray, and toothpaste at home and buy those things when you arrive at your destination? This will lighten your load a bit and allow you to buy and use what the locals use.

What are some advantages of traveling light? One of the more obvious benefits is monetary. With the exception of a few discount airlines (Ryanair and Spirit Airlines come to mind), you’ll save money by not checking bags. You could save upwards of $100 for two people on a round-trip fare, even if you only check one bag per person each way.

If you don’t check your luggage, it stays under your control; therefore, it is extremely unlikely that you’ll have items lost, stolen, or damaged in transit. This is a huge bonus, in our opinion. We feel that, if airlines are going to charge for checking luggage, they should be almost perfect in getting the luggage to where it is supposed to end up. This is not the case, however, and until they become almost perfect, we’re not of a mind to take the gamble (plus lose the money we paid to have the luggage transported to somewhere other than where we are).

Straps convert our carry-on bags to backpacks. There's also a strap that can go around your waist.

It is much easier to use public transportation when you arrive at your destination if you are not lugging around several suitcases. Our carry-on bags have straps that convert the bag to a backpack for ease of carrying. This is so nice if you have to carry your bags for any distance or to get from one airport, bus, or train terminal to another when traveling.

One of the things we really dislike doing when we’re traveling is waiting for our luggage to arrive at baggage claim. If we don’t have any bags checked, we don’t have to waste our time. Standing at the baggage carousel and jostling with other travelers to get a spot along the belt so you can wait for your luggage is not the stress-free start to a great vacation.

If you are not planning to use public transportation or will, at some point in your trip, be renting a vehicle to drive yourself, the less luggage you have, the smaller the vehicle you can hire. A smaller vehicle gets better gas mileage (so it’s greener to operate and will save you money on fuel) and is easier to maneuver and park. It’s a very good idea to keep all of your luggage in the trunk/boot of your vehicle out of sight, so potential thieves will not be so easily enticed to select your vehicle as a target.

Reducing the amount of “stuff” you take with you on your trips will help you reduce the stress and hassles involved in trying to take everything with you. For us, that’s a huge pay-off!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 1:59 pm.

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42nd Annual Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival

Despite the difficulties the current economy places on local and regional events such as these,today begins the weeklong festival and celebration of history and the arts in Birr (Co. Offaly). The festival continues through August 20 and includes such diverse events as Circus Skills workshops, a busking contest, golf, traditional afternoon teas, a vintage tennis tournament, an Olde Time Traditional Fair, a   fly-in, road bowling, and various art venues such as a visual arts trail launch, art exhibitions, and artisan and craft markets. All this with the music, circus performances, and the big parade on Sunday (August 15), promise to make a week of fun for just about any taste.

For further information about this festival, visit their website at http://www.birrvintageweek.com to look at the full schedule of events for the week.

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 7:57 am.

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