Kevin McAleer at launch of Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival 2019

What do you get when you mix a folk troubadour, a bestselling chick-lit phenomenon, as-seen-on-TV comedy stars and a dog-friendly cinema screening? Add in some improv all-stars, and you’ve got a top-notch 20th anniversary line-up for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

The deliciously eccentric event returns to the city’s bustling Cathedral Quarter from May 2 to 12, and this year’s bumper birthday programme is full of delights, from singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and writer Marian Keyes, to Derry Girls comic Kevin McAleer and Catchphrase legend Roy Walker.

With more than 100 diverse and affordable events scheduled in over 20 venues, and a stronger than ever line-up, there’s never been a better reason to visit Belfast’s beating cultural heart.


Rufus Wainwright

The narrow, cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter will be filled with sound during the 11-day event, with the cream of local and international musicians performing.

Established acts such as Spiritualized, Teenage Fanclub, Rufus Wainwright, Anna Calvi and Echo and the Bunnymen will be joined by emerging talent including country-soul star Yola and Armagh singer-songwriter DANI. The line-up also includes My Darling Clementine, Limerick band whenyoung, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and a DJ set from Craig Charles. 

Revellers after something quirky can also enjoy a Polish singing trio and a Chinese delegation of talent show winners at this year’s festival.


The Cathedral Quarter has long had literary influences, with a 19th century satirical newspaper, The Northern Whig, once based here, a Writer’s Square opposite St Anne’s Cathedral (check out its quotations inscribed in stone), and The John Hewitt bar, named after a Belfast poet.

This connection is richly reflected in the festival programme. Marian Keyes, one of the most successful Irish novelists of all time, will appear at the Festival Marquee in conversation with journalist Roisin Ingle, while Belfast-born author Bernard MacLaverty will read from his work and discuss his remarkable career.

Seamus Heaney Tour

Other literary events include author Emma Dabiri discussing her new book Don’t Touch My Hair, BBC Radio 1 DJ Phil Taggart on his Slacker Guide to the Music Industry, and a trip to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy, County Londonderry.


If you’re in need of a good belly laugh, look no further than this 0.5 square mile; there are a host of quirky comics set to brighten up your day.

Kevin McAleer

Highlights aside from Roy Walker and Kevin McAleer (most recently seen in Derry Girls as the hilariously droning Uncle Colm) include misanthropic magician Jerry Sadowitz, ventriloquist Nina Conti, and Kieran Hodgson performing ’75, his tale of how Britain joined Europe in the first place.

Meanwhile, Drogheda-born Deirdre O’Kane will also be performing her latest routine, A Line of O’Kane, and Whose Line is it Anyway’s Stephen Frost will introduce his Improv Allstars.


The curtain is ready to rise on a packed theatre programme at the CQAF. Highlights include the Irish premiere of Soda Bread’s The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World. This frank new play about friendship, feminism and success follows three 20-somethings trying to make sense of their uncertain lives.

One-woman show Earth to Alice explores the stigma of mental illness as performer Alice McCullough plays with the boundaries between poetry, comedy, storytelling and theatre.

The Ballad of Patrick MacGill depicts the life of Donegal writer and ‘Navvy Poet’ Patrick MacGill, starring Belfast folk singers Jane Cassidy and Maurice Leyden, and Scottish singer Derek Williamson, while the immersive audio play Stowaway City tracks a journalist’s escape from civil war in the US.

There’s also Dick, a one-man show about surviving penile cancer, and Cabaret at the Cathedral from local community arts organisations.

Sound and Vision

Got a culture-loving, four-legged friend? Bring them along to The Sunflower bar for a beer (or a bowl of water) and a special screening of the hilarious dog comedy Best In Show.

Elsewhere, The Quiet Architect is a cinematic portrayal of acclaimed Irish-American architect – or ‘starchitect’ Kevin Roche, while the documentary Return of the Dancehall Sweethearts follows Celtic rock band Horslips, who will also be performing at the festival.

Visual Arts and Special Events

Belfast’s writers, poets and musicians are celebrated by artist Neil Shawcross, with 36 of his paintings set to be exhibited during the festival.

Meanwhile, Double Take showcases Dan Ferguson’s paintings of Northern Irish urban spaces, and The Telepaths is a new installation of sculpture, video and photography from Susan MacWilliam.

Other exciting special events include a Mad Notions podcast from Irish musicians Mick McCullagh and Nathan O’Regan, the CQAF Radio Experiment broadcasting live and an exhibition in the Black Box by celebrated artist Ray Duncan.

Where to eat and stay

Bullitt Hotel, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

With so many brilliant events on offer, you’ll most likely want to stay a while. The Bullitt Hotel on Church Lane offers no-nonsense rooms with comfy king size beds, morning Grub to Go bags and a cracking location in the heart of the city. (Enjoy a special discounted hotel offfer by quoting CQAF2019 when booking on 028 9590 0600)*.  For something more luxurious, try Malmaison boutique hotel on Victoria Street, inspired by Belfast’s famous ship the Titanic.  Alternatively stay in the Ramada Encore Belfast, situated in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter (20% off best available rate for stays between 2nd- 12th May. Call 028 9026 1800 to book, quoting CQAF 2019)*.

The Cathedral Quarter is jam-packed with delicious eateries. The Muddlers Club, named after a secret society that met in the quarter’s back streets more than 200 years ago, was named best restaurant in Ulster at the Irish Restaurant Awards. Meanwhile, Made in Belfast serves up delicious, locally sourced food (try the Irish beef burger and beef fat chips).

We hope you enjoy your time at Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival 2019.  Tell us about your time here at #DiscoverNI

* Subject to availability. Payable at the time of booking. Non- transferable, non- refundable.