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Nightmare journey into mind of Dracula creator

Halloween is unsettling. It's not the restless dead who galumph about the place leering in windows that I find alarming. It's how the night transforms me.

I insist on mandatory apple bobbing (and enjoyment of same). I shun the Johnny-come-lately pumpkin in favour of the homely and modest turnip. I become, in other words, a purist. A hidebound monster.

This year, however, I finally surrendered to the call of the pumpkin. It's basically (it turns out) an improved turnip. Turnip 2.0. So continued resistance seemed perverse. Anyway, I later reconnected with my Halloween conservatism by listening to Sunday Miscellany.

"Ah, Sunday Miscellany," I thought. "If there's one place where pumpkins and modernity will be shunned, it's you." Brian Leyden's Halloween Night was, on the face of it, just another of the wistful short memoirs (chock-full of sentimentality and longing) that are par for the course on Sunday Miscellany. But this one, at least, had a bit of bite.


Leyden recalled standing in an abandoned stone cabin (west of the Shannon), one Halloween night, 30 years ago, reflecting on the young women who might have grown up there.

"Any such woman would have possessed few rights, no means of inheritance, and no standing unless she got married," he said. And so, "at the change of every season," Leyden's imagined woman would employ "whatever was nearest at hand to solve the deepest problems of her heart". In high-summer, she would pluck he loves me, he loves me not petals from the dog daisies crowning the ditches".

At Halloween, Leyden said, there was "an abundance of divination rituals to try". Like "salted herring, eaten at bedtime" to induce thirst. The man to "marry and rescue her" would be the one who offered her a glass of water in her dreams. Anyone (dream man or real man) who tolerates the pre-bed consumption of salted herring is definitely a keeper.

The delivery was cosy and slightly folksy, as Miscellany pieces often are, but tempered with a sense of the fragility and powerlessness of the lives being described (women at "the bottom of the old social order"). A fragility cruelly highlighted by the traditional barmbrack, where happiness was but a one-in-four chance.

Apart from the prized ring, there were other slices hiding, Leyden said, "a dried pea, a rag or a stick -- predicting the finder will end up either a spinster, a pauper or suffer beatings from their partner".


Elsewhere, it was, unsurprisingly, a busy week for hauntings and horror.

On Monday's Today With Pat Kenny, Brian O'Connell told Myles Dungan about a night he'd spent in the infamous Loftus Hall on Hook Head. It's a storied place, with the most well-known tale revolving around a cloven-hoofed stranger who visited the house one stormy night in the 18th century (before disappearing through the roof after he was rumbled).

The sight of those hooves so traumatised the daughter of the house, Anne Tottenham, that she "lived out her days in the tapestry room" (another coded warning about the dangers of spinsterhood, surely).


Strange happenings have been reported ever since, but O'Connell was undaunted, camping out with three companions at the foot of the main staircase. "The only thing, Myles, between me and the other world," he said, "was an Aldi sleeping bag." Is there anything less otherworldly than an Aldi sleeping bag? Its ultra-prosaic presence is probably what kept the phantoms and hoofed young strangers away. If only young Anne had had one.

Later, on the same show, Dungan chatted to Paul Walker and Denis Conway about the Ouroboros Theatre Company's new play Stoker -- "a nightmarish journey into the lair" of Bram Stoker's mind on the last night of his life. Irish literary histories tend to neglect Stoker, and Denis's anecdote about attending the IMPAC literary wards dressed as Stoker confirmed his relative obscurity. There were other actors present who'd dressed as Joyce, Shaw or Yeats (all instantly recognisable), but nobody had a clue who Denis was supposed to be. "If you'd dressed up as Dracula they might have got the message," suggested Myles. "I had a Dracula with me," said Denis, "but when he was away in the loo people would come up and go 'Who are you?'"

Poor old Bram.