Derry Halloween Festival transforms the city into a spooktacular, nightmarish, spectacle of horrors every year.
There are many spooky, haunted places throughout Ireland that will make a perfectly terrifying retreat for those looking for shivers to be sent racing up their spines with fright this Halloween but none will offer a more spooktacular venue than the capital of Halloween itself, Derry.
This walled Northern Ireland city, the last walled city in Europe, has been celebrating the modern equivalent of the ancient Celtic festival Samhain in a big way since 1986, spiraling year after year over the last three decades into truly unnerving underworld each time the festival rolls around.
Long named the “City of Bones” because of the skeleton in the city’s coat of arms, the Boston Globe visited Derry from the second day onward of the festival in 2016 and were completely won over by the darkly magical setting of the city for an absolute howler of a Halloween festival.
“It was hard to guess what spectacle would appear around each corner or on the streets and sidewalks below on the roughly 1-mile circumference. Acrobats, actors, and mimes staged impromptu shows. Flames from bonfires set in gigantic braziers rose into the night,” they wrote of watching the acts below as the walked along the city walls.
“We’ve seen some pretty scary parades over the years, but nothing like stilt-walking Grim Reapers, a marching band of zombie bagpipers in full skirl, or the helter-skelter throng of hundreds of step-dancing banshees.”
The Derry Halloween Festival draws on the old folklore and newer scary stories to create the perfect fright
The magic of the Derry Halloween Festival, of course, lies in the fact that Ireland is really the birthplace of the original Samhain festival, the time when the ancient Irish would live in fear of the time of year when the divide between the living and the dead was at its most narrow, sparking some of the most terrifying folklore and myths of Irish demons and ghosts to be found anywhere in the world.
From these spine-tingling ancient tales, further centuries of writers and authors were inspired, including none other than the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker. All this is celebrated and remembered by the Derry festival, showing off the wailing calls of the Irish banshees juxtaposed with the more modern nightmarish tales of zombies and ghouls captured by the Ghostbusters.
The theme for the Derry Festival 2017 is to be “Under the Samhain Moon” with a special lunar theme over many of the main events happening across the four-day extravaganza (Saturday, October 28 - Tuesday, October 31). In particular, the main venue of the festival, the Guildhall, will hold host to an out-of-this-world lunar landscape, a groundbreaking three-dimensional globe by UK artist Luke Jerram.
Complimented by a surrounding soundtrack created by BAFTA and Ivor Novello award-winning composer Dan Jones, the festival’s centerpiece features a giant, seven-meter in diameter, illuminated scale model of the moon suspended from the ceiling of the main hall of the Guildhall and it free to view through the four days.
“I wanted to make the artwork seem as authentic and realistic as possible to give the public the opportunity to fly to the moon,” Jerram explained to Derry Now.
“For most people, this will be the most intimate, personal and closest encounter they will ever have with it.
“As a child, I always wanted a telescope so I could study the Moon and the night’s sky.
“Now with my own Moon, I can fly there, study every detail and share this experience with the public. We can explore the far side of the Moon which is never visible from Earth.”
The carnival parade is the highlight of the Derry Halloween Festival
For the first three nights of the festival, Derry City walls are used to perfection for the "Awakening of the Walls" as “a supernatural illuminated animation trail” can be followed along its perimeter to banish off the ghouls and goblins in force.
Elsewhere throughout the weekend, the Samhain Sessions will bring to life bands playing everything from Irish country to heavy metal to ensure there’s absolutely no fear of dying from boredom.
The pinnacle of the frights is with the carnival parade, however, this year channeling the moon and the stars and all the fearful things that come with it.
With carnival arts, circus and street performers from around the world, this year’s parade is described as taking place when “the battle of Dark vs Light reaches its peak as the veil between this and the Otherworld is at its thinnest.
“As the Spirits of the Ancients release the Samhain Moon, guests from distant stars with spirits from near and far join the revelry as The City of Bones puts on a show like no other!”
The fireworks bring a crashing end to the Derry Halloween Festival
While the Boston Globe felt that nothing could top the main Halloween parade on the night itself, they were more than blown away by the real finale, the fire-crackling fireworks display over the River Foyle.
Their description of the event describes why Ireland, in general, makes the perfect spot to spend your Halloween.
“There was really no way to top the parade’s sense of excess, but the fireworks finale over the River Foyle made a valiant try,” they state.
“We found a spot by the iconic Peace Bridge and watched as the pyrotechnics rained down over the river. This being Ireland, a gentle mist also began to fall. At the end, everyone’s spooktacular makeup was running down their faces in rivulets, but no one seemed to mind.”
You can more information on all the events happening during the Derry Halloween Festival 2017 at their website.
Have you ever been to the Derry Halloween Festival? Where's our favorite place to spend Halloween? Let us know about it in the comments section, below.