Recalling Halloween memories from my northside childhood

TIMOTHY O’MAHONY reflects on Halloween traditions growing up on Cork’s northside and how this year will be a bit different for his own children, due to the ongoing pandemic
Recalling Halloween memories from my northside childhood

HALLOWEEN TRADITION: But this year's event will be different to normal

MY earliest memory of Halloween is made up of black plastic bag costumes for my older siblings and a scary mask for me. Then it was off around the terrace for trick or treating with a simple aim — to get as many sweets as possible.

There was a rule I think still applies today, if a house has any Halloween decorations at all, or even if they had the lights on, then you could knock on that door. If the lights are off, don’t bother knocking — as those people don’t want any children knocking on their doors and they probably haven’t bought any sweets to give out.

It could get awkward if these folk answered the door, with no sweets to hand out, and instead muttered ‘one second’ and then came fumbling back with a bowl of fruit!

Timothy O'Mahony
Timothy O'Mahony

Keep it simple, if there are no decorations, move onto the next door.

There was always a great atmosphere in Hollyhill, where I grew up, around Halloween. People made a huge effort to have all kinds of sweets, like lollipops, chocolate coins, penny jellies, the leftover sweets from last Christmas’ box of Roses. And just like Christmas, people took great pride in having their homes decorated in Halloween props and lights.

When you finally finished trick or treating, it would be home to review your treasure, and those sweets really were treasure. I remember lining them all out and going through the various delicious items. There’d be discussion too about which house gave the best, which houses were a bit stingy and which house gave the Ferrero Rocher, very fancy altogether!

I would eat as much as possible there and then, and the rest would be hidden away like a squirrel storing nuts away for the harsh winter to come.

Bobbing for apples, Bairín Breac, pumpkin carving and of course Halloween films were all part of the day. I would say my favourite Halloween film is Hocus Pocus, followed by the more recent animated film called Monster House and then a grown up only film The Shining with Jack Nicholson which is one of the most spookiest films I have ever seen.

Halloween changed as I grew up, when I was a teenager, the trick or treating had stopped, and the concept of ‘lets go battering’ had taken its place. This was when groups of young teens would have stockpiles of eggs and a few stink bombs sourced from the old joke shop in the English Market, and would engage in what you might call tomfoolery, throwing eggs at people, mostly other young people who returned the favour. I would go home on Halloween night covered in enough eggs to make omelettes for the entire family.

When we moved on from throwing eggs, we were older teenagers, so we would drink, as teenagers sometimes do. This was when we were hanging out around the place, and getting tipsy after a few bottles and having the kind of deep meaningful conversations that would stay with you forever, and by forever I mean until you got home, crashed out asleep and in the morning had no idea what you had been talking about, only that it was deep and meaningful.

Time moved on and I found myself living out of home with my girlfriend (my now wife), and each Halloween we wanted to make the effort in case we had any trick or treaters. It didn’t always work out like that, there was one year we turned all the lights off, hid in the living room watching films in the dark and stayed silent when any potential trick or treaters wandered by.

We made up for it over the next years though, always having a box of sweets and decorations, although one year with all the effort made, we had zero callers most likely due to the location of our then home on a main road rather than being tucked away in an estate full of sugar crazed zombie children and nosy parents having a good snoop in people’s hallways as they wait at the end of the drive.

Being a parent now, times like Halloween are times to embrace the fun and madness of it all, because your children will love that. Halloween is part of our culture, a long rich tradition that we should keep going for as long as we can. Even if all the sweets turn the children into sugar maniacs for a couple of hours it is worth it for the fun of it.

This year 2020, may of course be different. Trick or Treaters may not be able to go from door to door collecting their treasure but maybe instead will celebrate Halloween just at home, where they can still dress up, still eat a mountain of sweets and have lots of fun - not such a a bad alternative. Happy Halloween.

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