Celebrating Halloween at an Irish Castle
Spooky Halloween fun for the kids By Jody Halsted
Halloween straw play at Bunratty Village (Jody Halsted)
Located just minutes from Shannon airport, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is a fun family afternoon any time of the year. Filled with traditional Irish cottages from around the country, a historic village, and – of course- the castle, Bunratty is one of Ireland’s top family attractions.
But what is it like at Halloween, a holiday born in Ireland and rich in traditions that stretch back hundreds of years? I was lucky enough to find out as my family enjoyed an Ireland vacation at the end of October.
Halloween at Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle in Ireland (Flickr: Chris Murphy)
The lanes of Bunratty Village are teeming with people when we arrive half an hour after the gates open. A group of costumed children have gathered around a fire eater, gasping in awe as he lowers a flaming baton to his lips.
Glancing between the map of the grounds and the Halloween activities flier, my family decides to begin our festivities in the castle itself. A ‘Creepy Crypt’ is set up in the lowest level, scaring my youngest before we even enter the door. The upper levels prove less intimidating as we explore the nooks and crannies of the nearly 600-year-old castle, following its spiraling stairs to the roof to peer through the battlements to the ground below. It is only as we re-enter the Great Hall that we find the castle is haunted. The ghosts of the Earl and his Lady wander the room, ruffling hair of unsuspecting visitors.
Throughout the hamlet peat fires welcome you into the farmhouses where witches spin tales of toil and trouble as the bean á tí or ‘woman of the house’ churns butter or bakes nearby.
Activities from face painting to fortune telling take place in the corn barn, where the harvest is normally stored. We are greeted by a skull on a table, chattering away with the kids. A terrific optical illusion, the children are giggling as they inquire as to the whereabouts of his legs, “I’ve left them back at the crypt,” says he. Wandering through the corn barn we are introduced to all manner of ghoulish creatures – from owls, who carry ill omen, to snakes and reptiles.
Skeletons at the cemetery (Jody Halsted)
Farther up the street into the village entertainments include a magic show, an ‘Escapologist’, and a disco led by skeletons, while the more ‘rural’ paths are inhabited by zombies.
Ardcroney Church in Folk Park (Flickr: John Menard)
The village church isn’t even a safe haven from the ghouls as two sit outside in their wedding finery, still as statues. Until someone gets too close.
But, judging by the shrieks of laughter and the abundance of children, the best fun to be had is behind the corn barn where a large bale of straw has been left out. As they climb and slide down the slippery straw, giggles erupt, the air filling with flying straw and the sounds of happy children.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park mixes traditions of All Hallows Eve with newer customs, creating a fun day out for the entire family.
An Irish Castle Stay at Halloween
Ashford Castle (Flickr: Eoin Gardiner)
To enhance our Irish Halloween experience, my family also booked a night at Ashford Castle in County Mayo. A stunning castle hotel located on the shores of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle treats both kids and adults with their magical getaways.
The Halloween package begins with a family treasure hunt in the early afternoon, after which the kids are swept off by the ‘House Elves’ for enchanting entertainments. A kids-only dinner and movie follow, leaving mom and dad to enjoy the splendors of the castle and grounds by themselves before savoring their own dinner in the magnificent George V Dining Room. Alone. No tricks, all treats. It promises to be absolutely spellbinding.