OPINION : Generations of local people have made Halloween what it is today in Derry, Donegal, Tyrone

This time last year we were all locked up at home. Hallowe’en, bar some online events and giant inflatables in and around the city, was cancelled as the second wave of the coronavirus raged.

By Brendan McDaid
Friday, 29th October 2021, 12:43 pm

It was hard. Children couldn’t even go round the doors with the carrier bags trick or treating. I remember we put a call out in the ‘Journal’ for people to post up their ‘Hallowe’en at home’ photos. We were expecting a dozen. We got hundreds. Families, people with their pets, babies inside pumpkins, children waving to their grannies and grandas. It was enough to ruin your Hallowe’en make up.

Parents, grandparents and guardians, knowing the huge impact school closures and confinement had had on their children, put them first and organised the best Hallowe’en bashes they could in their living rooms and kitchens. It demonstrated how much family and people mean to each other and also what Hallowe’en means to every generation in this city and region.

The world may now know Derry as the place to be or Hallowe’en. But for us it has been that way as far back as we can remember. It has captured the imagination of children and adults in the north west for generations in a way that it hasn’t elsewhere. It is unique; it is of this place.

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Some local people pictured by the Journal celebrating Hallowe'en in Derry back in 1996.

People may argue that this is because of the ancient traditions of Samhain - a time of thin places where the veil between this world and the other world, our ancestors and ourselves, was at its most ethereal; a time of harvest festivals (ancient Irish traditions and customs in general survived longer here than elsewhere); the sanctity of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Days; the rich storytelling tradition passed down from our ancestors; the chance to escape, to let identities and imaginations run riot, to be someone else; the influence of mass media and horror films from other lands; or, as seems most plausible, a confluence and meshing of all the aforementioned. But that there is something magical about Hallowe’en here is undeniable. Hallowe’en is special to us.

And this year absence will have made hearts grow fonder. The events planned are spectacular. Credit to the local Councils and community and arts sector for running with it, amplifying it, facilitating it and staging the array of events we can visit and partake in once more this year.

But it would be nothing without us, the people; it would be nothing without the generations who went around the houses of their streets and estates as children and adults in the crisp autumn night air with their false faces, our mammies’ make-up and daddies’ clothes and a plastic carrier bag asking ‘any nuts or apples?’ and bobbed for apples in a basin of water.

It would be nothing without the schools and bars that held fancy dress day competitions. Recall the sheer inventiveness and skill of people, years before Hallowe’en costume shops had landed here, and the imaginativeness and variety on display, the humour, the determination to have a good time. And they did a top class job.

2018: Drummers and the ‘Belly of the Beast’ at the Awakening on the Walls carnival held in the city centre. DER4419GS - 017

This article started out as a round up of what’s on this Hallowe’en but it has morphed into something else entirely (listings are further on in today’s paper).

All that remains to be said is enjoy and just be mindful that COVID is still very much circulating locally so be careful if you do venture out this weekend.

Happy Hallowe’en!

Brendan McDaid

2018: The giant Sarusus entertain the crowds at the Awakening on the Walls carnival in the city centre. DER4419GS - 016


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