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IN THIS ISSUE
=== News Snaps from Ireland
=== New Free Resources at the Site
=== Play The Irish Lotto
=== Farmleigh House, Dublin
=== The Book of Kells, Trinity College
=== Irish Halloween Traditions
=== The Ghost Story by Pat Watson
=== Bram Stoker: Irish Creator of Dracula
=== YouTube Videos of Irish Interest
=== Monthly Free Competition Result
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IRISH HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS
The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, 'All
Hallowtide' - the 'Feast of the Dead', when the
dead revisited the mortal world. The celebration
marked the end of Summer and the start of the
During the eighth century the Catholic Church
designated the first day of November as 'All
Saints Day' ('All Hallows') - a day of
commemoration for those Saints that did not have
a specific day of remembrance. The night before
was known as 'All Hallows Eve' which, over time,
became known as Halloween.
Here are the most notable Irish Halloween
Colcannon for Dinner: Boiled Potato, Curly Kale
(a cabbage) and raw Onions are provided as the
traditional Irish Halloween dinner. Clean coins
are wrapped in baking paper and placed in the
potato for children to find and keep.
The Barnbrack Cake: The traditional Halloween
cake in Ireland is the barnbrack which is a
fruit bread. Each member of the family gets a
slice. Great interest is taken in the outcome as
there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring in
each cake. If you get the rag then your financial
future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you
can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting
the ring is a sure sign of impending romance
or continued happiness.
The Ivy Leaf: Each member of the family places a
perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and it is
then left undisturbed overnight. If, in the
morning, a leaf is still perfect and has not
developed any spots then the person who placed the
leaf in the cup can be sure of 12 months health
until the following Halloween. If not.....
The Pumpkin: Carving Pumpkins dates back to the
eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith
named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was
denied entry to Heaven. He was condemned to
wander the earth but asked the Devil for some
light. He was given a burning coal ember which he
placed inside a turnip that he had gouged out.
Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns was born
- the bearer being the wandering blacksmith - a
damned soul. Villagers in Ireland hoped that the
lantern in their window would keep the wanderer
away. When the Irish emigrated in their millions
to America there was not a great supply of turnips
so pumpkins were used instead.
Halloween Costumes: On Halloween night children
would dress up in scary costumes and go house to
house. 'Help the Halloween Party' and 'Trick or
Treat' were the cries to be heard at each door.
This tradition of wearing costumes also dates back
to Celtic times. On the special night when the
living and the dead were at their closest the
Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes
to disguise themselves as spirits and devils in
case they encountered other devils and spirits
during the night. By disguising they hoped that
they would be able to avoid being carried away at
the end of the night. This explains why witches,
goblins and ghosts remain the most popular
choices for the costumes.
Snap Apple: After the visits to the neighbours the
Halloween games begin, the most popular of which
is Snap Apple. An apple is suspended from a string
and children are blindfolded. The first child to
get a decent bite of the apple gets to keep their
prize. The same game can be played by placing
apples in a basin of water and trying to get a
grip on the apple without too much mess!
The Bonfire: The Halloween bonfire is a tradition
to encourage dreams of who your future husband or
wife is going to be. The idea was to drop a
cutting of your hair into the burning embers and
then dream of you future loved one. Halloween was
one of the Celt 'fire' celebrations.
Blind Date: Blindfolded local girls would go out
into the fields and pull up the first cabbage they
could find. If their cabbage had a substantial
amount of earth attached to the roots then their
future loved one would have money. Eating the
cabbage would reveal the nature of their future
husband - bitter or sweet!
Another way of finding your future spouse is to
peel an apple in one go. If done successfully the
single apple peel could be dropped on the floor
to reveal the initials of the future-intended.
Anti-Fairy Measures: Fairies and goblins try to
collect as many souls as they can at Halloween but
if they met a person who threw the dust from under
their feet at the Fairy then they would be obliged
to release any souls that they held captive.
Holy water was sometimes anointed on farm animals
to keep them safe during the night. If the animals
were showing signs of ill health on All Hallows
Eve then they would be spat on to try to ward off
any evil spirits.
Happy Halloween from Ireland!
'THE GHOST STORY' by Pat Watson
It was a frosty night in January in the year of
Our Lord nineteen hundred and nine. Bill was the
church caretaker in this half parish. The priest
only rode his horse out here on Sunday to read
Mass or for funerals. This was one such day as
this evening the remains of old Granny Smith had
come to the chapel. Coffins were left in the back
of the chapel overnight. He had locked the church
earlier at ten and had only come out to look at
the cows before going to bed. It was just after
midnight. Was that a noise he heard in the church?
It couldn't possibly be as he had barred the
double doors on the inside before exiting through
the sacristy door, which he locked with the key.
Why he still had it in his pocket. Just the same,
it was only twenty yards to the double doors, he
would have a look. Halfway there he felt a bit
eerie so he called out.
'Is there anyone there?' The only reply he got
was a creaking door. As he moved into the shadow
he could see that one of the double doors was
half open. What the hell? He stopped in his
tracks. He peeped in the door, he could not see,
he pushed in the door a bit farther. He looked
over to where the coffin was left on trestles.
Good God! The old woman was sitting up in the
coffin. He could see her by the moonlight that
came through the stained glass windows. He
could feel his hair stand on end. She had her
head on the end of the coffin with her two arms
hanging over the sides. The lid of the coffin
was standing up against a pillar.
'Did that lid move?' He thought it did.
'Don't be daft he told himself, coffin lids
don't move on their own accord. There, it moved
again, it had feet, little bare feet.' He looked
back to the coffin. It had legs, two bare legs.
Had the old woman put her legs down through the
bottom of the coffin? The legs had a white shroud
dangling to the knees. Bill was rooted to the
spot. Sheer terror froze him. Then a white cowl
appeared over the edge of the coffin. He felt
its eyes peering.
A great unearthly shriek emanated from the cowl.
It sounded like r-u-n-f-o-r y-o-u-r l-i-f-e. So
screaming, the white ghost emerged from behind
the coffin and headed straight for Bill at the
open door. A black ghost who came from behind
the lid chased him. Bill collapsed into the back
seat just in time to avoid been trampled on by
the screaming ghosts. They went through the
opening like bats out of hell. Had he really
collapsed? Or did they run through him? He just
didn't know any more. He was glad that the
shrieks were receding into the distance. He
hoped he had seen the last of them. His hair
was still on end. It had probably turned white.
A few people who lived near the road thought
they heard screaming, but they could not be
sure. Some thought they dreamt it. Not so
John and Stephen who were coming home with a
good few pints on them. They saw the ghosts
all right. They passed them on the road at
great speed. Their shrieks had subsided by
then. They disappeared after crossing the dragon
stream, near old Granny Smith's house. (John
spent the rest of his life, which wasn't very
long, mumbling in a drunken haze. Stephen on the
other hand took the pledge the very next day and
never drank again for the remaining thirty years
of his life. Indeed, it was rumoured that he
confided to his good wife that he saw the devil
chasing his soul across the dragon stream and
that he promised God that if he gave him another
chance, he would never drink again.)
Meanwhile back at the church, Bill sat in a
trauma trance, silently invoking God, His
Blessed Mother and every saint in creation.
Eventually, his heart slipped back out of his
mouth and began to beat normally, his hair lay
down again and the sweat all over his body began
to cool. Some of his reason returned. The small
stipend he received as church caretaker made the
difference between him being a poor small farmer
and a very poor small farmer. His 'gossans'
were serving Mass and doing well at school. He
might even make a priest out of one of them yet.
That would give him real stature in the parish.
Fear or no fear, he had to keep his job and that
meant keeping the church locked and corpses in
their coffins. He got up, his knees were shaking,
his hands were shaking, yet he closed the double
oak doors, the handles of which were u-shaped
made to line up with similar u-shapes on the
frames when the doors were closed. Into those
slots he dropped the six by three polished oak
plank that was made for the purpose. This made
the whole thing rock solid. Hopefully it would
keep out the ghosts if they returned.
He then went to the coffin, put back the arm on
the right, walked round, put back the other arm,
then down to the foot where he caught the two
ankles and pulled the old woman back into the
coffin. Her head bounced off the bottom with a
thud, no lining in the coffins of the poor, not
even a fist full of sawdust. He then rearranged
her habit just for decency. He peered behind the
lid, just in case, then picked it up and put it
on the coffin. The wooden dowels for holding it
on were under the trestles; he put them in
position, pulled off one boot to tap them home.
He replaced the boot, now for the walk up the
full length of the church to the sacristy.
He could not look both sides at once and ghosts
might emerge from the shadows of the seats at
any time. The red sanctuary lamp looked down,
its dull light mingling with the dim moonlight
making the whole scene eerie, unreal, ghostly
He could hear his own breathing, his heart was
pounding again, the sound of his own footsteps
unnerved him, but finally he reached the sacristy.
He rushed in, unlocked the outer door, dashed out
and locked the door behind him. He had done his
duty. He would keep his job. Nobody would ever
know what happened here.
Having broken the ice on the barrel under the
eve, he washed death from his hands, wiped them
in his trousers and tiptoed back into his house.
Everybody was still asleep. He had not been
missed. As he crept into bed beside his sleeping
wife his courage and reason returned. Why had the
ghosts left the dowels under the trestles? Had
they intended to replace the lid? If so, why?
Why were they so small? Perhaps they were not
ghosts at all. The Granny had only been rescued
from the poor house because of the new
five-shilling old age pension. By the time they
had brought her home ten miles on the ass's cart
she had the rattles in her throat. She died the
next day. One five-shilling pension was all they
got. It wouldn't half pay for the drink at the
wake. And another thing! He had heard that the
she was laid out on a linen sheet on the kitchen
table. No one belonging to them ever owned a
linen sheet, no, nor even a flour bag sheet.
That's where unrestrained young love led to,
poverty and want. Where would they have got the
sheet? Where! Only on loan from their cousin who
worked in the big house? It would have to be
returned even if through drink or pride the
undertaker was allowed to put it in the coffin
with the old woman. If two grandchildren hid in
the church wrapped in granny's black shawl they
could remove the sheet when everyone was in bed.
If they were disturbed in their weird work,
might they not have wrapped themselves in the
sheet and the shawl and run screaming from the
scene? Had he solved the puzzle? He would
confront the children after the funeral tomorrow
and confirm his suspicions. Until he had talked
to the children he would not mention any of this
to a soul. He had a long wait. He would never
The children weren't at the funeral, sick,
someone said. He supposed they got cold in the
church, he would see them at Mass on Sunday.
They didn't come, still sick? He never saw them
again. Consumption took them with the blooming
of the daffodils, only twelve hours apart. They
were buried together beside the Granny.
'Maybe it was ghosts that night after all. Maybe
it was the children. Maybe, just maybe they
should have let the dead rest? Maybe just maybe
we should do the same?'
May they all stay resting in peace!
'The Ghost Story' is one of sixty lyrical yarns from
'Original Irish Stories' by Pat Watson,
Creagh, Bealnamulla, Athlone, Ireland.
First published in May 2006.
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