Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Some Irish Halloween Traditions .....

.....from ireland-information Newsletter

 A selection only, for the whole newsletter, go to the URL below and you can subscribe...

    Ireland Newsletter


    === 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


    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
    Winter months.

    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
    be sure.

    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.
    or you can email the author here:

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