This weekend Derry becomes the Halloween capital of Ireland.
Ironically in a City best known as the epitome of the Gerrymander, the home of the civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday, and two Nobel Laureates it is in the bacchanalian celebration of the ancient Celtic Festival of Samhain that it has gained most renown. The Festival is a City Marketing dream.
My brother in law acerbically referred to it as the largest underage drinking festival in Ireland and, a proud Derry man himself, observed how the majority of the male population of Derry appear to relish in dressing up in women’s clothes come Halloween. He also remarked, that not any old thing will do – they all seem to have something stylish that fits, with a nice comfortable fitting bra to underwire the whole affair. Maybe it is all those years of having two names, the city dwellers are in touch with both their feminine sides.
Some of the sights you see in the City in Fancy Dress are eyeboggling not to say jaw dropping. Others very funny. A couple of years ago as we made our way back up towards the car, the students of Magee were making their way down to the fleshpots of the city, plastered they were, to man and woman. One particularly hefty doll lumbered towards us, dressed not so much as Tinkerbell as Tinker Big Ben.
Strapped to her back were a pair of ludicrously small wings. As she passed stocious I remarked to her you’ll need a bigger pair of wings than that if you want to get off the ground. She mumbled incoherently and staggered on. No doubt she found warm and penetrative embrace in the arms of some young Derry fella dressed as a big nurse called Wendy with matching bra.
The city puts on a great show for Halloween. Yesterday for example with Cáit, Leo and Peter, I attended a show where a character called Ron Airhead inserted himself fully into a large orange balloon. My son Peter was greatly agitated that he wouldn’t be able to get out. He did of course, but it is great that in the forthcoming City of Culture one can watch such vacuous but entertaining nonsense.
Tomorrow night the City Council will detonate thousands of pounds worth of fireworks from barges in the middle of the Foyle, watched by thousands of Fancily dressed folks perched along the banks of the River, standing on the new Peace Bridge and hanging around Guildhall Square. After, the families will disperse home leaving the party people to drink on into the night.
Angela’s friend Elaine once hooked up with a fella on Halloween night whilst dressed as a petite red devil. She had to make her way home early in the morning still dressed in red carrying her little fork with which perhaps she snared her prey. A passing street cleaner laughed when he saw her totter along high heeled and red devilish-sheepish and started to sing ‘After the Ball is Over’.
After the weekend finishes, and the ball is indeed over, it will be back to normal in Derry, whatever that is. To the outsider like myself, married into the city and its people it is never normal. But that is part of its charm and attraction. And that has made all the difference.