Mysterious Torbay: Happy ‘Mischief Night’

It’s almost time for Hallowe’en which means children will be busy making pumpkin or turnip lanterns and thinking of scary things to do.

It’s the night when the misty veil which separates the mortal world from the spirit world is lifted.

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet and lyricist helped to popularise the word Hallowe’en, when he wrote a poem aptly named Hallowe’en. It is also known as ‘Mischief Night’, when tricks are played on those who do not give ‘treats’ to the children who come knocking at their door.

In the ancient Celtic tradition, it is called Failte na Marbh (Feast of the Dead), also known as Samhain, a time when the spirits of those who have passed over return to speak with their descendants.

In later years Christians called it ‘Feast of Souls’, a time when the dead had prayers and offerings made to them and soul cakes were handed out in return for prayers.

There is a popular belief that Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, who resided in Transylvania, was the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is partly true but there are also vampires to be found nearer to home in old Irish folklore.

Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897 while Sheridan Le Fanu wrote a novella called Carmilla, also a tale of vampires, in 1872, both of these authors were Irishmen.

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There is an even older example of an Irish vampire tale in ‘A General History of Ireland’ which was written between the years 1629 and 1631, called ‘The Legend of Abhartach’, a very blood-thirsty tale.

Irish literature also mentions an Irish fay (fairy) called Dreach-fhoula which translates into ‘bad blood’ pronounced ‘droc-ula’ which may have helped to inspire the name that we know as Dracula.

Hallowe’en will be different this year due to virus precautions but if you like to read about local hauntings, my book entitled The Ghosts of Dartmouth contains lots of eyewitness accounts of poltergeists and ghosts, and is available from Dartmouth Community Bookshop and Dartmouth Visitors Centre.