The trick to treating your family this Halloween
From ghost stories and games, pumpkins and parties, John Meagher finds out how to have a spectacular spook-fest today
Halloween may be celebrated the world over, but it was here — in Ireland — that the tradition first got under way. It was through the ancient Pagan festival of Samhain that the modernday idea of trick or treat first emerged.
And today’s children, who will go from door to door tonight in search of sweets, crisps and other goodies, are carrying on a custom that is more than 2,000 years old.
Dr Sarah Cleary, one of the country’s leading horror experts and the organiser of last Sunday’s Horror Expo in Dublin’s Freemason’s Hall, says Samhain marked the division between light and dark, and between this world and the supernatural.
Our forebears would leave gifts outside the door to ward off evil spirits and the practice was retained from generation to generation.
“The idea of trick or treat as we know it today really took off in America,” she says, “but its roots are here in Ireland. I went trick or treating as a child [she’s 32] but it wouldn’t have been common for those of my parents’ generation.
“Now, there’s no turning back, especially as Halloween has become so commercialised, but it’s worthwhile to really embrace this spooky time of year and not make it too sanitised. Halloween should be a time for ghost stories and there are so many of those in this country.”
So, how can parents — and the little ones — get the most out of trick or treat this year and what can they do to truly make this
Halloween one to send shivers down the spine?
How best to trick or treat
Laura Erskine, the ‘mum in residence’ at Mummy Pages, the popular online parenting community, says it’s important children follow regular etiquette. Only knock on doors where there are lights on inside and where there are Halloween decorations on show. “Some people don’t want to be disturbed on Halloween night and their wishes should be met.” She believes it’s best if kids go together in small groups and are accompanied by an adult. “Our mums would say that it would never be okay to let children of primary school age out on their own on Halloween night. They’d want to be in secondary school before that would be considered and even then, there should be restrictions on how far they travel.”
Entertaining on the day
Pumpkin carving has become very popular, although Cleary says this is a comparatively new arrival to Ireland. The pumpkin isn’t indigenous to this country. Previously, it was common to carve Jack O’Lanterns from turnips
or, in my case growing
up in Wexford, sugar beet. She believes it is the perfect time to seek out local ghost stories and tales of haunted buildings. “Some parents are a little reluctant to expose children to scary stories, but many of us grew up with them — especially, if like me, you read a lot of Brothers Grimm stories as a child. Take them to a local haunted place.” Loftus Hall in Wexford is said to be one of the most haunted houses in Ireland and was the subject of paranormal investigation by US TV shows.
There are rich pickings for fright fans throughout the country this year. In Waterford, there’s the hugely popular Spooky Express which runs on the old Waterford and Suir Valley Railway. It’s not for the faint of heart or for very young children, but older kids will love the scares.
Fota House in Cork boasts the Fright At Fota walk
(above), where visitors are promised to be chilled to the marrow as they negotiate the darkness in the estate’s arboretum. And just up the road in Cork City, your bravery will be put to the test at Cork City Gaol — an eerie place at any time of year. They know all about ghosts at Huntington Castle, Co Carlow, too. The place, which dates from 1625, is said to be haunted and its annual Halloween tours book up fast as visitors are led through the castle’s deepest recesses, where whispering walls and creaking floorboards will test the mettle of many.
There is no shortage of free events to put the frighteners on those young and old. The Thurles Halloween Arts Festival in Tipperary showcases the rich culture surrounding this ghostly time of year, according to organiser Jim Ryan.
And further south, Youghal’s annual Spooktacular in east Cork is just the ticket for anyone captivated by witches, spells and covens. Make sure the kids have their pointy hats and broomsticks with them.
A scare at bedtime
There are countless books, TV shows and movies to whet the appetites of horror fans, young and old. The now annual Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin is bound to appeal to Dracula fans everywhere and encourage new readers to take on the classic. Cleary recommends Monster House and The Monster Squad for young viewers — “they’ll love them” — and teenagers and older viewers have been smitten by the Netflix series Stranger
Things. Netflix is also where you’ll find one of the best horror films of recent years, the terrifying Australian movie, The Babadook.
Halloween may be a wonderful time for children, but it’s become a real headache for frontline services. Staying safe is at the forefront of all parents, but how can they best look after their kids while letting them embrace the spirit of the day?
“There are lots of hidden dangers for children around Halloween,” Laura Erskine says. “Every year, we hear
stories of young people and children suffering horrific burns injuries. We would urge that all parents check the safety regulations on their children’s Halloween costumes and to avoid highly flammable materials.
“To protect from injury, parents should ensure their children wear clothes such as woollen tights or jeans under their costume which works as a barrier in case their costume catches alight. If the worst does happen, children should know the ‘stop, drop and roll’ drill which allows the ground to suffocate a fire instead of a person’s hands.”
Fancy dress to impress: Kellie Kearney with her children Kadie (2) Frankie (3) Kayla (7) and Kenzie (1) in their Halloween outfits
Super effort: Kellie with her children Frankie, Kadie, Kenzie and Kayla