The eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31st, known as Halloween, is the night when it was said the fairies, ghosts and spirits arose and got freedom to roam the earth. The children were protected with holy water or by putting iron or a dead elmer into their cradle.
It was the night when the fairies confused people and got them lost in the countryside; it was the night of the Pùca when people thought it was dangerous travel alone because meeting this spirit was a scary experience, for certain. But it was also the night of fun when the youngsters, disguised in witches hats, cloaks or draped in white sheets, popped around frightening anyone they met along their way or throwing cabbage, picked from gardens, at neighbours doors to scare them.
It was, and still is, the night of the Halloween party, where apples, nuts and sweets are abundant. Apples and coins are put into a basin of water and have to be picked up with the lips, hands are tied behind the back. Apples are also hung on a string from the ceiling and bitted, hands are again tied behind the back.
Halloween has always been associated with fortune-telling and divination. Barm-brack was a favourite food, various objects were hidden and baked in the mixture of the loaf: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin, a ring or a thimble; all of them have a meaning, for example the ring a wedding, the stick an unhappy marriage, the coin good fortune or be rich and the piece of cloth bad luck. Whoever got the slice with one of these objects would know something about the future. Nuts were also a popular food for this night and the shells were burnt for divinations to be foretold from the ashes.
On that night girls and boys used to put into four saucers a piece of clay, some water, a ring and a Rosary Beads respectively. In turn they, blind-folded, led to the vessels and put their hand into them. The water meant to go across water, the clay to be the first to die, the ring to get married the first, the Beads to become a nun or a Religious. Also they used to peel an apple without breaking the skin and throw the skin over their shoulder. The skin would have made the initial of the Christian name of the future spouse.
On Achill Island the following custom was practised at Halloween. Girls and boys used to try to find out who would be their spouse. They had to buy a fresh herring, boil or fry it without cleaning. This was taken to the bedroom and eaten before going to bed. During that night the future spouse was supposed to come and offer a glass of water.
People never ate blackberries, sloes or haws after Halloween. It was said the Pùca would have soiled them on that night. “Cally” or mashed potatoes used to be cooked and left outside the house for the Pùca. The following morning it was generally found that the “Cally” had been eaten, maybe by the Pùca!