Hallowe’en Games

Roscommon, 31 October


Hugh James Byrne, 1907;

‘In Ireland, All Hollows Eve (October 31st), or, as it is generally called November night, is a general season for merry-making. In my native place in County Roscommon it is a favourite date for giving parties. A cake is made in nearly every house, and a ring, a coin, a sloe, and a chip of wood, are put into it which causes great excitement. The coin means riches, the one who gets the ring will be the married first, whoever gets the chip of wood (which stands for a coffin) will be the first to die, and the sloe denotes the longest liver, because the fairies are supposed to blight the sloes and haws and other berries on November night, so this will be the last eatable sloe of the year.

A favourite amusement is to get a tub full of water and put apples in it, and sometimes a sixpence or a threepenny piece; and the youngsters strip, and dip their heads in it, and try to pick up the apples or coin with their mouths. Sometimes a strip of wood is thrust through an apple, and a bit of a lighted candle stuck on each projecting end, then the apple is suspended from the ceiling by a doubled piece of string, which is twisted tightly so that in winds and unwinds itself, continually revolving, and the children compete to see who can catch it with their teeth. Needless to say, they more often grip the lighted candle, and get smeared with tallow, which of course is the best part of the fun.

The girls put nine grains of oats in their mouths, and go out without speaking, and walk about till they hear some man’s name mentioned; whatever christian name they first hear will be the name of their future husband.’

Folklore 1907.

Hallowe’en Pranks

  Roscommon –

Street scene

Hugh James Byrne;

‘The boys and young men play practical jokes. If there is a miserly man, a bad neighbour, in the place, they go into his garden and cut the cabbages and give them to some poor man. Then they knock on his door with a cabbage-head, and while he is chasing one party, the rest perhaps try to pull up the remaining cabbages. Sometimes they take the pith out of a cabbage-stalk and stuff it in with hay, and put in a lighted turf, which makes the hay smoulder, and puff the smoke through the keyhole, filling the house with a disagreeable smell. Another favourite trick is to tie all the door-knockers in a row of houses together, so that when one door is opened all the other knockers begin to rap.’

Folklore, 1907.

Hallowe’en Divination, with Keys, Cabbages and Nuts

Laois –


Miss A Watson (May 1893) Queen’s County;

‘When we were children Hallow Eve was always an occasion for practicing mysterious rites, the end and the aim of each being to foretell the future. The first thing always was to get an old iron spoon, filled with lead in scraps; this was held over a hot fire till it melted. Then a key, which must be the hall door key, was held over a tub of cold water, and the hot lead was poured through the wards of the key. The lead cooled in falling through the water, and when it had all settled in the bottom of the tub, the old nurse proceeded to read its surface. I don’t know whether there was originally one especial story of the “willow pattern” description, but I do know that the many that I heard all bore a family likeness. There was always a castle with a tower here, and a narrow winder there, and a knight riding to the door to deliver a beautiful lady who was imprisoned there. And of course the lady was the round-eyed child who was listening with bated breath, and who was eventually to marry said knight.’

Then you go out to the garden blindfolded, and each pull up a cabbage. If the cabbage was well grown the girl was to have a handsome husband, but woe betide the unlucky damsel who got one with a crooked stalk; her husband would be a stingy old man.

Then comes nut-burning, as an antidote to all this boisterous fun. You put two nuts on the bar and name them, but must not mention the names or all luck will vanish. If one hops off, then the pair will not marry; if one burns to a cinder and not the other, it is a case of unrequited love; but if both burn away steadily, they will marry and live happy ever after.’

Folklore 1893.