Circle of lights

‘Ghosts’ celebrate Samhain in NYC


By Maura Mulligan

On the evening of Oct. 31, Dannú (this writer) as Earth Goddess welcomed “ghosts” to a celebration of Samhain, the harvest festival and forerunner of Halloween.

The photos accompanying this article were captured by Dan Brown who brought the spirit of Robert French, famous for the eviction photographs -portrait's of Irish "Un-homing" in the late 19th century to our celebration of this ancient festival.

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Managers of the Playwright restaurant, Ella and Kelly, had the dining room ready. They introduced us to our attentive waiter, Joe who, along with his colleagues served a delicious meal as they weaved in and out through the spirits appearing between courses. The evening’s traditional bairín breac was baked by Mary Fee, who talked about What The Wind Knows.

Circle of Lights.

The wind knew how to connect with our party theme as it blew in the ghosts of authors and characters in books, plays and movies. They came through the veil between worlds – that veil that is thin enough to allow them to wander on this night.

Meave Binchy, novelist, playwright and short story writer (Mary McIntyre) mingled with fellow novelist and playwright Dorothy Macardle (portrayed by Sheila Houlihan). They were joined by Angela from Limerick (Siobhán McCourt) who appeared with cigarette in hand and mentioned that her son, Frank, did well for himself in America. Indeed, there was no shortage of interesting stories as Gerty Macdowell (Nancy Oda) told about her experience on the beach in Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Maura Mulligan.

W.B. Yeats sent his Fiddler of Dooney (Bernadette Fee) who treated the gathering to “Planxty Irwin” – written by the harpist O’ Carolan. The piece was expertly played by the talented fiddler who also recited the poem by the same name and brought along a painting of the poet by his brother, Jack. Yeats wasn’t the only poet the wind blew in our direction. There was a visit from Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. (Henerietta Blyden) whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. In traditional red cape with yellow feathers a member of the ancient Filí- the poets and storytellers of yore (Deirdre Batson) reminded us that it was they who maintained an oral tradition that predated the Christianization of Ireland. Other ancients who came through included daughter of the dún, Mayo pirate and terror of the west, Gráinne Mhaol (Maria Deasy) and an Irish witch, Alice Kyteler (Pat Mangan) who was the first person convicted of witchcraft in Ireland. When her fourth and last husband died his family accused her of poisoning him. Not to be outdone by witches, Mad Maudlin showed up searching for her Tom ‘o Bedlam (Ryan Cahill). The song “Bedlam Boys sung beautifully by Ryan brought the character to life. The theater lit up when Mary Tyrone (Dee Nolan) from O’ Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” rose from the dead and reviewed her issues as a morphine addict. The drama continued as James and Brigid Cagney reminded us that George Stephens who directed the film “A Place in the Sun” was a portage of John Forde. Georgia O’ Keeffe showed up in the person of Carolyn Murphy Weidell who carved a beautiful turnip jack-o-lantern for our table.

James and Bridget Cagney.

At the end of the celebration, a circle of light helped us remember departed loved ones. As we spoke their names, donations we had earlier placed in a memory box were offered to Sister Joanne, director of the Dwelling Place – a transitional shelter for homeless women. We bade each other a happy Celtic New Year and made our way home through the many colorful ghosts out celebrating Halloween on the streets of New York.

Maura Mulligan is author of the memoir “Call of the Lark.”