It’s somewhat ironic that after a lifetime of cracking jokes at the expense of the Irish, we all one day arrive on the shores of the Emerald Isle, only to discover the joke’s been on us the whole time. We were driving north through the Republic towards the border with Northern Ireland when this writer suddenly pondered his expired UK visa.

Do you think I’ll encounter any trouble crossing into the United Kingdom?” I asked our guide Hazel.

“Hmmm,” she pondered. “I’ll call the boss, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

What I didn’t know was that the border between the two countries had long been demilitarised and as I crouched under the weight of 15 winter jackets, our Irish guide and an entire bus load of passengers looked down at this unseasoned traveller and waited patiently for the penny to drop.”

Yessirree. These folk may be the butt of jokes the world over, but get to know the locals here and you’ll discover the irony of it all. The Irish are generally funnier than we ever could be – they share a unique wit and humour and they’re not afraid to take the piss out of themselves or you. The sooner you get it, the more refreshing your Irish experience will be.

The defining feature of Irish humour is that there is nothing so serious that ultimately cannot be ridiculed,” Hazel told me. “It is highly self-deprecating, indiscriminate and entrenched in irony.

“From my perspective I think very few people would even consider the impact of our humour on visitors, it’s just such a part of us. But it adds a sense that we are a warm hospitable nation, which fosters a perfect environment in which to holiday.”

If comedy comes naturally to these folk, it probably goes without saying that the festivals held here are among the best in the world. From the traditional to the downright quirky, the Irish certainly know how to put on a good show.

For standup enthusiasts, the most popular event on the Irish calendar happens in Kilkenny in June. The Murphy’s Cat Laughs Festival is renowned for its relaxed shows – probably because there are no awards or major prizes on offer. Participants compete for audience applause and nothing more. Following in its success, Dublin now hosts Bulmers International Comedy Festival. While relatively new in comparison, the September event retains a healthy serve of home-grown humour while still attracting comedians from all over the world.

For yet more laughs in October, the highlight of Northern Ireland’s entertainment calendar has to be the Belfast Festival. While it encompasses entertainment on all levels, it’s also a one-stop shop for live shows, standup and street performances.

But if you’d prefer laughing at somebody else’s expense, and wouldn’t mind notching up your Irish flag at the same time, check out County Clare in August. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival has become the largest event of its kind and attracts singles, however desperate, from across the nation. Kicking off in September, the occasion sees folk gather together to sing, dance and generally get it on. Very classy.

But the diversity of Ireland’s festival circuit extends much further than comedy and quirk. For years Irish entertainers have celebrated their nation on the world stage. In the ’90s it was Sinead O’Connor who entertained and offended in equal measure. The Corr sisters redefined Irish beauty in the new millennium and U2 remain one of the greatest bands of its generation. It seems only fair then, that Ireland should host a number of traditional and contemporary live music events.

The freshest among them starts just outside Dublin in July. The Oxegen Music Festival is rapidly proving Ireland’s answer to Glastonbury or Australia’s Big Day Out with big name artists like The Foo Fighters and The Prodigy already confirmed for this year’s event.

But for more traditional music tastes, it would be hard to top the Fleadh Ceol na hEireann. It’s an annual gathering of traditional Irish musicians held in August each year. This year Letterkenny in far north County Donegal will play host to the event, expected to attract more than 200,000 visitors.

And at about the same time, but at the other end of the country, The Rose of Tralee International Festival will be held in Kerry. It’s a vast helping of native music and humour and at the very least is worth patronising to watch all the glamour and fake sincerity of Miss World wannabes vying to be crowned Tralee’s rose.

The event actually attracts models from all over the world every year. But the final word in festivals goes to, well, pretty much any pub in the country on St Patrick’s Day. It’s in places like Doolin, a mid-west village a stone’s throw from the Cliffs of Moher and barely large enough for its two pubs, where the proprietors of both will serve up a Guinness and a stew for less than a tenner and then a band will kick onto the wee small hours with unplugged renditions of Danny Boy. It’s an Irish experience you’d be hard-pressed to top.

In fact, no matter which pub or village festival you find yourself in for St Paddy’s, from the idyllic pub-crawled streets of Killarney to the larger St Pat’s Day offerings in Dublin, you’ll still likely encounter Ireland’s larger-than-life characters, their far-flung tales and dry-witted humour. It is one of the enduring aspects of a trip to this country at any time of the year.”