TODAY is the day when spirits are let loose by divine dignitaries to mingle with the living and even the half living or those who are long dead but are still refusing to lie down. Not just ordinary ghosts either but sinful smelly souls – destined to return in the bodies of animals – black cats, dodgy donkeys, foaming-at-the-mouth dogs, etc. This year’s ghoul factor is on a special state of high alert with the addition of dozens of ghost estates, zombie hotels and abandoned train stations for never-to-be-built towns.
Originally Halloween sprang out of the celebrations of the Celtic/Druid pagans of our sumptuous shores, as well Scotland, Wales and Brittany. Every October 31st, these groups celebrated the return of winter, as well as honouring Samhain (not to be confused with salmon, another Irish export) a kind of Celtic lord of the dead geezer. On the feast of Samhain, the Celts celebrated by telling lengthy yarns about their ancestors. They also made desperate fraught attempts to glimpse into the future: a practice which has now been more or less replaced by tarot, angel card and aura readings, mediumship, psychotherapy and TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne.
De Oirish have played a huge part in Halloween right from the off. Even contemporary “jack-o-lantern” – popular in the US – was named in honour of an Irish blacksmith “Jack” who St. Peter refused into heaven and Satan barred out of hell. As a result, Jack’s spirit was doomed to rove the planet, with only a scabby coal from hell in his hollowed out pumpkin to light his pitiful passage. Even our “Help the Halloween Party!” childhood cry for a trough-load of e-numbers stretches back to the 17th century peasant tradition of darting about asking for gifts of food on Halloween in the name of St. Columbia, an Irish priest who established an early form of social welfare.
Another slant is the plastic Halloween masks that have their roots in Celtic myth and legend. Fearful folk wore disguises when heading outdoors on Halloween so roaming spirits, with a bone to pick with the living, wouldn’t recognise them. Celtic Druids dressed up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils so as to avoid real ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, werewolves and demons. This practice was later adapted into the wearing of balaclavas by the Provisional IRA and various gangland criminals during bank robberies. Swingers from Kildare – to this day – wear eye-masks in case business people and high-ranking legislators recognise each other in the course of sexual duty.
A quick glance at this weekend’s papers discloses another startling Halloween phenomenon. Modern-day Irish folk believe in ghosts more than ever. It can even look super on your CV. Former Miss World Rosanna Davison admitted this weekend she was haunted by a young maid when a kid. ‘The model made the spooky Halloween confession as she told how she was left terrified after coming face to face with the spirit in her sprawling family home,’ the Irish Daily Mirror article read. “I saw the spirit of a young girl in my house when I was about 11 – it was in one of the downstairs back rooms and it was terrifying. I just stared at her for ages and my heart was racing but eventually I lost the bottle and ran away. Last year I discovered through the 1911 census online that the room where I saw the ghost was a young maid’s bedroom”.
Paul O’Halloran an ex-soldier from Connemara insists in The Sun that he’s ‘a strong connection with the other world as a result of a near-death experience in Lebanon’. Most of the dead souls that contact him are simply looking to be released, he reckons. “If there is a spirit or an energy in a house, I can remove these energies and help to heal the situation,” he said. He also told the newspaper how he can see ghosts in the most unlikely places, even when he’s taking time off to sup the pints. “I go for a pint and they come up and tap me on the shoulder. They’re just looking for help. If people die suddenly or with guilt, they often have a connection with a person or place and they don’t want to leave.”
Ghosts (taidhbhse) and general purpose dead things can also be very good for live business. Old pubs, haunted castles, spooky hotels and bog-standard bogs are all fodder for an industry that is flagging under the strain of recession. From Jonathan Swift’s mental hospital ghost in James’ Street to a bloodied butcher in the ruins of a house in North Dublin, years after he’d cut his throat in 1863…we just love to be petrified at any cost. The ghost of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh still haunts the Marsh Library (especially during the tourist season), sadly searching for a letter from his eloping niece. The Olympia theatre ghost never bores of following/floating around after actors in the staff dressing room during rehearsals. Eerie tales of a Cork poltergeist in a house in Hollyhill too (96fm covered the story). Every corner of Ireland is haunted and if it’s not, it soon will be. An international Paranormal Directory of Ghosts describes Irish ghouls as: ‘ranging in size from the nearly invisible to the huge, from tiny sprites to giant headless horsemen. Some of them are vengeful, some mischievous, some helpful.’ Hopefully this is useful while on the lookout later today.
Another story in the Irish Daily Mirror concerns psychic medium Angie Freeland, who claims she videoed a spirit moving a torch in the historic Wicklow’s gaol. It led to Angie’s Halloween ‘vigil’ selling out in record time. Angie dressed in the traditional costume of the gaol’s matron Mary Morris in the hope of drawing a reaction from the spirits. It allegedly worked as when Angie reached for the torch it chillingly moved towards her, sliding across the table on its own in the spooky schoolroom.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the intense paranormal activity since I first came to the gaol. Now the public can view the evidence for themselves,” she said. You can also ghost hunt 16-year-old Helena Blunden from the comfort of your DFS couch. She fell to her death from the stairs of a Belfast mill in 1912. The ‘live cam’ project on the Ireland’s Eye website has been on the go 24/7 since 1998 and is still visited by millions every year.
What’s left to say except happy apple bobbing, stay safe, eat plenty of Barnbrack. If you do happen to have Samhainophobia or other phobias such as fear of cats (ailurophobia), witches (wiccaphobia), ghosts (phasmophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), the dark (nyctophobia), and cemetaries (coimetrophobia), it might be an idea to stay indoors till Monday. But please do get in touch if you’ve a decent ghost story to share…
June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here: