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!