During our 6 year stay on Islay we never missed an Islay Festival although we didn’t visit each and every distillery during every Feis Ile, the Gaelic name for Islay Festival. It’s handy when you live on Islay during the festival as it’s sometimes really hard to find proper accommodation, and when you have found it trying to get transportation can be a nightmare. Booking a ferry far in advance is useful as they are mostly fully booked before, during and after the Islay Festival week. Or try to cross as passenger without a car, that makes all the difference.
Islay Festival 2022 – 27 May to 4 June
The festivals of 2020 and 2021 were unfortunately cancelled due to the Corona pandemic. They were virtual, and the first one up, in 2022, will likely take place as usual, meaning that it’s no longer a virtual event. By the way, the Islay Festival 2022 will be held from 27 May to the 4th of June. And you’ll be surprised to know that quite a few self catering properties are already booked in this week. So if you’re keen on attending, make sure to book asap!
In the years that we started to visit and subsequently live on Islay, the Islay Festival has become quite a thing. I remember from the first festival we attended, I think it was in 2005, that it was still rather quiet on the island. Ardnahoe Distillery wasn’t open then, and neither was Kilchoman Distillery if I remember correctly, or perhaps they were just opening up. There were only 7 Distilleries and a Brewery and hardly any special festival bottlings, which meant no queueing outside the distilleries, at least not the way it is now. It was less commercial and less crowded and even then some visitors avoided it as it was still too busy for them!
Islay Festival 2022 Programme
The Feis Ile 2022 programme is not yet available, it’s usually published a few months before the festival itself. It’s safe to say the usual order of things will be as follows; Friday for Islay House and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Saturday for Lagavulin, Sunday for Bruichladdich, Monday for Caol Ila and Islay Ales, Tuesday Laphroaig, Wednesday Bowmore and Ardnahoe, Thursday for Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain and Jura on Friday and last but not least Ardbeg on Saturday. As soon as more info is available I will update this post.
History of the Islay Festival
The original Islay Festival of Malt and Music was founded in 1986 and was completely different from the current Feis Ile. First of all it lasted longer and it was mainly a celebration of the heritage and culture of Islay. There were many musical events and other cultural happenings. The distilleries joined in much later.
Distillery Open Days
I guess when you live on Islay you pick the Distillery Open days you like, also depending on the weather and spare time. And that meant that Bruichladdich Open Day was visited by us every year as it was a Sunday and the sun always shone on that day. They say it was the hand of whisky god Jim McEwan. Who knows, but when he left the distillery the weather was still as good as always.
Bruichladdich Open Day
For us, Bruichladdich Open Day was a special event as our daughter always performed, she was one of Ella Edgar’s Highland Dancers. And how proud can you be as parent when your daughter dances in front of such a great, happy and supportive audience. It didn’t get much better!! And it was always at Bruichladdich Open Day that we met so many folk from the Rhinns and other parts of Islay, and many more from further afield as well. One big get together of jolly people, some who visited the festival for many many years in a row. And the performances were always spot on, with great Scottish and other bands. I guess it’s this particular Islay Festival day that I will miss the most now that we have left Islay, together perhaps with the one on the last day….
Ardbeg Open Day
The Final day of the festival is always Ardbeg Day. They have a different theme every year, always something special, and always a highly anticipated super relaxed day with performances, usually by one band, Arbroath Smokies, the latest bottlings of Ardbeg Whisky and trips with Gus from Islay Sea Adventures. Sitting on the rocks, overlooking the distillery courtyard and its many visitors on one side, and the ships and sun bouncing off the sea on the other side with an Ardbeg dram in your hands is just bliss.
The other Open Days
Of course we’ve visited other open days too. Usually Lagavulin on Saturday, but for some reason the weather was never that great. And on Wednesdays you could find us in Islay Square with the Brewery Open Day and the various stalls from the shops and live music. Thursdays at Kilchoman were fine as well, we enjoyed a couple of good performances there.
Music, Dance and Tastings at the Islay Festival
And in good Islay tradition, the festival doesn’t stop with the distillery open days. There is lots of music, dance and of course plenty of whisky tastings by independent bottlers and others. There are several Ceilidh’s during the festival week. There’s the First Fling, the Final Fling and usually a Ceilidh in Ballygrant Hall. Often there’s an evening with Robin Laing and some of the Islay Hotels have great bands performing in the bars. To give you an idea, bands such as Skerryvore, Tide Lines and Reely Jiggered are frequent visitors of the Islay Festival.
The Future of Islay Festival
Of course Islay Festival will always be there but lately I felt that it became a bit too commercial and perhaps too crowded. With new distilleries opening up, a new Gin and perhaps a Rum distillery too, the one week festival might not be enough to properly enjoy it and give every visitor the chance to visit Islay. I was always a supporter of a two week festival and who knows, when Farkin opens up, and Port Ellen Distillery too, they will really need two weeks, or at least 10 days, to give every distillery and brewery a proper open day. And with that, to give every potential visitor the chance to come over and enjoy Islay during the Islay Festival as it’s a fabulous festival and a must for every whisky and Islay fan!
Islay Festival Video
To round it all off, below is one of the best video impressions of the Islay Festival. It was made in 2017 and for me it’s extra special as our daughter dances in this video as well. How cool is that?