Did you know Halloween was born with an Irish harvest festival called Samhain? Back then, it wasn’t so much about a fireworks display, dressing up as ghouls or trick and treat, but rather more about the slaughter of animals in preparation for winter, massive bonfires, and community celebrations.
Today, though, Ireland celebrates much like the rest of the Western world, though perhaps with more fire in its belly: in some areas, local kids spend weeks gathering firewood to burn massive illegal bonfires. Fireworks – long since banned for private use – nevertheless let rip across the capital, and the house parties have become absolutely epic. In other words, there’s good and bad. We’ll focus on the good: if you’re in Dublin, you’re missing out if you don’t dig in and get into the spirit of it all. Here are the best of the city’s Halloween offerings.
The Bram Stoker Festival
The author of Dracula was born in Clontarf, a posh suburb of north Dublin, and while he relocated to London before writing his most famous work, he’s long been celebrated in the city. The Bram Stoker Festival, naturally, falls across Halloween and features everything from horror film flicks to spooky family events, incorporating the entire extended Halloween weekend. Plenty of the festival is free, but you’ll need to be quick for tickets, especially for fiery Dublin Castle events, which have become astoundingly popular in recent years.
The Macnas Parade
Originating in Galway, but arriving in Dublin in spectacular fashion in recent years, this theatre troop produces massive, intimidating floats for Halloween and parades them spookily through the heart of the city as soon as it’s dark enough to get the full effect. Young children might be quite unnerved by the jumpy actors, two-storey wolves and misty, demonic vibe of the annual parade, but for anyone else, it’s not to be missed. It comes to Dublin on Monday, October 26th (a public holiday).
Day of the Dead
This particular Halloween event is so secretive that at the time of writing, nothing exists about it apart from a website, a few early acts, and the option to buy tickets. If that seems off-putting, we can probably give you a sense of what to expect from organiser Barn Dance’s previous events. They tend to ship you out of the city on a slightly drunken bus drive, put on great bands until the sun comes up, and then shepherd you back worse for wear from their secretive location having danced the night away. Keep your eye on this one, in other words. It takes place on October 29th (probably until the following mid-morning).
Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher will be headlining this wild fancy-dress warehouse gig out at Weston Airport, a short drive from Dublin city centre. It’s a big grab for the new festival – even the location will be hosting its first-ever concert – but with DJs Annie Mac and 2ManyDJs plus local legends The Strypes and Touts joining Gallagher (and plenty more to be announced) over the course of the weekend, it’s sure to be a wild pre-cursor to some of those house parties. It takes place October 28th and 29th.
The Spooktacular Boo at Dublin Zoo
Very much aimed at the kids, this Dublin Zoo event on October 31st will bring creepy arts and crafts, face painting, monster music and spookily themed animal talks in a setting just made for them. For both the kids and the big kids, the zoo also recently brought back the phenomenally popular dinosaur exhibition, which is all the reason you need to drop in. The wide array of animals in sizeable enclosures doesn’t do any harm either!
Dublin Zoo, Phoenix Park, Dublin 8, Ireland, +353 1 474 8900
Airfield Halloween Camps for kids
The popular urban farm – down the road from the chunky Dundrum shopping centre – will host two separate seasonally themed specials for kids aged five through eight over the Halloween weekend. The ‘Fearsome Forest Camp’ is about connecting with nature, exploring bugs, rustling leaves and woodcrafts. The ‘Spooky Young Chef’ camp will teach youngsters to cook using ingredients grown on-site, as well as taking in charming educational asides such as milking cows and checking out how the vegetables grow. Both are full-on commitments (four days, from October 31st to November 3rd), but kids are bound to down a (trick or) treat.
Airfield Estate, Overend Ave, Dundrum, Dublin 14, Ireland, +353 1 969 6666
Horror Expo Ireland
Located in Dublin’s Freemasons’ Hall (full of creaky old flags, ancient rituals, and inbuilt mystery), Horror Expo Ireland returns for its second year exploring anything it can think of related to being really quite frightened. The program aims to be diverse and exploratory, including live ‘investigations’ into the paranormal, storytellers, gothic art, dark erotica, horror-themed demonstrations, and terror-themed special guests. Probably not one for the faint hearted, then. It takes place on October 29th.
Hit the movies
Dublin has fantastic cinemas, and there’s a couple in particular that are likely to step away from the conventional Hollywood Halloween offerings and show something hailing from somewhere lesser known, dug up from 50 years worth of archives, or put together by an obscure but wonderful filmmaker. Whatever’s on at the IFI Dublin and the Lighthouse Cinema is so carefully curated that if you’re into horror and pick at random from what’s on offer, we could almost vouch for it based on the location only. Expect some great themed specials, and all-nighters, too.
IFI Dublin, 6 Eustace St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland, +353 1 679 3477
Lighthouse Cinema, Market Square, Smithfield, Dublin 7, Ireland, +353 1 872 8006
Unlike the traditions surrounding Guy Fawkes in the UK, Ireland doesn’t celebrate the 5th of November, as Fawkes failed attempts to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament happened at a time when the Irish were less than besotted with their occupying neighbours. The fireworks, then, arrive over Halloween, with the city council putting on a host of local festivals, including Fright Night in Finglas and Halloween Fest in Sheriff Street. Keep an eye on the local parties on the city council’s events page, here.
Dress up, hit the pubs or get yourself to a house party
Ireland’s young and young-at-heart go absolutely wild for Halloween. You can fully expect to see grown adults dressed as zombies, ghosts, ghouls, inappropriate celebrities, or something involving a skirt that would be unacceptable any other night of the year. House parties are really where Halloween is at: if you can get yourself an invite, do. If not, Dublin city pubs are not known for letting people down.