• News from Ireland
  • Halloween in Ireland
  • Irish Halloween Quotations
  • The Humble Famine Pot by Mattie Lennon
  • Jack Farrell - A Story by Mattie Lennon
  • Gaelic Phrases of the Month
  • Monthly Free Competition Result
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Many thanks to our readers for their contributions - we have two this month for you to enjoy!

Halloween is upon us here again in Ireland so it is fitting that one of the spookiest and legendary places in Ireland is finally revealing its secrets. You can read about the infamous 'Hellfire Club' below.

Until next time - stay warm!


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Not that it will bother Donald Trump in the least but a recent poll by the Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI has revealed that as many as 86% of Irish people surveyed expressed support for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming US election, compared to a mere 6% for Donald Trump.

Of course this should not be too much of a surprise given the relationship that the Clintons have had with Ireland over the years. The former President visited Ireland in 1995 and was also very supportive during the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Donald Trump Sign in Dublin

Just 3% of Irish women said they would prefer Trump for US President compared to 8% of Irish men. 12% of Irish farmers expressed support for Donald Trump, with 78% against.

These numbers reflect to a large extent the attitudes of US voters of Irish descent who have for the most part historically leaned Democratic, and perhaps more so in the current election given Donald Trumps' attitude and statements about US immigration.

The recent opinion poll in Ireland shows clearly who the Irish want elected to the White House. But, should she win as seems likely, just how Hillary Clinton can then breach the gap to the near half of her country who vote Republican will be the first and perhaps toughest test of her Presidency.

In another boost for the Irish Tourist industry Skellig Island and the Skellig Ring have been named among the top ten places in the world to visit by the well-regarded travel website 'Lonely Planet'.

The remote County Kerry location can offer incredible views and depending on the weather can be either horrific or stunning to visit. The nearby area around Valentia Island and Waterville is one of the Gaeltacht areas (Irish-speaking) that survive especially but not exclusively along the western seaboard of the country.

Lonely Planet Ireland, 2016

The Skellig Islands received a massive international publicity boost when the latest 'Star Wars' movie was filmed there. The island was originally inhabited by monks in the sixth century who chose it for its utter isolation and desolation. The ancient text 'The Annals of Inisfallen' record a Viking attack occurred at Skellig in the year 823. There are monastic remains on the tiny island.

The northern part of Wales, renowned for its beauty and 'Coastal Georgia' in the US also make it to the top ten list that was headed by Choquequirao in Peru. Canada was named as the 'country to visit' in 2017, with Bordeaux the recommended city. Dublin has previously been included in the list of top cities to visit in 2016.

'Lonely Planet' clearly likes Ireland as they have also named SeŠn's Bar in Athlone among the world's best 50 pubs to visit! The pub claims to be in existence since the year 900. In 2019 the publication listed the Harbour Bar in Bray as the very best bar in the world.

And there was more good news. Ireland has fared very well in the 'Conde Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards' for 2016. No less then three Irish hotels were included in the list of the ten best in the world. Waterford Castle was placed seventh, The Lodge at Ashford Castle placed in ninth with Ballyfin Demesne in County Laois topping the list in the number one spot.

The combination of a very weak and likely short-term Government and an improving economy has led to that most volatile of political situations: Strikes in the Public Service.

Public Servant Strikes in Ireland

It is startling the degree to which some sections of the Civil and Public Services are willing to strike compared to those employees in the private sector. Dublin bus drivers have recently won big concessions while Teachers and even An Garda Siochana (the Irish Police) are insisting that their pay claims be met or else strike action will follow.

For some groups it is hard to argue though that their pay lags behind what their job and responsibility should command.

Take Nurses and Garda for example. These people are at the very front line of the public service doing jobs that many people would find unimaginable. For the Gardai the pressure has been building for years. The widescale closure of Garda Stations in the wake of the economic collapse of 2008-2009 has never been reversed and has put enormous pressure on the police service, while also eroding the confidence that the public have in the Gardai.

New Garda recruits earn 23,750 Euro (under 26,000 US$) annually after their training, rising to 35,840 Euro (39,000 US$) after 5 years and 42,138 Euro (under 46,000 US$) after ten years, according to the 2016 Garda recruitment campaign.

By comparison a New York City Cop receives 41,975 US$ (under 39,000 Euro) in their first year, rising to 76,488 (about 70,000 Euro) after 6 years. The US Bureau of Labor reports that nationally US police officers receive an average annual salary of $56,260 (under 52,000 Euro).

A British cop in London receives up to 22,896 (about 28,000 US$, under 26,000 Euro) on commencement rising to 30,471 UK£ (approx 37,300 US$, 34,000 Euro) after 5 years.

It must be acknowledged therefore that the salary scale in Ireland for new recruits is relatively low.

Irish Nurses dont fare much better.

A qualified registered Staff Nurse in Ireland receives a starting salary of 23,361 Euro according to the Irish Nurse and Mid-Wives Organization, rising to 34,666 Euro after 5 years. An entry-level Registered Nurse in the USA receives between $41,181 and $71,719 (between about 38,000 Euro and 66,000 Euro) depending on the location (it varies State to State), according to payscale dot com.

So it must also be acknowledged that Nurses are also relatively poorly paid in Ireland.

In fact, these numbers starkly illustrate just how undervalued the nursing and police forces are in Ireland. And before you shake your head in disregard just imagine a situation where a Garda has to confront violent criminals or thugs and then imagine a nurse in an Emergency unit treating elderly and badly injured people with the wards jammed to the hilt, with patients lying on trolleys, chairs or even the floor.

Could you do that job? I couldn't.

While some cosseted sections of the Public and Civil Service agitate for more money and to strike, knowing full-well that they can never be fired from their protected existence (short of physically assaulting someone or stealing huge amounts of money), they might first reflect on their 'colleagues' who are less well off than they are.

They might consider this given that there comes a moment when we all need a Garda or a Nurse.



The ancient Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, 'All Hallowtide' - meaning 'The Feast of the Dead', when the dead revisited the mortal world. The celebration of this event marked the end of Summer and the start of the Winter months.

During the eighth century the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as 'All Saints Day' ('All Hallows') - a day of commemoration for all of those Saints that did not have a specific day of remembrance. The night before was known as 'All Hallows Eve' which, over time, became known as Halloween.

There are many Irish Halloween Traditions:

The Barnbrack Cake:
The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barnbrack which is a kind of fruit bread and will certainly evoke great memories among those who grew up in Irish households in the 60's, 70's and even the 80's. Each member of the family was given a slice of the cake. Great interest is taken in the outcome as there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring to be found - watch your teeth! If you get the rag then your financial future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting the ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness.

Colcannon for Dinner:
Boiled Potato, Curly Kale (a cabbage) and raw Onions are provided as the traditional Irish Halloween dinner. Clean coins are wrapped in baking paper and placed in the potato for children to find and keep.

The Pumpkin:
The tradition of Carving Pumpkins dates back to the eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven. He was condemned to wander the earth but asked the Devil for some light. He was given a burning coal ember which he placed inside a turnip that he had hollowed out.

Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns were born - the bearer being the wandering blacksmith - a damned soul. Villagers in Ireland hoped that the lantern in their window would keep the wanderer away. When the Irish emigrated in their millions to America there were not many turnips to be had so pumpkins were used instead.

Halloween Costumes:
On Halloween night children dress up in scary costumes and go house to house. 'Help the Halloween Party' and 'Trick or Treat' were the cries to be heard at each door. This tradition of wearing costumes also dates back to ancient Celtic times. On the special night when the living and the dead were at their closest the Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils in case they encountered other devils and spirits during the night. By using a disguise they hoped that they would be able to avoid being carried away at the end of the night. This explains why witches, goblins and ghosts still remain the most popular choices for the costumes.

The Ivy Leaf:
Each member of the family places a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and it is then left undisturbed overnight. If, in the morning, a leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spots then the person who placed the leaf in the cup can be sure of 12 months health until the following Halloween. If not.....

Snap Apple:
After the visits to the neighbours the Halloween games begin, the most popular of which is Snap Apple. An apple is suspended from a string and the children are blindfolded. The first child to get a decent bite of the apple gets to keep their prize. The same game can be played by placing apples in a basin of water and trying to get a grip on the apple without too much mess! Good luck with that.

Blind Date:
Blindfolds are placed on the eyer of local girls would go out into the fields and pull up the first cabbage they could find. If their cabbage had a substantial amount of earth attached to the roots then their future loved one would have money (land!). Eating the cabbage would reveal the nature of their future husband - bitter or sweet!

Another way of finding your future spouse is to peel an apple in one go. If done successfully the single apple peel could be dropped on the floor to reveal the initials of the future-intended.

Anti-Fairy Precautions:
Fairies and goblins try to collect as many souls as they can at Halloween but if they met a person who threw the dust from under their feet at the Fairy then they would be obliged to release any souls that they held captive.

Holy water was sometimes anointed on farm animals to keep them safe during the night. If the animals were showing signs of ill health on All Hallows Eve then they would be spat on to try to ward off any evil spirits.

The Bonfire:
The Halloween bonfire is a tradition to encourage dreams of who your future husband or wife is going to be. The idea was to drop a cutting of your hair into the burning embers and then dream of you future loved one. Halloween was one of the Celt 'fire' celebrations. Of course in modern times the bonfire is often the focal point of the Halloween celebration.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Quote

'Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.'
Bram Stoker, from 'Dracula'

But dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms, or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths.
Famed Irish horror writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, from 'Carmilla'

'Nothing on Earth so beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night!'
US writer Steve Almond

'Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
Love leaves a memory no one can steal.'

From a headstone in Ireland

'This Halloween I'm going as the ghost of our federal government.'

'I have friends who wear Star Wars costumes and act like the characters all day. I may not be that deep into it, but thereís something great about loving what you love and not caring if itís unpopular.'
US Actress Kristen Bell

'If a man harbors any sort of fear, it makes him landlord to a ghost.'
US Writer Lloyd Douglas

Horror films are where women can shine and have a chance to lead. They always save the day in these films.
Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar

'My daughter said she's gonna be a hoe for Halloween. I think it's cute that she likes gardening.'

'True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about but few have seen'
Author Unknown

'May your Halloween be scarier than what's actually going on with our country.'

'Remember my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker'
Irish author Bram Stoker, from 'Dracula'

Quote about Halloween

The farther we've gotten from the magic and mystery of our past, the more we've come to need Halloween.
Writer Paula Curran, from 'October Dreams: A celebration of Halloween'

'One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house,
The brain has corridors surpassing,
Material place.'

US Poet Emily Dickinson

'To suffering there is a limit - to fearing, none.'
English Writer Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, from 'Of Seditions and Troubles'

'The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.'
US Writer, H. P. Lovecraft


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By Mattie Lennon

In 2011 Donegal man, John Cassidy was strolling on the banks of the Clogher River, in the townland of Cullenboy when he found an old famine-pot, broken in pieces. He had it welded, restored and mounted outside Leghowney Community Hall.

Such was the interest shown by American tourists that I decided to do some research on the whole Famine-pot/SoupĖkitchen aspect of the famine.

Famine Pots in Ireland

I found that because of bigotry, pride, misguided patriotism and inherited false information, this aspect of the potato failure was almost air-brushed from our history.

Professor Christine Kinealy of Quinnipiac University explained:
'....when the potato failed for the second time in 1846 a number of Quakers in Ireland, followed by Quakers in England and Quakers in America decided to do something in the way of direct intervention. And they started to fund-raise....'

In November 1846 a Dublin Quaker, Joseph Bewley, wrote to Quakers all over Ireland pointing out the seriousness of the situation. I found from Rob Goodbody's book 'A Suitable Channel, Quaker Relief in the Great Famine', that the Quakers brought 294 Famine pots into Ireland in the 1840s.

'The first major shipment of supplies received from Great Britain in February 1847 included a consignment of soup boilers. These were landed at various places along the west coast, the largest number, ten, going to Killybegs. The supply of boilers was greatly enhanced by the donation of no less than fifty-six of them from the Quaker iron manufacturers, Abraham and Alfred Darby of the Coalbrookdale Iron Company.'

Over the period of the famine the Quakers supplied pots to twenty-seven counties.

At one stage, at Templecrone, County Donegal, there were in operation four famine-pots, being used twice a day to give out 600 gallons of soup at a cost to the local organisers of £2 10s.

Rob Goodbody, with typical Quaker humility, insists that the Quakers weren't the only group to provide relief. But his book gives facts and figures to indicate that their humanity, generosity and organisational skills saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands from the mass-grave.

While Donegal was the hardest hit of any County in Ulster there was severe hardship in other parts of the country. Dr Ciaran Reilly of NUI Maynooth points out that the Quakers played a big part in the midlands:

'Without them the number of deaths would have been far greater.

Dr. Reilly pointed out that as the famine progressed that other people, '....both Catholic and Protestant' got involved in the provision of relief and that some of those set out to line their own pockets. Dr Reilly points out that in the process those unscrupulous people added ingredients not fit for human consumption to the soup. It was at times described as 'poison'.

The Government didn't want to give food free because they thought it would make people lazy so the set up Public Work Schemes. This involved starving peasants, during the harshest winter for a hundred years, doing heavy manual work, for pennies, building roads 'going nowhere' and 'famine-walls'.

It didn't work and in 1847 the Government decided to allow more soup-kitchens, modelled on what the Quakers had already done. But, Professor Kinealy says, the Government, '.... hadn't really thought it through'.

Once again the Quakers came to the rescue and brought in 'hundreds of cauldrons'.

Father Anthony Gaughan, Historian, told me of how the Presentation Sisters, at their convent in Listowel, fed the starving people of North Kerry during the 1840s. He said:

'So if you are asking about Famine-pots and soup-kitchens you could say they were in the Presentation Convent in Listowel'.

Some famine-pots have survived and can be found in the farms of Ireland. John Cassidy has taken steps to keep this aspect of our history alive. He has arranged to have miniature ceramic famine-pots made.

You can find out more at:

Editors note: Mattie Lennon is one of the Founders of the Irish Famine Pot movement. If you know of any famine pots in Ireland please do tell the organizers about it at their website. You can also view some of the photos of famine pots that they have learned about at:

Dr Ciaran Reilly discusses a Famine Pot in Edenderry


by Mattie Lennon

You could always know when a Ballinastockan person was telling lies could see their lips moving.

But that changed slightly when a Tallaght man Jack Farrell inherited a small cottage in Kylemore. I suppose you could call it the Latin quarter of Ballinastockan. Jack and his elderly mother moved in to it.
Jack Farrell - A Story
He didn't fit in all that well with the natives because you see Jack always told the truth. It could be said of Jack Farrell that all his stories ran parallel with the highest ideals of veracity.

I'll give you an example. One year he was digging potatoes for my father. The father, Tim Lennon, was after making a scarecrow (a crow-fright) he called it) of which he was very proud.

'Did you ever see a better crow-fright than that, Jack,' says he.

'Wait till I tell you, Tim', said Jack,

'When I was working for the Bird Flanagan below in Greenhills one year the crows were playing havoc with his potatoes. I made a scarecrow. And do you know what I'm going to tell you? Do YOU know what I'm going to tell you? So realistic was that scarecrow that not alone did the crows not take another potato but they left back some that they took the week before.'

Jack would often relate how as a teenager he was at a house-dance in Firhouse. And a visiting dancer - a fine young fellow who had the book-learnin', was going the next day for an interview with a view to joining An Garda Siochana.

Opinions were divided as to whether he was of the required height. Until Jack stated, with some authority,

'That man is not the full eighteen hands high'.

Paddy Toomey, a stone cutter who only lived two fields away, went home and returned with a six-foot rule. And sure enough the prospective polisman proved to be half an inch short of the required height.

What was to be done?. This was before the era of 'brown envelopes' and anyway times were poor.

Jack hit on a plan. He would go on to explain to us, how, when the dancer's back was turned, he (Jack) took appropriate action. With the maximum alacrity Jack picked up an ash-plant. He gave the young man a belt of the stick on top of the head - 'a fellandy' he called it. The young man in question had a good thick head o' black hair and the resulting bump brought him up to the required height. He joined the guards, made a good polisman but according to Jack he was ever after known as 'lumpy-head'.

Jimmy Norton told Jack about one day he was ferreting and he caught 100 rabbits. Maybe he did. But Jimmy was from Ballinastockan so he probably caught five or six anyway.

Farrell ups and tells him about one day when he was shooting down at Balrothery. He was using a muzzle loader and after he tamped down the powder didn't he forget to remove the ramrod before he fired at a clatter of wild ducks flying overhead. They must have been flying in formation, one above the other, because didn't the ramrod spear three of them.

Gravity then took over and ramrod and ducks fell into the Poddle River and the ramrod went straight through a salmon. As Jack was getting out of the river with his day's kill didn't he trip over a rabbit and kill him.

One night in a rambling house the subject of the old age pension came up. When the Pinshin was brought in in 1908 the authorities had difficulty proving the age of the applicants since registration of births only became compulsory in 1864. If you compare the 1901 and 1911 census you will find that some people aged nearly 20 years in that decade.

An applicant would be asked if they remembered a particular event (usually an Act of God) and then asked to swear an affidavit. A favourite bargaining line was 'I remember the Big Wind.'

Jack Farrell, who was sittin' in the corner, came up with the following story: Jack's father farmed in Killarden (it was at the back of Jobstown ....and still is. He went for the pension and was asked if he remembered the Big Wind. The Big Wind as you all know was on 6th January in 1839 so if Jack's father remembered it that would leave him over 70 in 1908.

Farrell senior was more than equal to the challenge. According to Jack his father told the pension officer that, on Sunday sixth of January 1839 he was sitting at the fire, as a child, when a squall of wind took the roof straight off the house and it landed somewhere about Kippure. A pot of potatoes that was hanging on the pot-rack was blown up the chimney and at the top wasn't it struck by lightning. The steam that came out of it was fright to the world and ....they were the first potatoes in Ireland to be boiled by electricity.

Do you know the creels (baskets) that you see on the backs of donkeys in Bord Failte postcards and such like? (John Hinde made a fortune out of them.) Well up our way they're called 'cleeves' and they're held in position by a 'cleeving-straddle' - which is a saddle-like harness with a spike, or hook, on either side to hold the cleeves.

Anyway Jack Farrell was telling us about how he was using said mode of haulage to draw out turf on the Featherbed mountain. Due to inadequate upholstering, didn't the cleeving-straddle irritate and cut the ass, leaving a nasty lesion on either side of his backbone.

The weather being warm of course the flies attacked the open wounds, which festered (savin' your presence) developing into two raw nasty-looking holes in the ass's back.

The ass, tired after a hard day's work, went out and lay down at the back of the house under a hawthorn tree. And what do you think but didn't a couple of haws fall into the holes in his back. The holes eventually healed but the next Spring didn't two little whitethorn trees sprout out of his back.

Do you know what Jack did? He waited for them to grow fairly strong and then he sawed them off about four inches from the base. And thereafter he had the only ass in Ireland with a permanent cleeving-straddle.

And now you are going to ask me if Jack Farrell ever told a lie so, I'll tell you now. He did.

It is said that you should only tell lies to your wife or the police. Well the one lie that Jack Farrell told was to his poor old mother.

A Redemptorist Missioner in the course of a rip-roaring sermon on the evils of drink told the congregation that making poitin was a reserved sin. Which means that the penitent would have to go to the Bishop for forgiveness. Jack had made the odd drop of poitin and he told his mother that he would have to go to Rome to go to confession. So, he made his way to the Eternal city.

Daniel O'Connell died on his way to Rome but Jack was just ready to head for home when he was bitten by an Italian Mosquito. It proved fatal. I went to Rome in 1990 for the World cup and I found a place called Bocca Della Verita. Which, as you all know, means The Mouth of Truth. And it's claimed by them that knows that that's where Jack Farrell is buried.

PHRASE: Oiche Shamhna
PRONOUNCED: ee-ha how-nah
MEANING: Halloween (the night before Samhain)
PHRASE: Tabhair feirin dom no buailfidh me bob ort!
PRONOUNCED: tour ferr-een dum no booligg may bob urt
MEANING: Trick or Treat
(give me a treat or I will play a trick on you!)
PHRASE: Tine cramha/Cailleach/Taibhse
PRONOUNCED: tinneh cravh-sheh/coll-yuk/tavh-sheh
MEANING: Bonfire/Witch/Ghost

View the Archive of Irish Phrases here:

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I hope that you have enjoyed this issue.

by Michael Green,
The Information about Ireland Site.
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