Derry Halloween : The Big Interview : Little Acorns’ Jenni Doherty on ghostly encounters, tales and the Spooky Derry Girls podcast

Halloween is a special time of year for the city. The people of Derry celebrate the date like nowhere else in the world.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 11:47 am

Thanks to a local bookshop, the stories and ghostly tales of the town live on. Jenni Doherty is the owner of Little Acorns Bookstore situated on Foyle street. The shop is getting ready to host the Talking Derry Girls podcast for Halloween.

“Little Acorns Bookstore has been going for 10 and half years now,” she said.

“This building here on Foyle Street is listed, I keep moving into old buildings. This used to be an old tax office. So I have been here since August 2020, and this by far is the biggest and best place I’ve been in.”

Jenni Doherty, proprietor, Little Acorns Book Store Foyle Street. DER2046GS - 013

Throughout the years Jenni has moved between different locations trading with Little Acorns Bookstore. She first started at the Bedlam Market as a way to sell her old books.

“Of course every time I moved, the shop got bigger and bigge,.” said Jenni.

“It originally started as a wee five foot table, with about 100 books. It kind of started at Bedlam Market, which was on Great James Street, in the old Glassworks building. I think there were at least 13 traders that started there.

“All of us from the Bedlam group moved in September 2011 to the old Sisters of Mercy building on Pump Street. We were there for three years. Some of us then moved onto the old McCandless shirt factory, which is now Yellow Yard. After that, I moved to Britannia Hall for two years. The space I had there used to be a hoover repair place.”

Mannequins at the old Workhouse museum in Derry which closed some years ago.

After jumping from one place to another, Little Acorns Bookstore has found its home and is permanently located on Foyle Street. The number of books Jenni has accumulated throughout the years continues to grow.

“I’ve grown from 100 books to.. I hate to say, 45,000.” said Jenni. “So much for getting rid of my books. I suppose when you think of it you know, little acorns grow and become oaks. Now half of the shop would be used second hand books, which I would’ve sourced.

“What I offer as well, is that folks can bring in books they do not need and I can sell them on their behalf. Then a certain percentage of the sale price goes back to the original owner. So in a way it’s keeping the books within the community. I do have a very big Irish history and politics section, especially locally. Every genre underneath the sun, I have some books on them.”

The Parade of Phantoms is a notorious book written by local author Peter McCartney. The book gathers a series of spooky stories throughout the city. It was first published in 1991 and has been updated throughout the years.

Jenni is a lover of Halloween and says “nobody does it better,” than Derry.

“It is a magical time of year.” she said. “There is no shortage of haunted places and tales, whether they are made up or true. I live within the Walls, I have done for many years. I kind of know every little crevice and shadows when I am walking home at night. Sometimes in my imagination, I am convinced I see something, or I hear something.

“As much as that is just your imagination, a lot of it is driven by the Parade of Phantoms book by Peter McCartney, which was published by Guildhall Press. A lot of the stories are circulated around certain pubs and streets. Pump Street is supposed to be one of the most haunted streets in Derry.”

Halloween stems from ancient Celtic roots. The old Gaelic festival of Samhain was celebrated from October 31 until November 1. This was a significant date in the Pagan calendar where souls crossed over from the other world, and interacted with the physical world.

Jenni has her own eerie experience to tell...

“I used to work in the Waterside Library.” she said. “Above us was the Workhouse museum. The sinisterness of the place is well known. So every Halloween schools would be signing up to come and get a tour of the library and the Workhouse.

“There was one evening, I’ll never forget it. I was coming down the corridor and it was winter time. I had a coffee in my hand, and I felt something physically run past me. I dropped the cup... smithereens, shattered. I belted it down the backstairs.

“I came back into the library and I swear to God; I was whiter than white. Some of us had experiences, not too scary. But there were certain things you could not explain and you learnt to live with it. My God, I was petrified.”

Jenni recalls another ghostly experience from her time working at the Waterside Library. She was invited to take part in a paranormal exercise conducted by the BBC in 2005.

“That following year the late Gerry Anderson was doing a programme with Radio Ulster.” she said. “They travelled around different haunted places in the North of Ireland. Places like the Grand Opera House and Crumlin jail. One of the locations was the Waterside Library and the Workhouse. A team of professional mediums came down and set up all their equipment. We were invited to join in.

“It was summer so it didn’t get dark until quite late. I am a bit of a sceptic, or I was a bit of a sceptic. As the night went on we ended up at the private quarters and at the top end of the building. There were around six or seven of us. The mediums started calling out to see if anybody was there.

“It felt kind of like the movies, but the temperature in the room dropped so low. I’ve never experienced that before, or since, and I don’t want to either.

“From the waist down I felt like I was immersed in ice. I was completely and utterly frozen. It felt like you couldn’t breathe.

“One of the guys from the medium team looked like he was kind of choking. He was channelling voices, and somebody was coming through. The voice suggested that they did not take their life, and that they were in fact murdered. We then came down for tea and sandwiches, but I just wanted out of the building!”

Jenni says there has been an influx of local authors and people expressing their writing more since lockdown. She says she could have “half the shop,” filled with local books.

“It’s been like Christmas since August with new books coming out,” said Jenni.

“It’s great to see people channelling their energy and becoming more creative. There is a bombardment of people trying to find their voice because they have been locked away, and not able to see loved ones.”

“Locally there is not a week that goes by without a book coming out or an author visiting. I couldn’t be more proud of the talent in the Northwest of Ireland with writers, it’s amazing.”

“I mean, there’s Kerri ní Dochartaigh with ‘Thin Places,’ who is from Derry. She came runner up in the Wainwright Prize for Nature writing. You have Seamus O’Reilly from Derry. His book called ‘Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?’ has been on the bestsellers list for the past two months. Poetry and philosophy is another thing that people are reading more, and writing more of.”

Jenni also collects old typewriters, and she plans to cover them in cobwebs and dress the shop with some scary decorations.

The bookstore is preparing to host the Talking Derry Girls podcast which will run for three days over the Halloween weekend from 2-6pm.

“We have what’s called the Scary Talking Derry Girls podcast team.” Jenni said. “They are Marie-Louise Moore, Pauline Moore and Jeanie Messenger. They have done a lot of podcasts which are all centered on the fact all three are Derry girls. The three of them live away from Derry. It is hilariously funny. You feel like you are sitting around the kitchen table, having a cup of tea and having a bit of craic.

“So this thing we’re doing for Halloween is the same sort of thing. People can pop into Little Acorns Bookstore on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. We want them to share their stories. The girls will also be walking around the town dressed up as well.

“Back in the day we used to make our own costumes, now you can buy them. I have to dress up so that I am able to work in it. I’ve had some hilarious and disastrous costumes over the years. I think we are going to do zombie nuns this year. I can’t wait, it will be good craic and there’s a lovely buzz about the town.”