by Penny Walker and Derek Landy, The Telegraph, October 8, 2018
If there’s one thing the Irish know how to do really, really well, it’s scaring the living bejaysus out of you.
They’re born to it, really. Growing up in the land of ghosts, fairies and banshees, they can’t help but absorb some of that darkness into their bloodstream. Is Ireland not the birthplace of Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker? Did they not gift the world Dracula?
Yes, Ireland is a markedly different place to what it was only a few decades ago, but that darkness doesn’t go away. It lingers. It seeps. And once a year, at Halloween, it comes out to play.
Halloween – or Samhain, in its original incarnation – is when the barriers are thinnest between this world and the next, and the dead come back to the land of the living. Disguises are worn, so that we frail mortals can mingle with these supernatural beasties without fear of being snatched away. We feast. We sing. We invite the dead into our homes and offer them a seat at the table.
The British have Bonfire Night a few days later, commemorating that time Guy Fawkes failed to blow up Parliament, but the Irish light their bonfires on Halloween to protect their land, livestock and families. The fire cleanses. It renews.
And darkness, like fire, spreads. It spread to North America in the 19th century, accompanying all those shivering Irish emigrants on all those battered, leaking boats. Eight million men, women and children, bringing with them the remnants of their pagan gods and traditions, finding them a new home where they encountered other cultures, other gods, and other traditions.
Here, like some ghastly Frankenstein’s monster, the Halloween we know today was given form. Mischief-making and playing pranks became “trick or treating”. jack-o’-lanterns switched from being terrifying visages carved from turnips to being grotesque faces carved from pumpkins. Disguising yourself as a ghost became dressing up as your favourite superhero. Or a nurse.
But behind all the laughter and the masks, behind the cackling witch decoration hanging from your front door, behind the brave face we tend to adopt when confronted with things that genuinely scare us – there is still that undercurrent of darkness. You can feel it, can’t you?
Even now, the walls between worlds are getting thinner. Your old friends are returning. You can’t run from them. You can’t hide from them. All you can do is disguise yourself as one of them, and pray that when they finally do leave, they don’t take you with them.
Derek Landy is an Irish horror author and screenwriter. His bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series can be found at harpercollins.co.uk
The best things to do around Ireland this Halloween
Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival, Derry-Londonderry
When it came to crowning the best Halloween destination in the world, USA Today didn’t name any of their own candy-loving, thrill-seeking cities the victor (how un-American of them), but rather granted the title to Derry-Londonderry. It seems that when it comes to celebrating the thinning of the veil between the worlds, you just can’t beat this Northern Irish city.
This year’s riotous events include Awakening the Walls (an animated illuminated trail featuring installations and artistic performances), the Ancients’ International Halloween Street Carnival Parade, the Monster Halloween Fun Fair, the Jack O’Lantern Festival and the Fireworks Finale (Oct 26-Nov 3; derryhalloween.com).
Where to stay: Once a gentlemen’s club that hosted Winston Churchill and WB Yeats, today, Bishop’s Gate Hotel is possibly the city’s most indulgent stay (telegraph.co.uk/tt-bishops-gate-hotel; doubles from £119).
Bram Stoker Festival, Dublin
One of Dublin’s largest festivals, this Halloween extravaganza started back in 2012 and has quickly become one of the city’s most highly anticipated annual events. Inspired by the country’s best-loved horror writer and author of Dracula – one of the genre’s most influential books – the Bram Stoker Festival is a wonderland for fans of all things gothic.
Fit for families and grown-ups alike, there are parades, funfair rides, theatrical performances and late-night cinema screenings in the grounds of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. There are also a host of workshops, podcasts and literary talks.This year, the brave are being invited to venture into the darkness of the woods of St Anne’s Park for the world premiere of The Night of the Shifting Bog, by modern circus company the Loosysmokes (Oct 26-29; bramstokerfestival.com; #BiteMeDublin).
Where to stay: Draped in decorations and serving up scary specials, the Fitzwilliam Hotel is getting into the spirit of the season (telegraph.co.uk/tt-the-fitzwilliam-hotel; doubles from £231).
Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival, County Meath
While Ireland may claim to be the birthplace of Halloween, Co Meath goes a step further. According to local legend, the first ever Samhain festival was held on the top of the Hill of Ward (Tlachtga) near Athboy in Co Meath more than 3,000 years ago. It was here that the Samhain fire of the new Celtic year was first lit and carried to seven surrounding hills in the Boyne Valley.
They really make the most of the festivities here, with fun, imaginative events starting as early as this weekend. There are lantern-lit canoe tours, “Ghosts of Drogheda” walking tours and children’s Halloween hunts. You can also try out pumpkin picking, a guided meditation on Samhain or, of couse, the Flame of Samhain festival (Oct 6-Nov 4; spiritsofmeath.ie).
Where to stay: With events held all over Co Meath, there are a number of locations you can choose to stay – especially with Dublin so close. For a country house with immeasurable charm, try Bellinter House (telegraph.co.uk/tt-bellinter-house-hotel; doubles from £120).
This article was written by Penny Walker and Derek Landy from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].