Halloween originated as a festival among the Celts of Ireland. The term Halloween is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the evening before "All Hallows' Day", also known as "All Saints' Day". In parts of Ireland, the festival is also called Pooky Night, presumably named after the púca, a mischievous spirit. Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is most potent.
An tAth. Peadar Ó Laoghaire (Fr. Peter O'Leary) tells a cautionary tale of strange happenings in a West Cork graveyard long ago (Ar nDóthain ar Aon, gan dáta ach clóbuailte timcheall 1914).
It was Oiche Samhna (Halloween - All Saints Eve) the traditional time for unearthly happenings. The tailor was seated by the fire and the neighbours were all in listening to him telling yarns and keeping the cold out with a drop of poitín. 'Ní raibh a chuid scéalta críochnuighthe aige go dtí go raibh uair an mheadhon oiche go maith ann.' (His stories were not finished before the hour of midnight was well in).
Well, there wasn't a púcha nor ghost in the graveyard but he dragged into his stories and he had his audience jumping at every creak and groan in the rafters. The tailor laughed at their unease. Dá mbeinn thall sa reilig ba chuma liom ! (If I was over in the graveyard it would be no bother to me !) he declared.
The legs were gone on him but he had clever hands and earned well for himself, sitting there stitching away with 'The long thread of the lazy tailor' except that he wasn't at all lazy and his wits were as sharp as his needle. Dónal Mór (Big Dan) growled, I suppose but for your legs keeping you at home, you wouldn't mind being in the graveyard now ! Am briathar ná bheadh ! ('Pon my word, I wouldn't !) declared the tailor. Dá mbeadh na cosa 'gamsa, cómh maith agus atáid siad agatsa, ba ghearr an mhoill orm thaispeáint gur fíor é ! ( If I had the legs as good as you have I wouldn't be long showing you!) Cad é an eagla bheadh orm ? Nach í an reilig céanna í san oiche nó sa lá? (What fear would be on me ? Isn't it the same graveyard by day or night ?)
One of the neighbours was inspired. I'll tell ye what ! How would it be if we were to carry the tailor over there now an' shtick him in a corner up agin the wall for an hour on his own, then we could collect him and we would see if he feared neither spook, pooka or divil !
It was agreed immediately here was no way the tailor could back out now so Dónal Mór got the tailor up on his back and they set off for the graveyard, stumbling in the dark and leaving the rest of the lads sitting by the fire. Now, unbeknownst to the lads, a couple of shady characters had decided to do a bit of sheep stealing that same night. They were father and son and the father had arranged that the son should do the actual catching of the sheep whilst he waited in the graveyard, just inside the wall. The son would kill the sheep and lift it up over the wall, hand it over to Dad and th'oul fella could skin it and cut it up so that it could the more easily be carried home. Didn't they decide on the very same corner of the graveyard the lads had chosen to dump the tailor, being confident of no disturbance because of the bad reputation of the place at night. D'imthigh an fear óg fé dhéin na caorach agus ba ghearr gur thit miogarnach codlata ar an sean duine.... (The young fella set off to get the sheep and it wasn't long before the old lad fell asleep...)
It was only a short while before he was wakened by hearing the huffing and puffing of someone carrying a heavy load. Tháinig Dónal go falla na reilige lasmuigh, agus chuir sé an táilliúr 'na shuí ar an bhfalla... (Donal came to the outer wall of the graveyard and put the tailor sitting up on the wall...) He put his two hands under the tailor's armpits then, and the old lad inside reached up to receive the burden.
An bhfuil sé meith ? (Is he fat ?) he asked. No sooner did Dónal hear these words than he dropped the tailor in on top of the old rogue, turned on his heel and ran off roaring into the darkness and didn't stop till he got back to the tailor's place. Just as he got inside, he fell into a heap on the floor and the lads spent a good while throwing cold water into his face to bring him round. When he came to, he shouted , Ó an sprid ! Ó an sprid ! (Oh, the ghost ! Oh, the ghost !) Well, the lads were terrified. Cár fhágais an táilliúr ?(Where did you lave the tailor ?) asked one of them. O leig mé dom féin ! Do sciob sé as mo lámhaibh é ! (Lave me alone ! He shwept him out of my hands !) The old thief, similarly, lost no time in dropping the tailor and running off into the darkness with his hair standing on end. The tailor gradually gathered his wits and when he heard the old thief's son approaching with the sheep, he naturally thought it must be Dónal Mór. An bhfuillir ansan ? arsa mac an ghadaí i gcogar. (Are you there ? said the thief's son in a whisper.) Táim, arsa an táiliúr i gcogar eile, Cad a coimead thú ? (I am said the tailor also in a whisper.What kept you ?) Ni fhéadainn breith air, arsa an fear. ( I couldn't catch it, said the man below)
Cad é an chaint sin ort mar sin ? Cad mar gnÓ dhuit mé fhágaint annseo ar feadh cheithre h-uaire 'chluig a'm leathadh le fuacht na h-oiche ?(What oul' talk have you like that ? What were you doing lavin' me here for four hours perishing with the cowld of the night ?) Ceithre huaire 'cluig ! Níl dhá uair an chluig Ó fhágamar an baile. Seo - béir ar seo agus leig dom féin. (Four hours ! It isn't two hours since we left home. Here- catch a hoult o' this and lave me alone.) With that, he threw the dead sheep in on top of the tailor who roared with terror and the thief took to his heels.
When Dónal Mór gradually regained his wits, he stood up, reached for his overcoat and big stick and set out the door with determination. The lads all followed him. When they reached the graveyard, they could hear someone groaning inside in the corner. DÓnal jumped in over the wall and the first thing he encountered was the sheep. The tailor spoke from under it. Do caith duine éigin an caora marbh seo anuas orm agus táimse basgaithe múchta aice. (Someone threw this sheep in on top of me and it has me battered an' choked)
When they got both tailor and sheep back to the house, Dónal Mór recognised the sheep as his own. Ó! 'Oiche shúgach, maidean brónach !' a dhubhairt se. ( 'An enjoyable night and a sorrowful morning!' he said.) ...and well he might !
Scéilín Ó Caoimhghín Ó Brolcháin
Courtesy of Jack & Vivian, IrishPage.com Halloween, 2007