Halloween and the half-term school holiday happily fuse to produce a frightful mix of family events throughout the country, each trying to out-pun the other in their lurid descriptions.
Whether it’s existing visitor attractions or one-off events, they all get into the spirit of the occasion in one last hurrah before the Christmas season kicks off.
Nowhere is it celebrated more than in Co Meath where, according to legend, Halloween began more than 3,000 years ago. The three-week festival there has already started and local visitor attractions and businesses will be in full scary mode until November 6th. (See programme on spiritsofmeath.com)
Here is a selective guide to family-friendly events, starting with some of the Co Meath highlights:
Samhain Festival of Fire
On the eve of Samhain, Celtic druids gathered on the top of Tlachtga Hill outside Athboy to light a fire to mark the night the veil lifted between our world and the next, allowing the spirits of all who had died the previous year to move on the next life. A torchlit procession assembles at the Fairgreen, Athboy, at 7pm on October 31st, to re-enact that Celtic celebration on the hill. Bring a torch.
Causey Farm, between Athboy and Kells, puts on an array of attractions and activities, such as traditional games, a “tunnel of terror” and broomstick rides, for families with children up to the age of 12, October 29th-November 1st, 1.30pm-5.30pm, €13 per head. Booking, tel: 046-9434135, causey.ie.
At the same venue, the more terrifying and elaborate Farmaphobia, with five “haunts” to journey through, is for over-16s (those aged 13-16 can come with an adult). October 26th-November 1st, passes from €18. Tel: 046-9434135, farmaphobia.ie
Close to Causey Farm, Grove Gardens also turns into a “horror farm”, with a one-hour, walk-through experience for ages 16-plus – anyone younger must come with an adult. Until October 31st, 7pm-10.30pm, passes from €26.65. hauntedspooktacular.com
Venture into the Ashbourne theme park for an “after dark” experience, that includes night rides on the Cú Chulainn Coaster and others, and a visit to the House of Horrors. Recommended for those aged 14 and up. Booking essential, €20 a head. October 28th-31st, 6pm-9pm.
For children aged eight-plus there’s the House of Horrors by day (€6 extra on €14 admission). October 29th-November 6th, 11am-4pm, no booking required. There are also Halloween activities for younger visitors at no extra charge. taytopark.ie
Bram Stoker Festival
Presenting Gothic horror to children in a fun and educational way is the hallmark of the annual festival to celebrate the Dublin-born writer who created Dracula. Free family events include: Stokerland, a pop-up Victorian fun park in St Patrick’s Park (beside the cathedral), October 29th and 30th, 11am-4.30pm; storytelling in Marsh’s Library, October 29th, 2pm and 4pm; and a spectacular street parade at twilight with Macnas, October 31st, starting at 5.30pm from Moore Street. bramstokerfestival.com
Pop at the Ark
In addition to hosting free events in association with the Bram Stoker Festival on October 30th-31st, the Ark is also presenting a Popular Music Week for the half-term holiday, including a camp and workshops. ark.ie
Nearly as busy as his big brother Dracula at this time of year, Jackula pops up with his magic and juggling show for children aged four to 12 in venues that include: An Grianan, Letterkenny, Co Donegal (October 29th, 3pm), Axis Ballymun, Dublin and Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Co Dublin (October 30th, 11am and 3pm respectively), the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin (October 31st, 12 noon). Tickets from €6 to €8, depending on venue.
Monster Music Improv
The Ark and Improvised Music Company is touring a multi-disciplinary show for children aged from five upwards to Roscommon Arts Centre (October 25th, 10am); Glór Arts Centre, Ennis (October 26th, 10.30am); The Ark, Dublin (October 27th, 10.15am/12.15pm); Island Arts Centre, Lisburn (October 29th, 3.30pm); Wexford Arts Centre (October 30th, 3.30pm) and Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge (October 31st, 2pm). Book at venues.
The Waterford and Suir Valley Railway will be running the Spooky Express from Kilmeadan on Saturday, October 29th, every 45 minutes between 5.15pm and 9pm. Booking essential; adult €13, under-16 €10. Tel: 051-384 058, wsvrailway.ie
The Rathwood express in Co Wicklow travels through spooky forest and children are needed to help find the Wizard of Oz to get rid of the wicked witch. Ideal for families with children aged up to nine years. Between 11am and 3pm this one-hour event is geared towards ages five and under; after that, things will get a bit scarier for older children. Until October 31st, various times, booking recommended; child €10, adult €6. rathwood.com
A gruesome look at some of history’s most horrible, horrifying and sometimes hilarious people and events, at the Irish National Heritage Park, Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford, October 27th-30th. “A show for kids of all ages that revels in all the nasty things that our ancestors used to like to do to themselves and each other,” according to the organisers. Pre-booking essential; €5 per head. Tel: 053-9120733, inhp.com
Scarecrows and pumpkins
Bring the family to Killruddery House, Bray, Co Wicklow, for more wholesome outdoor activities, where you can pick out a pumpkin and have your own design carved by a craftsman, then head to the scarecrow plot and create an effigy to enter into a competition. Or, if you are dead serious, bring a scarecrow along that you made earlier. October 29th, from 11am. killruddery.com
Out of this World
Voted the best Halloween destination in the world by USA Today readers, Derry’s spooky festival celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Highlights of a packed family programme include ghost tours at the Tower Museum on the afternoons of October 27th-31st and a supernatural animation trail around the city’s walls, 6pm-8pm, October 28th-30th. The festivities culminate in the City of Bones Street Carnival Parade on October 31st along Derry’s Queen’s Quay from 7pm followed by a Fireworks Finale at 8pm. derrystrabane.com
Gorey by name . . .
Once a year the Co Wexford town gets the chance to live up to its name with a variety of events, including a Halloween Family Fun Day at the town park on October 29th from 1pm. visitwexford.ie
A little spooky
Kia Ora Mini farm at Courteencurragh, Gorey, Co Wexford is decorated with lots of lights and spooky decorations but nothing too scary for the little ones. And there’s the usual attractions such as rides in an authentic fire engine, mini-diggers and both farm and exotic animals. Until November 6th; €7 per head for the day. Tel: 053-9421166, kiaoraminifarm.ie
Hattie the Housekeeper will be conducting spooky tours of Malahide Castle, Co Dublin, where there will be a Monster Mash party in the Visitor Centre afterwards. October 27th-28th, 3.30pm-6pm and October 29th-31st, 10.30am-5.30pm; adult €10, child €8. Tel:01-8169538, malahidecastleandgardens.ie
With its science centre, extensive grounds now in full autumn splendour and children’s adventure area, Birr Castle, Co Offaly is a good half-term destination. There’s a “Spooktacular” involving a “spine-tingling” tour through the woods and into the haunted castle on October 29th (6pm-8.30pm) and 30th (5pm-9pm) child €12.50, adult €6. Bookings 057-9120336. There is also a Halloween mystery to be solved at the end of a pumpkin trail through the gardens, with prizes for the best fancy dress, on October 29th-31st, 11am-3pm. Admission adult €9, child €5. birrcastle.com
Meet the mummies
It’s a very appropriate time of year to visit St Michan’s Church in Dublin, where the mummified remains of some of the city’s most influential families of the 17th-19th century lie in the vaults. Tours October 29th and November 5th, 10am-12.45pm; November 1st-4th, 12.30pm-3.30pm; adult €6, child €3. cathedralgroupdublin.ie
Or, on the other side of the Liffey, there are the Iron Age bog bodies in the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland (Archaeology), Kildare Street. Tues-Sat, 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm, admission free. museum.ie
At Ballycross apple farm in Bridgetown, Co Wexford you can pick your own pumpkin and stock up on apples for dunking, as well as visit a witch’s house in the forest. Two adults and up to four children, €15. October 29th-November 6th. Tel 053-913 5160, ballycross.com
Ghostly, lantern-led tours up the 115 steps of the tower of the Hook Head Lighthouse in Co Wexford take place at 7pm, 7.45pm and 8.30pm on October 29th and 30th. Suitable only for brave adults and braver children. For those of a more nervous disposition, there will be themed art workshops in daylight hours during half-term week. Night tours €10 per head. Tel 051-397055, hookheritage.ie
Snakes and spiders take centre stage for a Halloween drop-in activity at the Natural History Museum, Dublin, on October 29th, 2pm-4pm. Feel a real python skin and other specimens from the handling collection. No booking required. museum.ie
The highlight of what claims to be the country’s biggest Halloween festival is the spectacular parade staged through the Latin Quarter by the renowned street theatre company Macnas on October 30th, starting at 5.30pm from Fisheries Field. Spectators are invited to dress in costume too. There are plenty of other free family events, October 28th-31st. galwaytourism.ie; macnas.com
The Nightmare Realm
Billed as “an extreme walk-through horror experience”, this is deemed suitable for ages 13 upwards. Cork and the RDS, Dublin until November 5th. From adult €16 , student €13. thenightmarerealm.ie
It’s a Howl
The Co Kerry town of Kenmare has a packed programme for its annual Halloween Howl, October 29th-November 5th. From wizarding and pumpkin-carving workshops to a spooky pirate cruise and traditional games at a hoolie on Halloween night, the festivities close with the Howl parade. kenmare.ie
Samhain traditions are cherished at Brigit’s Garden near Rosscahill, Co Galway, where on October 31st, 4pm-9pm, there will be a bonfire and storytelling evening, after a treasure hunt and mask-making. Adult €5.50, child €3.50, family of five €18. brigitsgarden.ie
The Co Mayo mansion is transformed into a haunted house for a Halloween Fest, with seasonal workshops, face-painting and storytelling. Admission €10. October 29th-31st, 10am-6pm. Open as normal for rest of mid-term week but note that the pirate adventure park is closed. westporthouse.ie
Dragon of Shandon
Walk with the 11-metre-long dragon as he travels between the worlds of the living and the dead, in a colourful, community procession starting from Shandon in Cork at 7pm on October 31st. The New York Brass Band, in town for the jazz festival, will make a special appearance this year. dragonofshandon.com
Virginia Pumpkin Festival
The “Forest of Fears”, a haunted forest walk at Virginia RFC, on October 31st, 7pm (admission €5) is a highlight of the Co Cavan town’s four-day festival, October 28th-31st. There’s family entertainment from 3pm on October 30th, with a grand parade at 5pm followed by fireworks on the lakeshore. pumpkinfestival.ie
Scare in the Park
Pumpkin carving, games, arts and crafts and a haunted house are among the activities at “Scare in the Park” in Sligo Folk Park, Riverstown, on October 28th and 30th, 6pm-8pm. Child €5, adult free. Pre-booking advised. sligofolkpark.com
Trick or treat trail
Follow the clues on the Moody Monster Trick or Treat Trail through mysterious woodland at Castlecomer Discovery Park, Co Kilkenny, and go home with a treat – or a lump of coal. October 29th-November 6th, 9.30am-4pm. Family €10. Weather permitting, the normal adventure activities such as zipline, high ropes etc will also be running but these must be booked in advance. discoverypark.ie
Learn about the more gruesome items in Limerick’s Hunt Museum collection by taking a Halloween tour on October 29th, 3pm and 5pm (adult €5, child €2.50); on the same day there are pumpkin carving workshops (€6) for teenagers/adults and art and creepy crafts (€2) for age two-plus. A camp for children aged five-plus runs November 2nd-4th, €40. huntmuseum.com
One terror train trip is included in admission at Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park on the Bog of Allen, Co Kildare, where there are also haunted holograms and terror treasure hunts. October 29th-November 4th, 10am-6pm; prizes for best fancy dress from 2pm. Family (2&2) €30. Tel: 045-870238, lullymoreheritagepark.com
All manner of creepy creatures will greet visitors to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Co Clare, for a day of horror, as well as traditional games, on October 31st, 12noon-6pm. A spooky train ride and haunted house are among the attractions. Family (2&6) €32. Tel: 061-360788, shannonheritage.com
Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of these listings at the time of writing, please check details before travelling.