Culture & Reference
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Hello again from Ireland where the Halloween is once again upon us. Did you know that there are several ancient traditions associated with this spookiest time of the year - see the article below.
This month we also examine the life of Bram Stoker - the Irish creator of the greatest villain of them all: Count Dracula. An old ghostly tale by William Carleton adds to the atmosphere of all things Halloween this month.
Remember dont say 'Trick or Treat'. Say 'Help the Halloween Party!'
If you have an article or story you would like to share then please do send it to us.
Until next time,
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The never-ending saga that is Brexit (the decision by the UK government to leave the European Union), has taken another twist with the granting of an extension by the EU to Britain in respect of the date by which Britain must actually leave the Union.
The request for more time was sent to the EU by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson but was done so on sufferance as he was legally obliged by his Parliament to make the request but did not actually wish to do so!
The next twist in this tale is likely to be a General Election in the UK which may give the ruling Conservative Party the overall majority it needs to push through Brexit on its own terms, or alternatively, it may return us to the situation that we are currently in at the moment with a smaller Political Party, currently the DUP, holding the balance of power.
So, no end it sight.
Galway in the west of Ireland has been named in the top 10 cities in the world. Lonely Planet's 'Best in Travel 2020' guide described the ever-popular mini-city as 'arguably Ireland's most engaging city....where brightly painted pubs heave with live music.
The annual survey is keenly watched by tourist boards around the world with the top destinations this year being:
The good news for Galway is backed up by the Condé Nast Traveller's 2018 Friendliest Cities in the World' survey, which lists Cork, Galway and Dublin as the only European cities to make the top 10!
Top 10 Friendliest Cities in the World:
The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, 'All Hallowtide' - the 'Feast of the Dead', when the dead revisited the mortal world. The celebration 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 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.
Here are the most notable Irish Halloween Traditions:
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 Barnbrack Cake:
The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barnbrack which is a fruit bread. Each member of the family gets a slice. Great interest is taken in the outcome as there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring in each cake. 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.
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.....
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 gouged out.
Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns was 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 was not a great supply of turnips so pumpkins were used instead.
On Halloween night children would 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 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 disguising 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 remain the most popular choices for the costumes.
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 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!
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.
Blindfolded 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. 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.
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.
Happy Halloween from Ireland!
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Until quite recently it was a little know fact that the creator of perhaps the worlds most famous villain was an Irishman from Clontarf in Dublin.
Bram Stoker was born in 1847 to Dubliner Abraham Stoker and Donegal native Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley. The third of seven children the young Bram Stoker was bed-ridden for much of his first seven years, a period that gave him much opportunity for reflection and creative thought:
'I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.'
He recovered from his ill-health and went on to excel as an athlete at Trinity College from where he graduated with honours in the field of Mathematics in the year 1870. As president of the University Philosophical Society his first paper was on 'Sensationalism in Fiction and Society'. He became the Theatre critic for the Dublin newspaper 'The Evening Mail', which was co-owned by the author of many Gothic tales, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and who was the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century.
In 1878 he married Dubliner Florence Balcombe who had previously been courted by Oscar Wilde. Stoker knew Oscar Wilde from his College days and even visited Wilde on the continent after his exile. The family moved to London where Stoker became manager of the Lyceum Theatre, a position he held for 27 years. The Theatre was most associated with Henry Irving who was a famed actor of the classical variety. Stoker was very active in the literary and artistic community in London at the time, meeting with the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to whom he was distantly related. But it was to Irving that Stoker was devoted and it is thought that it is upon this man that he based his most famous literary creation - that of Count Dracula.
Stoker travelled the world with the now internationally famous acting company and even attended the White House with Irving, meeting Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, such was his employers fame.
His experience as a newspaper writer stood him in good stead when he began his work on Dracula. Stoker was already a published writer when he began researching ancient stories about vampires. The style of the book is very much in keeping with his previous experience as a news reporter with diary entries, newspaper clippings and telegrams all adding to a sense of realism. The fact that there were so many contributors within the story added to the sense of reality. Stoker is also said to have been inspired in part by a visit to St. Michan's Church in Dublin, the vaults of which contain many mummified remains.
It was thought that the original 541 page Dracula manuscript from 1897 was lost forever but like the subject of the novel it too had to make an epic journey. From Transylvania to Pennsylvania, the US State that is home to many a desperado in hideaways like Allenport, Seneca and Doylestown, the manuscript remained hidden for decades before being amazingly uncovered in a barn there in the early 1980's. The original title of the novel 'The Un-Dead' was clearly marked on it. It was later bought by the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen.
Bram Stoker died in London in 1912. While well regarded as a ghost-writer in the Victorian age it was not until the first cinematic production of a vampire in 1922 that his legacy was set forever. Stoker's widow actually sued the German film-makers who produced Nosferatu, the first vampire movie with 'Count Orlock' being substituted for 'Count Dracula' in an attempt to breach the copyright. She won the case in 1925.
The first authorized version of the story was released in 1931 with Bella Lugois as Count Dracula. Newspapers reported that members of the audiences fainted in shock at the horror on screen! The film became a box office sensation and is regarded as the first full length horror movie. It is estimated that there have been at least 200 movies featuring Dracula while a vampire subculture has blossomed among young people in particular, fuelled by countless television and silver screen productions.
It is only in recent years that a fuller appreciation of the work and impact of Bram Stoker has occurred in Ireland and beyond.
Mercury Theatre 1938 Radio Recording of Dracula with Orson Welles:
Dracula Audio-Book on YouTube:
Dracula Full Text:
'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'
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 there’s something great about loving what you love and not caring if it’s 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'
'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'
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,
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
There lived a man named M'Kenna at the hip of one of the mountainous hills which divide the County of Tyrone from that of Monaghan. This M'Kenna, had two sons, one of whom was in the habit of tracing hares of a Sunday whenever there happened to be a fall of snow. His father, it seems, had frequently remonstrated with him upon what he considered to be a violation of the Lord's day, as well as for his general neglect of mass.
The young man, however, though otherwise harmless and inoffensive, was in this matter quite insensible to paternal reproof, and continued to trace whenever the avocations of labour would allow him. It so happened that upon a Christmas morning, I think in the year 1814, there was a deep fall of snow, and young M'Kenna, instead of going to mass, got down his cock-stick--which is a staff much thicker and heavier at one end than at the other - and prepared to set out on his favourite amusement.
His father, seeing this, reproved him seriously, and insisted that he should attend prayers. His enthusiasm for the sport, however, was stronger than his love of religion, and he refused to be guided by his father's advice. The old man during the altercation got warm; and on finding that the son obstinately scorned his authority, he knelt down and prayed that if the boy persisted in following his own will, he might never return from the mountains unless as a corpse.
The imprecation, which was certainly as harsh as it was impious and senseless, might have startled many a mind from a purpose that was, to say the least of it, at variance with religion and the respect due to a father. It had no effect, however, upon the son, who is said to have replied, that whether he ever returned or not, he was determined on going; and go accordingly he did. He was not, however, alone, for it appears that three or four of the neighbouring young men accompanied him.
Whether their sport was good or otherwise, is not to the purpose, neither am I able to say - but the story goes that towards the latter part of the day they started a larger and darker hare than any they had ever seen, and that she kept dodging on before them bit by bit, leading them to suppose that every succeeding cast of the cock-stick would bring her down. It was observed afterwards that she also led them into the recesses of the mountains, and that although they tried to turn her come homewards, they could not succeed in doing so.
As evening advanced, the companions of M'Kenna began to feel the folly of pursuing her farther, and to perceive the danger of losing their way in the mountains should night or a snow-storm come upon them. They therefore proposed to give over the chase and return home; but M'Kenna would not hear of it.
Said he: 'If you wish to go home, you may, as for me, I'll never leave the hills till I have her with me.'
They begged and entreated of him to desist and return, but all to no purpose: he appeared to be what the Scots call fey - that is, to act as if he were moved by some impulse that leads to death, and from the influence of which a man cannot withdraw himself. At length, on finding him invincibly obstinate, they left him pursuing the hare directly into the heart of the mountains, and returned to their respective homes.
In the meantime one of the most terrible snow-storms ever remembered in that part of the country came on, and the consequence was, that the self-willed young man, who had equally trampled on the sanctities of religion and parental authority, was given over for lost. As soon as the tempest became still, the neighbours assembled in a body and proceeded to look for him. The snow, however, had fallen so heavily that not a single mark of a footstep could be seen. Nothing but one wide waste of white undulating hills met the eye wherever it turned, and of M'Kenna, no trace whatever was visible or could be found.
His father now remembering the unnatural character of his imprecation, was nearly distracted; for although the body had not yet been found, still by every one who witnessed the sudden rage of the storm and who knew the mountains, escape or survival was felt to be impossible. Every day for about a week large parties were out among the hill-ranges seeking him, but to no purpose. At length there came a thaw, and his body was found on a snow-wreath, lying in a supine posture within a circle which he had drawn around him with his cock-stick. His prayer-book lay opened upon his mouth, and his hat was pulled down so as to cover it and his face.
It is unnecessary to say that the rumour of his death, and of the circumstances under which he left home, created a most extraordinary sensation in the country - a sensation that was the greater in proportion to the uncertainty occasioned by his not having been found either alive or dead. Some affirmed that he had crossed the mountains, and was seen in Monaghan; others, that he had been seen in Clones, in Emyvale, in Five-mile-town, but despite of all these agreeable reports, the melancholy truth was at length made clear by the appearance of the body as just stated.
Now, it so happened that the house nearest the spot where he lay was inhabited by a man named Daly, I think - but of the name I am not certain - who was a herd or care-taker to Dr. Porter, then Bishop of Clogher. The situation of this house was the most lonely and desolate-looking that could be imagined. It was at least two miles distant from any human habitation, being surrounded by one wide and dreary waste of dark moor.
By this house lay the route of those who had found the corpse, and I believe the door of it was borrowed for the purpose of conveying it home. Be this as it may, the family witnessed the melancholy procession as it passed slowly through the mountains, and when the place and circumstances are all considered, we may admit that to ignorant and superstitious people, whose minds, even upon ordinary occasions, were strongly affected by such matters, it was a sight calculated to leave behind it a deep, if not a terrible impression.
Time soon proved that it did so.
An incident is said to have occurred at the funeral in fine keeping with the wild spirit of the whole melancholy event.
When the procession had advanced to a place called Mullaghtinny, a large dark-coloured hare, which was instantly recognised, by those who had been out with him on the hills, as the identical one that led him to his fate, is said to have crossed the roads about twenty yards or so before the coffin. The story goes, that a man struck it on the side with a stone, and that the blow, which would have killed any ordinary hare, not only did it no injury, but occasioned a sound to proceed from the body resembling the hollow one emitted by an empty barrel when struck.
In the meantime the interment took place, and the sensation began, like every other, to die away in the natural progress of time, when, behold, a report ran abroad like wild-fire that, to use the language of the people:
'Frank M'Kenna was appearing!'
One night, about a fortnight after his funeral, the daughter of Daly, the herd, a girl about fourteen, while lying in bed saw what appeared to be the likeness of M'Kenna, who had been lost. She screamed out, and covering her head with the bed-clothes, told her father and mother that Frank M'Kenna was in the house.
This alarming intelligence naturally produced great terror - still, Daly, who, notwithstanding his belief in such matters, possessed a good deal of moral courage, was cool enough to rise and examine the house, which consisted of only one apartment. This gave the daughter some courage, who, on finding that her father could not see him, ventured to look out, and she then could see nothing of him herself. She very soon fell asleep, and her father attributed what she saw to fear, or some accidental combination of shadows proceeding from the furniture, for it was a clear moonlight night.
The light of the following day dispelled a great deal of their apprehensions, and comparatively little was thought of it until evening again advanced, when the fears of the daughter began to return. They appeared to be prophetic, for she said when night came that she knew he would appear again; and accordingly at the same hour he did so. This was repeated for several successive nights until the girl, from the very hardihood of terror, began to become so far familiarised to the spectre as to venture to address it.
'In the name of God!' she asked, 'what is troubling you, or why do you appear to me instead of to some of your own family or relations?'
The ghost's answer alone might settle the question involved in the authenticity of its appearance, being, as it was, an account of one of the most ludicrous missions that ever a spirit was despatched upon.
'I'm not allowed,' said he, 'to spake to any of my friends, for I parted wid them in ange -; but I'm come to tell you that they are quarrelin' about my breeches - a new pair that I got made for Christmas day; an' as I was comin' up to thrace in the mountains, I thought the ould one 'ud do betther, an' of coorse I didn't put the new pair an me. My raison for appearin' is that you may tell my friends that none of them is to wear them - they must be given in charity.'
This serious and solemn intimation from the ghost was duly communicated to the family, and it was found that the circumstances were exactly as it had represented them. This, of course, was considered as sufficient proof of the truth of its mission. Their conversations now became not only frequent, but quite friendly and familiar. The girl became a favourite with the spectre, and the spectre, on the other hand, soon lost all his terrors in her eyes.
He told her that whilst his friends were bearing home his body, the handspikes or poles on which they carried him had cut his back, and occasioned him great pain! The cutting of the back also was known to be true, and strengthened, of course, the truth and authenticity of their dialogues. The whole neighbourhood was now in a commotion with this story of the apparition, and persons incited by curiosity began to visit the girl in order to satisfy themselves of the truth of what they had heard. Everything, however, was corroborated, and the child herself, without any symptoms of anxiety or terror, artlessley related her conversations with the spirit.
Hitherto their interviews had been all nocturnal, but now that the ghost found his footing made good, he put a hardy face on, and ventured to appear by daylight. The girl also fell into states of syncope, and while the fits lasted, long conversations with him upon the subject of God, the blessed Virgin, and Heaven, took place between them. He was certainly an excellent moralist, and gave the best advice. Swearing, drunkenness, theft, and every evil propensity of our nature, were declaimed against with a degree of spectral eloquence quite surprising.
Common fame had now a topic dear to her heart, and never was a ghost made more of by his best friends than she made of him. The whole country was in a tumult, and I well remember the crowds which flocked to the lonely little cabin in the mountains, now the scene of matters so interesting and important. Not a single day passed in which I should think from ten to twenty, thirty, or fifty persons, were not present at these singular interviews. Nothing else was talked of, thought of, and, as I can well testify, dreamt of.
I would myself have gone to Daly's were it not for a confounded misgiving I had, that perhaps the ghost might take such a fancy of appearing to me, as he had taken to cultivate an intimacy with the girl; and it so happens, that when I see the face of an individual nailed down in the coffin - a chilling and gloomy operation! - I experience no particular wish to look upon it again.
The spot where the body of M'Kenna was found is now marked by a little heap of stones, which has been collected since the melancholy event of his death. Every person who passes it throws a stone upon the heap; but why this old custom is practised, or what it means, I do not know, unless it be simply to mark the spot as a visible means of preserving the memory of the occurrence.
Daly's house, the scene of the supposed apparition, is now a shapeless ruin, which could scarcely be seen were it not for the green spot that once was a garden, and which now shines at a distance like an emerald, but with no agreeable or pleasing associations.
It is a spot which no solitary schoolboy will ever visit, nor indeed would the unflinching believer in the popular nonsense of ghosts wish to pass it without a companion. It is, under any circumstances, a gloomy and barren place; but when looked upon in connection with what we have just recited, it is lonely, desolate, and awful.
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by Michael Green,
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