Derry, one of Ireland’s oldest inhabited areas, is known as the best place in the world to celebrate Halloween. The earliest historic records we have are from the 6th century when an abbey was built nearby, but people have lived there for thousands of years. Head into the countryside, and you’ll find lush fields strewn with white quartz, Megalithic chambers, stone circles, and mysterious standing stones.
Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. Celebrations begin on October 31st and continue for several days. This is the time when the veil between the living and dead is thought to be thinnest–spooky spirits are most likely to visit us on Samhain or Halloween.
Derry, the only remaining walled city in Ireland, pulls out all the stops to celebrate the spirit of Samhain. Throughout Derry, and neighboring areas, there are art installations that bring myths, mischief, and magic to life. Once a factory town of shirt-makers, this town gets into making costumes themselves and store-bought, unimaginative creations are rarely seen.
Sometimes, the Spirit of Samhain spreads across five worlds, each one representing a different sense of the season. The first world is that of Cailleach, the Queen of Winter. The goddess of cold winds rises from the sea with ghostly tales. Her stories haunt our world and the world outside Derry’s walls.
The spirit of the starved knight turns Derry into the City of Bones. And, while the veil between worlds grows thin, portals appear for those eager, and brave enough, to move into the Samhain Circle. The Phantom Queen Morrigan coaxes us into the forest with dancing flames, and her paths are lined by shape-shifters.
Other-worldly hijinks rock the nearby town of Strabane with wild festivities and fireworks, giving us a glimpse into the Lost World. Experience the ancient Red Branch Knights of Ulster as they awaken, wearing full battle armor, ready to ride forth to save Ireland. You might find this in nearby Donegal or in Derry. The Red Knights are always prepared!
Derry is also an ideal base to discover the best of Northwest Ireland. The Antrim Coast is home to the stunning Giant’s Causeway. Just west, the rugged beauty of County Donegal earned it National Geographic’s title of “The Coolest Place on Earth.” And fans of the Game of Thrones will recognize settings from their favorite scenes.
Derry is home to friendly, welcoming people, ready to kick up their heels and party. (When people left the county and headed to America, they brought their Samhain traditions with them, and we made Halloween our own.) There is an air of ancient mystery that is absolutely irresistible, and it makes visiting Northern Ireland a must!
Are you looking to discover the sights and sounds of Northern Ireland? Well, look no further than our 8-Night Northern Exposure itinerary.