Friday 23 March 2018

Feel the fear: Things to do this mid-term

We gave the world Halloween - and much of the modern vampire myth - so no wonder Ireland is the place to be this Halloween mid-term. Here are our suggestions for some of the best family-friendly things to do and places to be and see

Emily Hourican with her children David, Bee and Malachy. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Emily Hourican with her children David, Bee and Malachy. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Autumn walk
Macnas will parade in Galway and Dublin
Six-year-old Holly Barrett from Baldoyle and 10-year-old Jake from Malahide launch Samhain Tours & Tales at Croke Park, which run from October 28 to November 1
Huntington Castle

Emily Hourican

Halloween has a magic all of its own. Without the pressure and sometimes crushing demands of Christmas, still with the possibility of good weather and days outdoors to be had, there is a freedom and exuberance to the autumnal mid-term that is very beguiling. That said, there are still days to be filled, children to entertain, and the feeling of having 'made the most of it' to chase. What you want is a mix of the indoor, outdoor, cultural and pure entertainment; brisk walks, woodland hikes, fancy dress fun, the odd cinema day, and a bit of historical knowledge all in the mix together. Here are our suggestions of how to get the perfect balance.


As befits the country that started this whole Halloween thing (and plenty of the vampire thing too), it is entirely right that Ireland has so much in the way of dead bodies to offer. From the mummified 12th century bodies at St Michan's, beside the Old Jameson Distillery - the crypt also has Wolfe Tone's death mask - to the bog men of the National Museum, death becomes us.



At Glasnevin, it isn't the bodies on view so much as their monuments to self. Burial place of de Valera, Daniel O'Connell, Brendan Behan, Roger Casement, along with 1.5m more, come here for rows of magnificent, maudlin and sometimes decidedly creepy headstones and tombs. During Halloween week, daily ghost tours will chill and thrill, adding plenty of fascinating history to the mix.


For all the excitement of purpose-created Halloween horrors, some of the most ghostly and chilling spots around the country are the neglected and half-forgotten. Seafield House in Co Sligo, Leamaneh Castle, Co Clare, Ballinagarde House in Limerick and, creepiest of all, Cork District Lunatic Asylum, are all rumoured to be properly haunted, and will put icy fingers of fear to your neck.

For inspiration, see Tarquin Blake's abandonedireland.com


Airfield Estate does a good autumn, with plenty of seasonal charm. Until next Sunday, they are also offering a spooky-sounding Halloween Creatures and Dia del Los Meurtos workshop on Tuesday, and Hansel & Gretel Into The Woods (free with admission ticket or membership), a self-guided woodland walk that involves various fearsome fairy tales and frightening finds (frankly, even the name is enough…).


It is always a good time to explore the country's ancient past, but Halloween perhaps more than any other, given the connection with death, burial and renewal. There are places in Ireland that pre-date the pyramids and Stonehenge, and can be seen pretty much without fuss, even free. Bru Na Boinne, in Co Meath, over 5,000 years old, is the site of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. There's Mount Sandel Mesolithic site, beside the River Bann in Coleraine, said to date back some 9,000 years, and the Iron Age Mount Sandel Fort (free). The Hill of Tara in Co Meath, along with the Mound of Hostages, a small Neolithic passage tomb thought to date back as far as 3,000 BC, and the remarkable proliferation of megalithic tombs at Carrowmore in Co Sligo, along with the oldest largest megalithic cemetery in Europe, dating back to around 4,000BC. On a good day - quiet, still, dry - it is perfectly possible to imagine yourself just a thin veil away from that other world.


Check out the glorious display of pumpkins, gourds, squashes and various other autumn plants at the Botanic Garden Halloween Harvest Display. The results of a guess-the-weight competition featuring a giant pumpkin will be announced next Sunday.



For younger kids, Halloween art and a little light costume making will always work, so bite the bullet, put newspaper everywhere, and get busy. From decorating pumpkins to making spooky cakes - spider, bat, ghost, pumpkin are all perfectly possible with a few simple instructions and a lot of pliable frosting - this is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Try cupcakes dripping 'blood' and coated in spider's 'web', and don't forget to use all that pumpkin flesh to whip up pies and even cheesecake. There is no end of recipes online. See Rachel's recipe in LIFE and www.countryliving.com for this sort of thing.

Make Halloween decorations - at their very simplest, a big pack of stick-on 'spooky eyes' from a craft shop will pretty much transform every lampshade, glass and pot plant in the house.


Masks are even easier than full costumes. Try card or felt, and while cats, bats, even wolves are perfectly do-able, steer them towards giant emoji faces for the easiest of all.

Good tutorials can be found at www.ohmyhandmade.com


It's not all about the little ones - teens need a thrill at this time of year too. And for a proper, chilling one, look no further than Farmaphobia. We confess to having been a bit sceptical about this initially, but after a recent visit during which even the nearly-grown-ups were full-on terrified, we're in! The Field of Screams, Mutation Morgue, Vamporium and the House of Dolls and Dead & Breakfast might all sound a bit schlocky, until you get there…


For something more cerebral, the Bram Stoker Festival, until tomorrow, has a full programme of events, day and night, around Dublin city. Check out We Are The Monsters, 9pm at D-Light Studios, an immersive experience about the monster within us all.


Here's a neat idea. Part of the Bram Stoker Festival is the Bram audio tour of Dublin, available to download for €5 and available until tomorrow. The tour will guide you through the streets of Dublin, starting in the city centre and leading deep into the unknown. Put your headphones on, and you will be sped on your way by a series of creepy tales and twists from Stoker himself that will show you the city in an unfamiliar, and mysterious, light. For ages 12+ (under-18s should be accompanied by an adult).


It's the perfect time of year for a trip up to the Hellfire Club, long associated with Satanic cults and devilish doings. Go on your own time, or join a Hidden Dublin Walks tour. These depart at the suitably witching hour of 7pm throughout the week from Merchant's Quay, and will fill you in on any bits of ghoulish history you missed.


Huntington Castle

Spooky castle tours come into their own at this time of year, with Malahide Castle, Ardgillen, Birr Castle, Westport House and others, all offering Halloween-themed evenings. Particularly chilling is Huntington Castle in Carlow, apparently one of the country's most haunted spots. There are daytime events suitable for younger kids, but the evening tours are only advisable for teens.



Various screenings - some open-air - of classic horror movies around the country mean it should be easy enough to scare them witless the old-fashioned way. Among the most atmospheric (and chilling), has to be the drive-in Screamfest at Navan Racecourse, showing classics including Nightmare on Elm Street and The Conjuring, as well as more family-friendly fare such as Labyrinth (a personal favourite) by day. Bring rugs, snacks and a cushion to hide behind. Today and tomorrow.


For the retro-minded teen, not to mention nostalgic adults, try the Lighthouse Cinema for Francis Ford Coppola's rather seductive film version of Dracula, with Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder, in a newly restored digital print edition that plays to the strengths of the lush cinematography.


Meanwhile, it is 30 years since the release of Joel Schumacher's teen vampire thriller The Lost Boys, a blend of horror, humour, and pure 1980s style that more than stands the test of time. So thank goodness (or badness!) for the Sugar Club, screening it tonight from 6-8pm.



Head for Croke Park, home of the GAA, and the Samhain Tours & Tales, including a treasure hunt, storytelling, and a harvest menu at the GAA Museum. This new family-friendly event, running until November 1, celebrates the fact that the Samhain festival traditionally marked the end of the harvest season, and was the most important of all the Celtic celebrations. Visitors will follow harvest-themed clues around the stadium - through dressing rooms and out pitchside - then experience the storytelling magic of Seanchai Eddie Lenihan, followed, perhaps, by a trip to the Museum cafe, where spiced pumpkin soup, hay torched roast chicken and sabbat beef stew are the order of the day.

Book in advance, online, at www.crokepark.ie/halloween

Taking some of the pain out of family days out, which are rarely cheap, The Sunday Independent has got together with a range of great attractions across the country to give readers great value two-for-one entry. Airfield Estate, Russborough House, Trabolgan Holiday Village and The National Reptile Zoo are all on board, among others - 11 locations in total. So now is the moment to tick off the many places we've all been meaning to check out.

For a full list and details, see www.independent.ie/2for1entry

If you decide something indoors and entirely relaxed is in order, the Stella Cinema in Rathmines is brand-newly-opened, beautifully restored and now gloriously comfortable, with red leather armchairs and table service. Hotel Transylvania is showing on Saturday at 10am, and The Lion King next Sunday at 10am.


Kilruddery Estate does a very jolly Halloween, with a pumpkin patch - choose your own in the Walled Garden, then carve with the help of a master in the art - and scarecrow plot, where you can design something funny, fantastical or just plain freaky (bring your own clothes and accessories for max effect), and enter it into the scarecrow competition. On Saturdays, check out the farm market, full of delicious food and craft stalls.



Apparently the country's 'biggest and scariest Halloween festival' is Spirits of Meath, until next Sunday, organised around the Boyne Valley, where Samhain apparently began, some 3,000 years ago, when the sacred fire was kindled to mark the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celebrate with witch hunts, haunted hill tours, graveyard visits, obstacle courses, cook-outs and more.


For those willing to go further afield, a trip to the Titanic museum in Belfast right now has various add-ons to the usual nine interactive galleries, special effects, dark rides and full-scale reconstructions, including Halloween arts & crafts and various kid-focused meal deals as well as a kids' explorer trail and extended opening hours.



The National Gallery is continuing its charming free drop-in sessions this year, in collaboration with Children's Books Ireland. Artist Tarsila Kruse will lead a workshop today from 11.30am-1.30pm in the Atrium, where she will talk about mythical beasts and monsters, and families can draw different monster characters - either taken from the gallery collection, or from their imagination. Suitable for children of all ages.


A free family party, Dracula's Disco, in Meeting House Square - 2-4pm tomorrow - is a chance to dress up and throw some spooky shapes. DJ Will Softly will be spinning records, with children from five and up welcome, and a few confetti cannons to add atmosphere.


Part of the Bram Stoker Festival, the Macnas parade, Memory Song, tomorrow, starting from Dublin's Moore Street at 6pm, sounds particularly appealing. Expect something wildly imaginative and creative.


In Galway, the inventive, extraordinary Port na bPucai parade takes place today, starting at 5.30pm and making its way through the city's Latin Quarter.


Get out, get busy, get around. It is still early enough in autumn that days can be surprisingly calm and warm, so now is the time to stock up on your fix of the great outdoors before winter settles in. The country is full of amazing walks, hikes, trails, woods and bogs to explore. Here are just a handful of our favourites: The Sugarloaf, for Dubliners and Wicklowers, is a brilliant one-size-fits-all romp of a walk: Short(ish), nicely steep, suitable even for quite small children.

Now that 'The trees are in their autumn beauty', Coole Park and the Garryland Nature Reserve in Sligo is an obvious, and gorgeous, choice of walk. Find the Autograph Tree, the walled garden and tumbledown remains of Coole House, where Lady Gregory lived. With seven woods, and walkways of various distances, this is perfect for both ambitious and reluctant strollers.


The story goes that the ancient Iron Age Road across the boglands of Moin Lamrige was originally built by the fairy prince Midir, on the orders of Eochaid, High King of Ireland. The road was lost for many years, rediscovered only in 1984, and is the largest path of its kind ever built in Europe. And if that wasn't more than enough, it's a truly glorious walk.


Foraging for wild and free food must be the most satisfying of all outdoor activities, particularly with kids - get those busy little fingers engaged in productive work. And 'tis the season for natural bounty like sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts, elderberries and rose hips - all pretty easily identifiable (but do check). Leave the mushroom hunting to experts, of whom there are many. Try Wild Wicklow Foods for an instructive, enjoyable introduction.


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