Derry, Ireland Halloween Voted Best in the World for a ReasonSep 24, 2019 10:38PM ● By Vanessa Orr
Day of the Dead sculptures at Awakening the Walls, a three-day Halloween event in Derry, Ireland. Live performances take place on every corner, and people are decked out in unbelievable costumes representing birds, beasts, and magical creatures.
Waltzing corpses in third-floor windows. Street performers riding by on huge mechanical contraptions, scattering the crowd as they go. Huge, illuminated skeletons sitting atop city walls. Massive, graceful, birdlike creatures dancing through the night sky.
The word ‘spectacle’ doesn’t even begin to describe Halloween in Derry, Ireland, voted by the New York Times as one of the top six Halloween destinations, and the Best Halloween Destination in the World by USA Today.
The city itself seems designed for this type of pageantry; as the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland, Derry provides the perfect platform from which to watch parades, dancing groups, fire spinners and more. You can soak in the history as you walk along the 1.5-kilometer stone walkway protecting the inner city, and during the three days leading up to Halloween, as well as on Oct. 31st, these 17th century walls truly come to life.
At Ireland’s largest Halloween carnival, known as Awakening the Walls, visitors find themselves surrounded by the witches, evil spirits and souls of the dead who walk the earth on this day that traces its roots to the pre-Christian fire festival of Samhain. Live performances take place on every corner, and people are decked out in unbelievable costumes representing birds, beasts, and magical creatures; unlike an American fright fest, a Derry Halloween transports visitors back to an ancient, mythical time.
It seems the whole city partakes in this celebration, which includes a Jack O’Lantern Festival in Guildhall Square, where you can enjoy live Irish music, ghost tales, pumpkin carving workshops, and this past year, a chance to stand underneath a massive moon—part of the Museum of the Moon touring exhibit—within the Guildhall itself. Just across the Peace Bridge, the Walled City Brewery serves up local craft beers including Toffee Apple, their signature Halloween beer. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to catch some truly impressive entertainment; this past year, the SPARK Drummers, a fancily dressed band adorned in white and sparking silver tiles, spent as much time playing to the crowd as they did playing their instruments.
Events culminate on Oct. 31 with a carnival parade and a fireworks display over the River Foyle. And you know you’ve seen something really special when the fireworks—which were quite impressive—are the least exciting part of the entire event!
I was absolutely captivated by Derry, and the way that the city comes together to throw this massive celebration, which started out as a small dress party in a Derry pub more than three decades ago. Now tens of thousands of people flock to the city to attend more than 100 events in more than 40 venues across the city, which includes choir performances, a comics and creative arts festival, and something I’d still love to see—the Wheelin’ Banshee Bike Ride.
But there’s more to this city located where the Wild Atlantic Way meets the Causeway Coastal Route. While all about celebrating fun, the city doesn’t flinch from its bloodstained roots. At the Museum of Free Derry, you can learn more about the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the creation of Free Derry, a no-go area still immortalized by murals and a massive stone monument that serves as a symbol of freedom and independence.
What I found most touching about this impressively curated museum is that it employs family members of those who lost their lives on Bloody Sunday, when the British Army clashed with the people of the Bogside, killing 13 unarmed demonstrators; this story was told to us by the grandson of one of the protestors killed on that fateful day in 1972.
To learn even more about the area, you can visit the Tower Museum, which shares the history of Derry itself, and the Siege Museum, which highlights the Siege of Londonderry in 1689, a landmark event in British and Irish history. It’s also well worth it to walk around the wall, wandering in and out of its seven gates—standing among its 24 restored cannons, it’s easy to imagine a time when the walls were all that stood between the English and Scottish Protestant settlers and the Irish rebels who wished them harm. Listed by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of the world’s top 1001 historic sites that you need to see before you die, this is definitely a bucket-list destination.
To find out about next year's Halloween events, including The Other World Awakens carnival parade, check out www.DerryHalloween.com.