These folklore accounts detail some of superstitions and festivities which once surrounded Halloween in Ireland. They are based on information supplied by schoolchildren to the Irish Folklore Commission in the late 1930s.
‘On Hallowe’en night the boys dress up like old men. Some of them dress up like old hags. They put on long trousers, women’s hats and soot on their faces and more of them have false faces.
They go around from house to house and they are invited in and given something and the ringleader sings songs and plays tunes on the mouth organ and melodion. Then they get apples and nuts and sometimes money.‘
As retold by C. McGuinness of Belcamp, Co. Dublin in 1938.
‘They get three saucers and they put a ring in one saucer, clay in the other and water in the third. Then they put a cloth on some person’s eyes. If he puts his hand into the saucer with the ring in it he will be the first to be married. If he puts his hand into the saucer with the clay in it he will die soon. If he puts his hands into the saucer with the water in it he will cross the water to a foreign land‘. As collected by Ellie Finnerty of Massbrook Lower, Co. Mayo in 1938.
‘A bucket is put on the ground and each player goes around the bucket as quickly as possible ten times. Then he tries to catch, without falling, the apple hanging from the roof. As retold by Bríd Ní Choinghille from Killorglin, Co. Kerry
I must be blindfolded when I am playing this trick. I must get three mugs first, put clean water in one, dirty water in another and nothing in the third mug. If I put my hand in the clean water I will get a single man, and if I put my hand in the dirty water I will get a widower and if I put my hand in the empty mug I will get nobody. As recounted by the pupils of Loughill National School, Ballymunterhiggin, Co. Donegal
‘Long pieces of cord are tied from the ceiling and an apple is tied from the end of each cord. The players snap at the apples and try and catch them with their teeth. If the catch one they could take it. This is called snap apple.’ As told by Mrs de Lacey of Kilmeaden, Co. Waterford.
‘A lot of apples were put in a basin of water and three penny bit is put in the bottom of the basin. Each player tries to take the coin from the bottom of the vessel with their teeth. Whoever takes it up, gets it and all the apples too‘. As told by Mrs de Lacey of Kilmeaden, Co. Waterford.
‘Another game is to try and peel an apple with an unbroken rind and throw it over your left shoulder and see what initial it would form and that was supposed to be the first letter of your lover’s name.’ As told by Mary Parsons of Carrowreagh Cooper, Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo.
‘Go to a running brook (running south). Fill your mouth full of water. Listen at the keyhole of some door and the first man’s name mentioned is the name of your future husband. You must keep your mouth full of water. If you do not hear names mentioned in one house go on to the next keeping your mouth full of water’. As recounted by the pupils of Loughill National School, Ballymunterhiggin, Co. Donegal
‘Comb your hair before a looking glass on the stroke of midnight. While combing look into the glass and the face of your future husband will appear over your left shoulder’. As recounted by the pupils of Loughill National School, Ballymunterhiggin, Co. Donegal
‘The fairies be out that night and they would take you away with them if you were out at that evil time. It is also said that the devil shakes his budges [fur] on the haws and turns them black and according to the old people if you eat a haw after Hallow Eve night you will have no luck. As told by Dennis Bradley from Carndonagh, Co. Donegal
‘I take a mirror outside the window, and I look in it through a silk handkerchief. The number of moons I see in the mirror is the number of years it is till I get married’. As recounted by the pupils of Loughill National School, Ballymunterhiggin, Co. Donegal
These Halloween tales form part of the Schools’ Folklore Collection, a large and important corpus of material, whose compilation occurred between 1937 and 1939. This far-sighted scheme, run by the Irish Folklore Commission, saw over 100,000 schoolchildren collecting local folklore from their parents, grandparents and older members of the community.
This blog post is indebted to the archival material found on Duchás, a project which is digitising the Irish National Folklore Collection. They have also produced an excellent leaflet on Halloween which can be accessed here.