New book of Derry Halloween memories

A new book has been published recently of Derry people’s memories of halloween.

Welcome to Halloween Town was compiled by Debs Boyle, who had originally made a documentary about the Halloween festivities in the city, with the aim of finding out how it got so popular here. The book features stories from the people of Derry, explaining how the Halloween celebrations first began and also talking about present day celebrations.

Debs said: “When I went to the tech in 2007 to study Journalism, the first thing I did was make a film about Halloween. I then went on to do a Masters in Coleraine on Documentary Making and, again, the first assignment was to pitch your documentary to BBC so, I did mines on Halloween. This time, I decided to look more into the history of it and it was Mickey Bradley, from the Undertones, who told me to do a sort of pub crawl on Waterloo Street. So I did that one day in October and, sure enough, nearly every bar there knew someone who knew someone who had information. I ended up with William Barrett from the Gweedore; Brian Doherty from what was Doherty’s but is now Masons; Tony Toland, who has since passed away from the Castle; and John Bell from the Castle. I got an idea of what their individual stories were and what their ‘claim to fame’ for Halloween was. That was my pitch to the BBC for my Masters. When I graduated from my Masters, I did a workshop in Belfast with the Sheffield Documentary Festival and, as part of that workshop, again, you had to pitch a film. I had this in my back pocket so I pitched Derry Halloween. They were really interested, which made me realise that there was more than a Derry audience for this.

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"When I went back home, I thought about trying to get it made. I was contacted by Hive Studio, who are the digital media side of Guildhall Press. They offered to loan me the equipment and volunteers to make the documentary and that set it on it’s way. I interviewed all the barmen, Jim Collins from the NW Carnival Initiative as they were preparing for Halloween. We finished the film and I was really, really proud of it but it never got commissioned or picked up for anything. I had crowd-sourced a lot of the archive footage and pictures by reaching out to people on social media and other people had footage from the 90s that no one has ever seen before. There was so many amazing stories from Halloween in the 80s and 90s but they would have gone to waste because the film hadn’t been picked up so I thought - what can I do with all these amazing stories? I can compile it into a book."

A picture of two men, one dressed up for Halloween and another not, from Debs Boyle's book 'Welcome to Halloween Town'.

“The book, if I’m being honest, was inspired by Jim Collins’ book on the Rossville Flats. I had all the material but I didn’t know how to present it as a book. I didn’t know how to put these interviews into a book that didn’t include changing the words or writing like it was my voice saying their things. Jim Collins’ book was laid out exactly the way I wanted it to so that’s what inspired me to do it like this.”

Speaking about Halloween in the book, Tony Devine said: ‘It crossed all divides, all politics. People can leave their worries behind for one night and just go out and be whoever they want to be. Hide behind a mask and let your hair down – if you have hair to let down.”

Debs’ book Welcome to Halloween Town will be officially launched on Thursday October 20, 7-9pm at the Re-Imagine Shop in Foyleside. The book is available to buy in Visit Derry and online at

A picture from Debs Boyle's book Welcome to Halloween Town.
Two people dressed up as flowers in the Gweedore in the 90s.
People dressed as army men in a Derry bar.