It's Hallowe'en, Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo

The many customs and traditions associated with Hallowe'en on 31st of October hark back to more ancient times. Our Celtic ancestors celebrated the festival of Samhain to commemorate the end of the year and to seek protection for the winter months. Spirits of dead people were to be feared then so huge fires were lit to drive them away.

This is the origin of our bonfire and we still burn these at Hallowe'en. Later on, ghost stories were told around the hearth and because of them, people were afraid to walk alone on the road for fear of meeting ghosts or witches. Masks and disguises concealed the identity of the wearer so that the spirits could not cause harm.

With the arrival of Christianity the old pagan festival changed so that All Saints Day is on 1st of November with All Souls Day falling the day after. Special prayers are said for deceased relatives and people visit the graves. Masses for the Holy Souls are celebrated at local churches.

Hallowe'en, however, is still very well known to young and old alike with bonfires, masks, ducking for apples, turnip and pumpkin lanterns, barm bracks and carrying out pranks. Games like laying out different items such as a ring, water in a bowl, a rag, a coin and a ball of wool, then blindfolding the player and making them choose an item were common. If the person chose a ring it meant marriage, water meant travel, a rag meant poverty, a coin wealth and a ball of wool meant a spinster. Another game was hanging up an apple from a ceiling and trying to take a bite from it.

Special foods like colcannon, containing potatoes, butter, onions, milk, cabbage (kale) were served on Hallowe'en. Barm brack with a ring inside was and still is a favourite. These customs are still carried out to this day in various places.

It's Hallowe'en

It's Hallowe'en and the witches will be out

Ghosts will scream and ghouls will shout.

Pumpkins grin in windowsills, chanting their wicked song.

The bell in the graveyard strikes midnight

With its sinister ding, dong.

It's Hallowe'en, a scary time of year

The night of fright, and the night of fear.

Witches on broomsticks fly by the moon

On this frightening, scary night.

Giving all the passers-by

A feeling of fear and fright.

So on this night, be sure to go out

And you will hear the ghosts and ghouls shout!

Wait in your house until the midnight hour

Until you see a light

And then you will know

That it's Hallowe'en

And you will scream with fright!

By Clíona Hensey, Age 11

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