Despite what the shelves in Tesco might tell you, 'tis not quite yet the season to be jolly. However, the last hurrah before Christmas deserves its own fair share of attention, and the Halloween break is a great time to get away and regroup before the headiness of the festive season. And the weekend offers much more than merely the opportunity to go out dressed as Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian or Nidge from 'Love/Hate' with total impunity. Whether you're going solo or taking the whole family along, there's a bounty of appropriately spooky festivities on offer.
Take in a festival
Over in Mayo, the inaugural Samhain Abhainn Halloween Festival (facebook. com/SamhainAbhainnBallina) will be in full swing from October 27–31. Its programme is jam-packed with family-oriented activities. Co-ordinated by the Ballina Chamber of Commerce, events planned include art workshops, traditional activities, treasure hunts, murder mystery, a Rocky Horror show interactive screening and a spooky stroll through Belleek Woods.
Elsewhere in Mayo, the Westport House Halloween Festival (westporthouse.ie, or call 098 27766) takes place throughout the mid-term break (today until November 3) and promises to ease the burden for parents. Aside from the Pirate Adventure Park and Westport House Express train ride, kids can also avail of the swinging ship and pedal go-karts. The park is open from 1pm to 5pm daily.
In the Royal County, there are spooky goings-on aplenty at the Spirits Of Meath Halloween Festival, until November 3 (spiritsofmeath.ie).
Billed as 'fun by day, fright by night', there are plenty of adventures, storytelling events, pumpkin patches and bonfires that will keep children entertained. Adults, meanwhile, can get their kicks at some grown-up events, from a traditional torchlit procession in Athboy to a megalithic man adventure race (prices for events vary).
Or, if running isn't your thing, take to the Drive-in at Ratoath, where all the Halloween classics (think 'The Exorcist' and 'The Goonies') will be on the big screen for your viewing pleasure (tickets cost from €22 per car; log on to driveinfilms.ie or call 01 886 4300 for details).
Across in Galway, the medieval streets of the Latin Quarter are a rather fitting backdrop for the Galway Aboo Halloween Festival (today until October 28). Sunday is Free Family Fun Day, so check out the trick or treat stations, pumpkin bowling and a fancy dress disco. See galwaytourism.ie for more information.
Thurles, too, has its own themed arts festival, running until October 31 (thurleshalloweenfestival.com). Revellers can enjoy street theatre, indoor family shows, fancy dress parties, film screenings, music (including a Battle of the Bands), karaoke (always scary, no matter the time of year) and a fireworks display. Many events are free; for others, tickets cost from €5 to €15. For booking information call 086 239 7396 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go down to the zoo today...
Dublin Zoo (dublinzoo.ie) 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 pint-sized visitors get more bang for their buck at their Spooktacular Boo (October 28 and 31). To celebrate, Dublin Zoo transformed the exotic Kaziranga Forest Trail into a festive pumpkin patch where Upali, the new bull elephant and the female elephants had great fun smashing pumpkins. Spooktacular activities will take place from 12pm–3pm on both days. Visitors will enjoy face painting and a monster disco outside Haughton House near the Great Lawn. 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 of a zookeeper is all about. Family tickets cost from €45.50 (certain activities extra). For more information call 01 474 8900.
Pay homage to Dracula
While literature's scariest vampire will be a huge part of the Halloween weekend, a handful of specialty festivals have been created in Dracula's honour. At Dublin's Bram Stoker Dracula Halloween Horror Festival (bramstokerdraculahalloween horrorfestival.com), there is an intriguing fitness element to the proceedings.
Children can take part in the World Vampire Championship Cloak Race (October 31); a 1k race with a dress code. Meanwhile, on October 30, check out the ghost walk, which departs from Clontarf Castle and ends up at the Stoker Dracula Centre. This Clontarf shindig – organised by the Bram Stoker Organisation – is not to be confused with the Bram Stoker Festival from today until October 28 (bramstokerfestival.com), which happens across town in the city centre.
The latter's programme is teeming with literary talks, film, spine-chilling street theatre and various cultural amenities; an absolute must-do for any serious Bram fans. Ticket prices vary. Contact 01 668 0600 for details. It's equally grim up north, where the inaugural Dracufest takes over Ballyshannon (until October 27). It's a fitting backdrop; recent research has proven that Frankenstein author Mary Shelley's grandmother, not to mention Bram Stoker's ancestors, once lived in Ballyshannon. This festival will have special screenings of goth classics 'Dracula' and 'Frankenstein', a historical walk through the town, an adults' fancy dress party as well as an attempt to break the current world record for the number of vampires in one location. See ballyshannon.ie for event details.
Walk on the wild side
Walking tours are popular year-round; even more so when you don't know what lurks around each corner. Hidden Dublin Walks are the folk behind a particularly ominous-sounding trip to the Hellfire Club, the eerily remote 18th century haunt of blackguards in the Dublin Mountains (nightly until November 3). Tickets cost €25; go to hiddendublinwalks.com or call 085 102 3646.
Try some gaol time
Wicklow's Historic Gaol at Kilmantin Hill (wicklowshistoricgaol.com) has 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 (until November 1). There is a special Halloween night tour with character actors. Kids can also get in on the action with a family treasure hunt, and a face painting extravaganza and colouring competitions. An adults' day tour costs €7.50, while a paranormal investigation clocks in at €50. Call 0404 61599 for details on ticketed events.
Check into a castle
Castles can be creepy at the best of times, and they truly come into their own during Halloween. In Carlow's Huntington Castle, visitors can take a candlelit tour and hear about its resident ghost (today until October 31). Tickets are €10.95 for adults (€8.95 for children), log on to huntingtoncastle.com or call 053 9377 160 for the lowdown. Meanwhile, in Kilkenny, an adult fancy dress party and murder mystery banquet (tickets €70) takes place at Shankill Castle's Scarefest (October 30-31, call 059 972 6145 or log on to shankillcastle.com).
Take in some comedy
Why be scared to death when you can die laughing? Head to the Galway Comedy Festival (until October 28, galwaycomedy festival.com), where Sean Lock, David O'Doherty, Neil Delamere, Barry Murphy and Eleanor Tiernan will be taking to the stage. Midlanders can also get in on the comedy action with Maeve Higgins, Bernard O'Shea, The Nualas and Colin Murphy forming the line-up of Portlaoise's Halloween Howls Comedy Festival (until October 27, see halloweenhowls.ie or call 057 86 21 744 for ticket bookings).
For more information, see discoverireland.ie