Ten Frightening Facts You Mightn't Know About Derry Halloween

It's the number one place to be for Halloween, but did you know how it all began, the historic themes or the remarkable numbers behind the famous festival?

This year, Derry Halloween is celebrating from October 26 to November 3 with a ‘Return of the Ancients’ theme, but are you up to speed with all of the ancient stories and superstitions surrounding this infamous holiday? Do you know how the festival actually started, and how many people visit it every year?

Here are 10 things you just might not be aware of when it comes to (Derry) Halloween…

1. Halloween actually used to take place in the summer, not October. It only moved to later in the year after the Church decided to tie it in with the Feast of Souls. They say this was to try and remove the pagan connotations and make it more religious.

Derry Halloween Guildhall

2. Bobbing for apples was usually played between a young man and a woman. Apples and tomatoes were considered very risqué fruit back in the day, because they were supposed to evoke passion... So this was a very saucy game to play!

3. Keeping with food… the tradition of baking a sixpence inside an apple tart was to ensure wealth throughout the coming year. If you were lucky enough to find it, that is!

4. Did you know that the former Derry Hallowe’en Festival theme, ‘City of Bones’, linked to the bones associated with the Siege of Derry, as well as the skeletons we might associate with Hallowe’en? There’s also a skeleton on Derry’s crest. Another theme, ‘Rise of the River Gods’, was inspired by Derry’s river and the fact there are river gods depicted on the Derry walls…

Derry Halloween City of Bones

5. The fireworks used for the climactic Halloween night celebration in Derry have to travel more than 8,000 miles to get to the city, taking 10 weeks by sea to get here. And after all that, once they’re set alight, they’re gone in just 15 minutes…

6. More than 2,000kg of fireworks are used in the Derry Halloween display, which is designed by the first British/Irish Person to win the prestigious International Montreal Fireworks competition. A special digital firing system is also used, which gives superb accuracy, breaking the firings down to hundredths of seconds for extra wow factor. And… while everyone knows fireworks don’t fire when wet, Derry Halloween has worked its magic so the crowd can enjoy spectacular fireworks that are fired onto the river and burst out of the water.


7. Four hundred witches gathered on Derry’s historic 17th Century walls in August this year to celebrate the walls’ 400th anniversary and to launch the city’s famous Hallowe’en party. (NB Cecily Jackson is said to be the last woman who was tried and burned at the stake in Ireland for witchcraft – her fate was sealed at Bishops Gate in Derry in 1725).

witches walls

8. The ‘Awakening the Walls’ fire and light extravaganza, delivered by LUXe for Derry Hallowe’en in 2017, attracted more than 45,000 spectators. The 2017 event in total, brought more than 90,000 visitors/attendees to the city, taking place across four days in 40 venues, with 100 events. Around 100,000 visitors are expected this year.

Derry Halloween awakening the walls

9. Derry Halloween parade participants range in age from 8–80 years old, so you’re never too young or old to get involved! This year's Return of the Ancients Street Carnival Parade departs from Queen's Quay on the Strand Road at 7pm, and like most of the events is completely free to attend! Recently Culture NI spoke to one of its long-time creative forces, Jim Collins, about how it's all put together and the importance of spectators dressing up too!


10. And finally - Derry Hallowe’en has its origins back in 1985 in Doherty’s Bar, when 50 people turned up dressed in Hallowe’en costumes – a tradition said to have been started by former publican, Brian Doherty. This small fancy dress party was subsequently evacuated from the pub due to a bomb scare, effectively creating the first Hallowe’en parade through the city. The council later got involved as the popularity of Hallowe’en grew and the festival has grown from four days to this year’s nine-day event for 2018.


Photo courtesy of the Derry Journal

Find out more about how to spend this Halloween in Derry from October 26 to November 3 and download the full programme at www.derryhalloween.com.