Thursday 30 March 2017

Nine things to do in and around Dublin this Halloween

Nowadays, putting a black bin liner over your head and painting your face white with some fake blood to boot just doesn’t cut it — Halloween has undergone a major overhaul in recent years. Tanya Sweeney lists the highlights of this year’s festival, happening in and around the capital.

The Bram Stoker Festival, an initiative of Dublin City Council and Failte Ireland
The Bram Stoker Festival, an initiative of Dublin City Council and Failte Ireland
Performers at Macnas Procession, Dublin as part of the Bram Stoker Festival 2015
Travel to Rathwood near Tullow, where a Halloween train takes children on a magical journey to meet all manner of forest faeries and goblins
This Halloween, Dublin Zoo be pulling out the stops to ensure that kids have the time of their lives at the Spooktacular Boo

Tanya Sweeney

Time once was when Halloween meant sticking a few holes in a black bin-bag, donning a scratchy plastic mask and traipsing from door-to-door to collect enough monkey nuts for a potential party.

But we’ve come a long way since then. And given that Halloween is originally a Celtic pagan festival, it’s no wonder that we do the holiday particularly well.

But now that we do the holiday bigger and better, it means that the spectacle that bit more overblown and adrenaline-fuelled. It’s bolder, it’s more graphic, and for seasoned Halloween fans, much more fun.

But pretty soon, thoughts often turn to the family factor. Is it all a bit too much for really young children? While the gruesome and ghastly may seem overwhelming for little ones, one Irish academic has gone so far as to note that young children do, in fact, get a kick out of all things horror.

Read more: WATCH:'The Addams Family of Kilkenny' invite public to tour their 17th Century haunted house

Dr Sarah Cleary (pictured inset) recently completed her PhD at Trinity College, Dublin, focusing on the affects of horror movies, comics and literature on children. And in the course of her research, she began to understand why kids are among horror’s biggest fans.

“Children are just as discerning consumers as adults are,” she observes. “We’re pleasure seekers by nature and we’re looking for fun and entertainment.”

Read more: WATCH: Would you stay in Dracula's castle this Halloween?

And given that horror films and books are a ‘controlled’ form of chaos and terror, they act a little like a roller coaster: a ‘safe’ way for kids to explore and address their own fears.

“Kids love the visceral response of watching these films, like a feeling in the pit of the stomach,” reveals Sarah. “That’s quite an experience for a child. What’s more, children are particularly good at self-censoring, and seeking out the entertainment that pleases them.”

Central to all things horror-related, says Sarah, are play, fantasy and imagination.

“If you look at the development of a child, these all feature really highly,” she explains. “And in horror, the imagination is so fully explored. There are no holds barred.”

Sure enough, there is no shortage of events on in the city and beyond for fans of the macabre and the ghoulish, both young and old.  Here are just some ideas on how the whole family can get a kick out of Halloween weekend...

Causey Farm, Co Meath

Situated near Navan, this farm is a fitting setting for a Halloween jaunt; it’s just a few miles from the original home of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which some people regard as the original Halloween celebration. And Farmaphobia (October 27-November 1) promises to be quite the experience. Squirm in the Field of Screams, which includes monster-filled mazes that you’ll never forget, or try your luck in the Three-Minute Escape Rooms.

Under-12s needn’t be left out of the fun either: Causey Farm also runs Pooka Spooka, an event with plenty of timely fun like broomstick rides, magic shows, pumpkin-carving, a hay ride to a haunted house and a trip to the Tunnel of Terror. Passes start from €18 (for three attractions off-peak).

Log onto for more information.

Bram Stoker Festival


This festival, a celebration of Dublin’s most famous Gothic son, is quickly becoming the city’s biggest Halloween event (October 28-31). Offering up four days of theatre, spectacle, visual arts and music, the city takes on a particularly eerie vibe on the festival organisers’ watch.

Over at Glasnevin’s Botanic Gardens’ Nightmare Plants is an immersive, after-dark performance in the famed Victorian glass house (October 28-29, tickets €10), while over in the Rotunda Hospital’s Pillar Room, Bleedin’ Deadly is a homage to the era of the Freak Show (October 28-31, tickets €20).

Elsewhere, Mother Stoker’s Sickly Stories introduces audiences to a young Bram Stoker in this immersive theatre experience in one of Dublin’s oldest Georgian buildings, 13 North Great Georges St, where he is confined to his bed and moulded by the twisted tales told to him by his mother. (October 29-31, tickets €10).

For younger revellers, the festival also includes a number of family events. Stokerland will see St Patrick’s Park transformed into a pop-up Gothic theme park featuring the macabre talents of world-class street performers, with rides and attractions on offer (October 29-30, admission free).

On Henry Street and Moore Street, street theatre giants Macnas will summon spirits and awaken the ghosts with Sleep No More, a new parade like no other (October 31, admission is free). 

For tickets and info, see

The Horror Expo Ireland

This expo (October 30) is just the ticket for the horror fan who fancies something a little different. The grandiose surroundings of the Freemasons’ Grand Lodge in Dublin is the backdrop to this one-off event dedicated to the dark and macabre. A number of academics will provide talks to fans on the horror genre.

There will also be a Q&A session with the

Paranormal Researchers of Ireland; along with a crack team of technicians, demonologists and investigators, who will be regaling attendees with chilling experiences of their own paranormal encounters.

Tickets cost €39.50 and are available at

The Halloween Train

halloween train.jpg

Down in Carlow, meanwhile, travel to Rathwood near Tullow, where a Halloween train takes children on a magical journey to meet all manner of forest faeries and goblins (October 15-31). See the fairy playground at the Enchanted Tree with a miniature door and windows allowing access only to those little enough to fit through.

 Cross the Bridge of Invisibility, sneak around the Pooka’s House and then claim a pumpkin and carve it with the help of some good witches. And, after all that excitement, wind down in the Rathwood family restaurant with some hot chocolate.

There’s also an animal park to visit, while adults can also enjoy a browse through some great handcrafted furniture and stylish gifts for sale on-site.

Tickets are €10 per child/€6 per adult, and are selling out fast. Book online at

Halloween Howls Comedy Festival

There’s nothing like a comedy festival to lighten the mood as we head into winter, and the Halloween Howls Comedy Festival in Portlaoise (October 23-27) is a good place to start. Running in a variety of venues across the town, the festival affords revellers the chance to catch up with comedy heroes like Al Porter, David O’Doherty and Colin Murphy.

Ticket and line-up information is available at

Dublin Zoo


The zoo is one of the country’s top attractions, and it’s easy to see why. This Halloween, they’ll be pulling out the stops to ensure that kids have the time of their lives at the Spooktacular Boo (October 28 and 31).  The Kaziranga Forest Trail, which is as exotic as it sounds, will become a festival pumpkin patch. There will also be scary arts and crafts in the Meerkat Restaurant as well as Halloween-themed keeper talks. Teens, meanwhile, can go behind the scenes as part of a special Halloween camp and see what the life a zookeeper is all about.

Family tickets cost from €47.50 (certain activities extra) — call 01 474 8900 or see for the low-down.

The Ardagh School of Wizardry and Witchcraft

Given the week that’s in it, one could go the whole Hog(warts) at the Ardagh School of Wizardry and Witchcraft at Creative Ardagh, in Co Longford, (October 29, 30, 31), which is set against the town’s beautiful heritage centre.  Would-be witches and wizards take part in a host of timely activities: creating potions, visiting the Forbidden Forest, and even making your own potions.

Tickets are €8 for children, €5 for adults (with free tea and coffee provided), and €24 per family. See, call 086 302 7602, or email 

Wicklow’s Historic Gaol

Located at Kilmantin Hill ( the gaol have long been renowned for putting on ghoulish shows, and they’re planning to pull out all the stops this year with a number of paranormal investigation nights (October 25-November 1).

For those not faint of heart, there is a special Halloween Night Tour with character actors to get fright fans properly in the mood. Kids can get in on the action with a family treasure hunt, and a face face-painting extravaganza and colouring  competitions. A day tour ticket costs €7.90 for adults and €5 for children.

Call 0404 61599 for more details.

Dead of Night Halloween Carnival

If you decide to make a day trip to Longford, the town is likely to come alive for the Dead of Night Halloween  Carnival taking place on October 30.

The event will bring an eerie energy to Market Square where you can mingle with ghosts and ghouls and join in the colourful carnival parade and torch-lit procession and be dazzled by the fireworks display.

For more information, see

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