Carrickfergus Castle and Halloween

I have mentioned before what seems to be my exceptional good luck with the weather in Ireland. Except for a whole day washout in Galway in 2017 and the ten minute squall at the Gobbins Coastal Walk this year I have always enjoyed good weather.

Today was no exception so after an excellent full Irish breakfast (in a stack) we left the Titanic Quarter, crossed the river and made our way to the railway station because today we were visiting nearby Carrickfergus (what a great Irish name that is) to see its mighty castle.

On the way we passed the Belfast Big Fish. There is a sign saying no climbing but William missed that and clambered onto its back regardless. William is good at jumping and climbing.

The train journey alongside the western shore of Belfast Lough took just about twenty minutes and we arrived at about midday in a curiously subdued (for a Saturday morning in a fair sizes market town) Carrickfergus town centre. With nothing to distract us such as a market for example we made our way directly to the harbour and the castle.

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle, the oldest , biggest and best preserved medieval building in all of Northern Ireland built on the north shore of the Lough to manage and protect the entrance to the emerging port of Belfast and the navigable River Lagan.

It was here that King William III landed in 1690 on his way to the Battle of the Boyne, a decisive battle in the struggle for supremacy in Ireland in which William was victorious and secured Protestant domination in Ireland for over a subsequent two hundred years. Carrickfergus remains even to this day a staunch Unionist/Protestant town.

There is a statue of King Billy with his massive hat close to the harbour.

We were looking forward to visiting the castle but the door was firmly closed. I told William to go and knock and he pounded so hard that anyone inside might have imagined it was under siege. A young man emerged and told us that the castle was closed today on account of this being Halloween weekend and an unofficial public holiday. This seemed odd to me, why would you close a tourist attraction on a bank holiday when you might expect higher than normal visitor numbers.

The man said ‘come back on Monday’, I said ‘We are going home tomorrow (Sunday)’ and he helpfully suggested ‘Come back next time you are in Northern Ireland’.

I was intrigued by this but it seems that Halloween is rather important in Ireland and people here tell you that Halloween traditions were begun and influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, the beginning of Winter, the dark months, which are believed to have pagan roots. Some go further and suggest that Samhain may have been Christianized as All Hallow’s Day, along with its eve, by the early Christian Church.

Anyway, whatever, The Irish claim ownership of the Halloween tradition. Apparently they used to carve turnips and light a candle inside to represent the souls of the recently and dearly departed. Carving a woody turnip I can only imagine to be extremely hard work so the Irish must have been glad to find that when the emigrated to America that there were no turnips and pumpkins were abundant and much easier to work with.

We all know what happened next, over the years the USA hijacked the Halloween tradition and turned it into a commercial bonanza which has spread across the World. In the process the historical and cultural significance has sadly been swept away in a tsunami of tacky consumerism, much like Christmas and Easter.

We all do it…

In the UK I personally lament the fact that Halloween has completely eclipsed Bonfire Night and the ‘Penny for the Guy’ tradition but I suppose the environmentalists will applaud the fact that we no longer light thousands of polluting bonfires on November 5th.

With the castle closed and nothing to detain us longer in Carrickfergus we took the train directly back to Belfast.

Where we did some more sightseeing…

29 responses to “Carrickfergus Castle and Halloween

  1. Don’t ‘blame’ the US for people over there freely jumping into the celebration with both feet and a mask.

    . . . I blame people with kids. Parents are looking for any excuse to keep the kids from whining, and dressing them up and loading them full of sugar keeps them occupied for a bit.

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  2. That is surprising that they closed for Halloween 🤷🏼‍♂️.

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  3. I didn’t know about the Irish and Halloween

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  4. “why would you close a……..” Because you can get away with it! Cornwall can be similar to that on occasion.

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  5. Hate Halloween! Good looking castle…from the outside.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Growing up in N.I, I remember Hallowe’en (All Hallows Evening) Oct. 31st, as the day we visited the graves of family members and laid new flowers (I have a vague feeling it was felt that these were for the spirits that hadn’t yet ‘passed over’ but don’t quote me on that), apple bobbing and other games and lots of food in the evening. Next day, Nov. 1st is All Saints’ Day when we definitely all went to church to pray for the souls of the departed but I think it was a day off school for us in which case it would have been a Bank Holiday but tied up with religion as most of them were in Ireland, Holy Days (holidays) of Obligation as they are called.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I knew about the Irish and Halloween. I researched it one year for a blog but was unaware it was still a big deal.
    I loved Mischief night, my dad used to remove the garden gate every year just in case someone else did.

    When my older two girls were young the night was still celebrated. One year they returned home in a police car because they were causing mischief! 😂
    We’d hardly heard of Halloween back then.

    By the time the younger two girls were old enough to roam and cause havoc, Halloween had taken over. We chose to give them parties instead of knocking on doors.

    Some years later when son Joss was born Mischief night had gone forever.

    We still have bonfires up here – there are two village ones, the scouts hold one at their campsite and the rugby club holds another. We’ve had a family bonfire at home ever since we moved here 45 years ago. I wouldn’t be sorry to see the tradition fade away.

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  8. As someone of a certain vintage (born 1957) I don’t remember anything at all about Hallowe’en from my childhood, it simply wasn’t an event. As you say though, Bonfire Night was huge, and something we looked forward to for weeks, watching the mounds of wood grow into giant wigwams around the town. Hallowe’en simply passed by in the middle of that excitement.

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  9. You’ve been exceedingly fortunate with the weather

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  10. Oh how I lament the passing of bonfire night. We didn’t have much of an idea about who on earth Guy Fawkes was but all the families in our district would gather around a huge bonfire and light crackers and all the grown ups would have a beer in hand (or a cup of tea). That was in the country and miles from anywhere. Now it’s trick or treat and just another way the the US has hi-jacked our traditions and our culture and our language and I am really convinced we have attached our light to a falling star.

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  11. Thanks for sharing this

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  12. I knew about Guy Fawkes but didn’t know anything about Bonfire Night, or Penny for the Guy? I had to look them up and now I share your lament. There must be someone somewhere who still sets something alight on Bonfire Night? I hope so anyway.

    It’s a great shot of William on the Big Fish! And it was fun to imagine him banging with gusto on the doors of the castle.

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