Anyone who reads Irish Central knows by now that Halloween actually has its origins in the Celtic pagan holiday Samhain that marks the end of the harvest. What you may not know is that the old walled city of Derry, in Northern Ireland boasts one of Europe’s largest Halloween celebrations.
Though Halloween has past, I feel the need to describe the celebrations in Derry as it was the best I’ve seen outside of the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, New York.
I was in Derry back in 2002 and while the walls were impressive and we met some interesting people, the city had an underlying feeling of tension. Not so anymore.
In fact, the people of Derry were in a sense more friendly and welcoming than anyone in Dublin or Maynooth.
It’s worth a trip to Derry for the taxi drivers alone who are not only hilarious but also extremely accommodating. One driver, who wasn’t sure where the cottage we were staying at was, drove us all over the city to pick up our friends after hearing the dispatcher say that someone else had called about going to the cottage as well.
Unlike taxi drivers in Manhattan who will refuse to pick you up when they find out you’re going to Brooklyn, the taxi drivers in Derry were more than willing to drive three miles out the trench road not only to drive us home but to pick us up as well, even when we needed several cabs. And yes, even in the pouring rain.
An event at the Derry Community Center promised a “Bat Walk” which sounded intriguing plus it was free. It turned out to be more of a lecture/slideshow. The man who gave the presentation was extremely well prepared, going into feeding habits, breeding and different kinds of bats and their sounds.
Considering the audience was mostly under 10 years old, the lecture was a bit too technical. We did get to pet small bats at the end so that made the wait worth it. They were actually quite cute and fuzzy and not dirty at all.
The real highlight of Halloween in Derry is the parade that winds around the city and ends on the banks of the Foyle river, followed by a fireworks display. Everyone in Derry dresses up, young and old and all their costumes are for the most part incredibly creative.
The parade was much like the Greenwich village parade in that it featured an assortment puppets, lights, sculpture-like characters that were reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil as well as the usual zombies and creepy torch bearing men in hoods. There was the added Irish bonus of bag pipers as well.
Also much like the Greenwich village Halloween parade, the streets of Derry were what can only be described as carnivalesque. Pubs and bars were filled with people in costumes, perhaps doing things they wouldn’t normally do because it was Halloween or maybe just because they’d had a few too many.
On the bus ride back we drove through lush countryside and towns like Monaghan and Omagh. These towns, though smaller than Derry, seemed equally appealing. While there is much beauty to be found in Southern countryside, the North feels unspoiled, ripe with possibility and well worth a visit.