If you're looking for a quirky festival within an easy drive from Canberra, the Boorowa Irish Woolfest might just be the thing. Held on the Sunday of the Labour Day long weekend each October, the Irish Woolfest pays tribute to the town's Irish history and the local sheep and wool industry.
The blessing of the fleece gets things underway with a sheep shorn the old fashioned way before the fleece receives a spiritual thanksgiving but the running of the sheep is definitely the headline act. While Pamplona, Spain might get the limelight for its annual bull run, the sheep of Boorowa are ready to give the bulls of Spain some stiff competition. And while the notion of a herd of sheep trundling down a sleepy street on the South West Slopes of New South Wales doesn't get the heart racing in quite the same way as a wave of angry bulls, the running of the sheep gets points for fun!
There is absolutely no denying that the sheep are the stars of this festival with crowds packed shoulder to shoulder and several deep the entire length of the street to cheer them on. At 12pm sharp, they gamely barrel down the length of the main road, crowds cheering and cameras flashing. Kelpies help them on their way leaping gracefully across their backs to add an extra element of excitement – definitely better than being gored by an angry bull. The sheep are followed by a street parade with a focus on country life and Boorowa's Irish heritage. Expect to see celtic pipe bands, sheep floats and tractors in droves.
Celtic Pipe Band in the Boorowa Irish Woolfest Street Parade
The Boorowa Irish Woolfest and the running of the sheep offer up plenty to make a day trip out of it - as well the boutique market stalls, most shops and cafes in town are open for the day. There are rides for the kids, live music and plenty of food from sausage sizzles through to sit down meals. In 2018, the event grew to incorporate a fireworks display on Saturday evening before Woolfest providing a good excuse to turn the Woolfest into a country weekend away.
As an added bonus, Woolfest lands in the middle of canola season. This is a beautiful time in the hilltops region when the gently rolling hills are blanketed in bright yellow canola flowers. The fields provide an amazing backdrop for photos but if you do want to get that perfect snap, remember that these fields are private property so don't climb any fences. You'll find plenty of opportunities with safe places to stop along the way. There are more ideas on driving the canola trail here.
Boorowa is located in the Hilltops region, about one and a half hours drive from Canberra. Around 15 000 people attend Boorowa Irish Woolfest annually and accommodation within the town is limited so if you plan to stay, get in early. Regardless of whether you stay for the weekend or just the day, you're guaranteed to have a unique story to tell once you've witnessed the running of the sheep!