Hallowe’en has a special place in the Derry heart. In the depths of troubles, trials, and trauma we’d not wish on any, it was a refuge of self-expression. although it existed only as a special night for children in the sixties and seventies, the banning of St Paddy’s Day marches and cuts in funding to the Foyle Festival led groups of teenagers and the odd (very odd) adult to indulge in a bit of frivolity by dressing up to go to a bar.
View from Creggan Reservoir in the 80s
Publicans were quick to seize on this and started offering prizes for costumes. At first somewhat of a curiosity the whole thing exploded in the eighties into a tsunami of self-expression, mischievous teasing, and downright fun.
Since then it has grown exponentially to become an international event which attracts thousands of visitors (we don’t like the word tourist – it suggests you won’t be back) every year, the numbers bounding along with the opening of the peace bridge and the indomitable spirit which earned Derry the UK City of Culture award.
It is a festival, a carnival, which countenances no differences, a concentration of goodwill where ghouls and zombies sit at the table (or bar counter) together in peace to enjoy a family experience where religion, nationality, politics and bitterness are put aside to enjoy the wonder of creativity and freedom from imposed identity as the fantasy weaves its magic.
The explosions are no longer to be feared, for they bring spectacular light displays. Death has just stopped by for a look-see before he heads down the street for a pint, Blood spattered forms are only vampires or headless corpses, wondering how they’ll sink a Guinness in their complicated get-up. Banshees may indeed come for you, but they are rather good-looking and “deadly” only in the vernacular (meaning good fun). Witches have had the good taste to wear fish-nets, and the Smurfs aren’t quite as annoying.
It is the Carnivale of Derry – another excuse for citizens of all persuasions to welcome the world to something wonderful.
There are still two months left of the year, so get your skates on. (Pssst – we’re not stopping just because the year of culture ends … so if you can’t make it this year, there’s always next).