It’s time for some barmbrack

An Irish tradition at Halloween is to toast some barmbrack, slather on some butter, and eat it with a cup of tea.  That’s what I did last night ….. I robbed some of my sister Sinead’s barmbrack and enjoyed it immensely.  Mind you the ring was already gone.  Does Sinead have some news for us??  You might be wondering what the heck is barmbrack and what ring am I talking about.



Well, barmbrack is a sweet bread with dried fruit soaked in tea, and a few added surprises which will tell you how your year to come is going to be.  If your slice includes a pea, then you won’t be marrying any time soon but if it has a ring, then start planning the wedding.  If your slice has a cloth, then be prepared for a poverty-stricken year, but if you get the coin, you are on the pig’s back for the next 12 months.  And if you get the stick, then be prepared for a year of disputes.  As kids, we always wanted the ring ….. little girls’ dreams never change.

It was Halloween last night and not one child arrived on the doorstep here at my father’s house in Cork.  A sign of the maturing neighbourhood where there are no young families living.  I can see from my Facebook account that it is likely there were the usual 300-400 kids out in my neighbourhood on Bowen – yes you read right, hundreds and hundreds of kids!  I must admit to being bah humbug-ish when it comes to Halloween on Bowen, that is far too many kids for me to be nice to in one sitting.  My friends David and Heidi and their two kids usually take over my house, and with help from David’s parents, get the house all dressed for Halloween in readiness for the onslaught of children.  More power to them!  Muriel my housesitter has kindly allowed them to continue with that tradition while I am away this year.  Either that or she would have had to turn out all the lights and sit in the dark until about 8pm, waiting for everyone to head to the Lagoon to see the fireworks set off by Bowen’s volunteer firefighters.  Bowen is a nice community like that.

Halloween in the Ireland of my childhood was a tad different to what it is today.  Back then we celebrated elements of the festival of Samhain:  the end of summer, a good harvest in readiness for the dark days of winter ahead.  We were city slickers so never did the bonfire, nor did we carve turnips (pumpkins were only fed to the cattle then!) but we did play snap apple and ate nuts and dried fruits as treats.  No candies to speak of!  Snap apple is where an apple is hung by a string from a doorframe and you had to try to bite out the penny coins in the apple while it was swinging.  Another version of snap apple was  to bob apples in a basin of water and with your hands behind your back, try to bite the penny coins out of the apples.  You can just imagine me and my six siblings all fighting over whose turn it was next, and who got the coins and what they would spend it on.  We did go from house to house trick or treating, but we were dressed up more like mummers than scary witches or ghosts.  Back then we did have to have a few poems, songs or dances in our repertoire as it was expected by homeowners that we would perform to earn that apple, orange or handful of nuts we got from them. Those were the days alright!

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
This entry was posted in Ireland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to It’s time for some barmbrack

  1. renu says:

    What a lovely tradition! lets do it next year here in Vancouver;)

  2. Gary Lutke says:

    We only had 105 kids trick-or-treating this year, so I guess we got off lucky!
    P.S. bring back some barmbrack with you please.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s