Oiche Samhna – Hallowe’en on Inis Mor

Forgive the interruption in my great uncle Peter’s saga, but at a friend’s request, I have been asked to recount the most amazing Hallowe’en I have ever experienced.

I had no idea how important, or intense hallow’een was to the island, and its people. About a week before the 31st, a group of children from Cil Murbhie (Kilmurvey) visited me at the Dun Aonghas hostel, of which I was the manager, (by luck and/or magic, or just good timing and persistence, more on this later).  I greeted them at the door.  They asked me if I could contribute to the village’s fire, having no idea what that meant, and as a typical American, I pulled out my wallet, and attempted to offer them money.  They gave me a very odd look, and sheepishly replied that all they wanted was any spare wood that might be around the hostel, of course, we had plenty from the renovation.  We filled the trailer usually used for hauling our guest’s backpacks and luggage, almost full of scrap wood and wheeled it to the hill just south east of Sruthan.  As Oiche Samhna (Hallow’een night) approached, I was informed how important the event was, and how important a costume was.  It was imperative that you could not be recognized, and that if you were, the other revelers were well within their right to prod you with a stick, that everyone carried with them.  You would need to borrow a friend’s shoes, wear your wristwatch on your other arm, or not at all, so as to avoid recognition. So, with not much time, or costume resources, I used the hostel’s coveralls, the one I usually used when filling up the furnace for the Cil Ronan (Kilronan) hostel (the sister facility to the Dun Aengus) with diesel fuel appropriated from the ferry’s fuel reserves, and went to Galway to buy a new pair of shoes, a mask, and a wig.  However, I had no idea how serious this game was.  I first stopped into Ti Joe Mac’s,


and was dumbfounded.  The tavern was fairly full of people, all in elaborate costumes, but the bar was eerily silent.  Ti Joe’s, normally a raucous, ribald place, was nearly silent, no one was speaking, for fear of disclosing their identity by voice recognition.  Drink orders were furtively written on scraps of paper and passed to the bar staff.  Also important, was to alter your drink preference, so as not to be betrayed by your “usual”.  It didn’t take very long at all for me to be found out, and after being poked out the door, I headed over to the American Bar,


where I found the same abnormally quiet scene.  I ordered an uncharacteristic vodka tonic, and found an unspoken for seat at a corner table.  The Kowboy was at the table, along with Terry “Legs”, the electrician on the island, Terry’s nickname came from the fact that he had polio as a child and had a pronounced limp.  Not a native islander, but a well-recognized local.  Terry was the kindest, most generous person; sober, but a terror after a few drinks, in fact he had been barred out of every tavern on the island for being a belligerent drunk.  Hallow’een was the only night Terry could sneak incognito into these places, if but for a short time, before picking a fight, and getting kicked out.  How he got into the place, with his severe limp, I will never know. I was unceremoniously poked out of the American.  I decided to head back to the Dun Angus hostel. I took the long way, wanting to savor this evening; the back road that passed nearest to Gort na gCapaill to avoid the intermittent interruption of the occasional passing car on the main road, and be further from the very few street lights from the main town, and then a short back-track to Tigh Creig’s.  The lights of Cil Ronan receded behind me; it was then that I noticed the bonfires, all over the island, every village! All 14 of them on this small rock in the Atlantic. The fires must have been stories high!  The embers and ashes from them rose even higher, as if trying to add new stars to the firmament. I have never seen anything like this, or since; Americans love their camp fires, and backyard fires, but this was on a sublime, almost supernatural level. It was as if each village needed to have the largest bonfire, perhaps out of parochial pride.  As I passed Gort na gCapall (literally “The field of the Horse”, in Irish; the only village on Inis Mor to face the Atlantic),

Gort na gCapall

Gort na gCapall

and turning toward the main road on the way to Mike and Molly Direain’s Pub, Ti Creig). I saw, across the bay that Arainn’s contentious cousin’s were celebrating in kind.  40 some miles across the bay, on the “mainland”, the small Connemara villages west of Galway, bonfires in the other-wise rural darkness, were alight, illuminating the star-lit moonless night. I stopped in to Creig’s for a pint, or 2, usually busy with the regulars, not as intense as to costume regulations. Then back to the hostile, feeling sorry for my guests who had missed the magic of a true west coast-Irish pagan celebration – to a fitful, dreamful night.

One thought on “Oiche Samhna – Hallowe’en on Inis Mor

  1. A well written piece. You do a fine job capturing the setting and the mood here. I enjoyed the small details–like the brief description of the electrician–which bring this to life. The pictures are a helpful addition to the text as well. Thanks

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