Witches and wolves mark Macnas festival of Samhain

Balmy weather sees over 45,000 people turn out for annual Halloween pageant in Galway

Silver-haired witch of the west Baba Yaga and her riotous troupe of souls and spirits took to the streets of Galway on Sunday evening to mark the Macnas celebration of Samhain.

Dancing wolves, ethereal elves and stag-like figures on stilts transfixed and terrified in equal measure, as over 45,000 people turned out for the spectacle.

Billed as a “restless ballad” and a “deliriously dark and delicious waltz between love and loss”, the parade marked the street theatre company’s 30th year of magic-making.

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were among guests of honour for Savage Grace, which was devised by Orla Clogher.


Her artistic director, Noeline Kavanagh, had predicted it would be like "Tim Burton meeting the west of Ireland",and the pageant depicted a "birth, wedding, funeral and everything in between".

Performer Little John Nee sang in rhyme and riddle from an otherworldly carriage, while a wolf pack snarled and braziers burned to the primal beat of drums.


The large-limbed “cailleach” or witch Baba Yaga wore elegant cream and green, while forest insects and fungi moved to the music of My Fellow Sponges, along with the Macnas percussion and brass ensembles.

Macnas will take a version of the show to Dublin early on Monday for the Bram Stoker Festival.

Aisling McCormack (12), who had travelled from west Dublin with her parents, said she loved the large wise owl, and what she described as a “starlady”, singing from a crescent moon.

"Just lovely" was the verdict of Kathleen Joyce from Moyola Park in Newcastle, Galway, who had watched previous parades in rain and hail – a contrast to the balmy ice-cream weather over the bank holiday weekend.

Mrs Joyce was with her grandchildren Senan (6), Cillian (3) and Ailbhe (18 months), who were "just a little bit scared" and being comforted by their parents Sinéad and Jonathan O'Neill of Roscam.

Dancers from Youth Ballet West, Gombeens Miquel Barcelo and Jonathan Gunning and staff members of the Galway Clinic were among participants, and up to 300 volunteers were involved in staging the "dance between shadow and light".

About a third of the parade’s budget of €120,000 goes towards health and safety and insurance cover.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times