A demon policeman is directing traffic, there are freshly dug graves in the middle of the village, and a coven of witches danced in the streets over the weekend.
Even dropping into the local for a quick pint has become a bit of a nightmare — to enter the Leap Inn, customers have to pass beneath a sinister canopy of skulls.
It’s clear to even the most casual of visitors that this West Cork village is a place where Halloween is taken very, very seriously — at lunchtime more than 20 of the hags, in full wiccan regalia, make a spine-tingling return to Leap to engage in a Witches’ Race. And all in broad daylight.
As Halloween approaches, every corner of Leap boasts its own moment of breathless horror — a Black Widow stalks unwitting motorists at the petrol station, axe-wielding maniacs, skulking skeletons, and man-eating monsters threaten pedestrians.
Outside the health centre, a blood-soaked nurse offers ‘first aid’ to less discerning patients.
And, for those with the nerve to visit, just outside the village is a guillotine complete with a crop of bloody heads and an opportunistic rat.
In Leap village itself, ghosts hang from tree-tops, ghouls and vampires lurk behind every lamp-post; an enormous, flame-red devil crouches on a wall while a hellish throng of blood-soaked nasties and cadaverous critters has invaded windows, gardens, car parks, and roadsides everywhere you look.
Even the local priest is in on the act, with a house and garden displaying a Pandora’s Box of horrors, including a pair of scarecrows representing US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It’s all part of the fourth annual Leap Scarecrow Festival, which locals have been working hard on since February.
The ‘scarecrows’ have been arriving in the village since mid-October — there are now hundreds of exhibits on display.
All have been created by individuals, families, and schoolchildren from Leap and beyond — the local mechanic contributed an eye-catching Iron Man on Main Street.
“I think the quality this year is very high and the professionalism involved is fantastic,” says Rita Ryan, chairwoman of the organising committee and founder of the festival, who, as we spoke, was awaiting delivery of a giant three-headed metal dragon scheduled to be installed in a prominent position in the village.
This year has seen a strong emphasis by artists on the use of natural materials, and on the theme of recycling. Committee secretary Ruthann Sheahan points to the 8ft Green Giant constructed from twigs and branches in the centre of the village and the eye-catching zombie milkman, Ivan O’Bainne, constructed from plastic milk cartons and lids.
We’re also very aware of Irish mythology and the origins of An Samhain,” says Rita. “There’s a lot of that kind of influence in the festival this year, in terms of the use of natural materials and the concept of the harvest.
One of the more gory exhibits — created by Ruthann — is Headless Simon, a prominent character from local folklore.
As the story goes, a land agent was tricked, robbed, and murdered in the vicinity of Leap more than 100 years ago while journeying to Cork City to bring his master rent from local tenant farmers.
After being killed and dismembered, the unfortunate official’s body parts, including his head, were dumped in nearby Glandore Harbour.
For many years, local fishermen reported hearing ghostly wails as their boats sailed across the bay.
Not surprisingly, the festival has attracted a substantial following on social media, while, according to Ruthann, in recent days large numbers of spectators, some from Cork City and even the northern part of the county were arriving in Leap to enjoy the show.
“The reaction to the festival has been amazing so far,” says Rita. “We have families walking up and down the street at all times of day and night!”
Rita came up with the idea for the ghoulish festival in 2015, after seeing a display of scarecrows in Co Tipperary.
“Initially, it was about bringing a bit of fun into the village,” she recalls. “However, the crowds that came that first year were so huge that afterwards we decided there was really something in this, so it became more structured and more professional.”
This year, there were several hundred entries to the Leap Scarecrow Competition from all over West Cork and beyond, while, over the weekend, throngs of visitors arrived to enjoy both the horrors themselves and a range of friendlier family entertainment; puppet shows, street entertainment, face painting, disco-dancing, and circus skills.
Next Saturday brings the opportunity to enjoy the handiwork of professional face-painting and attend lessons in circus skills. There is a treasure hunt on Sunday followed by a Dance the Broom competition, a kids’ colouring contest, and some balloon modelling.
Monday brings another carefully choreographed Witches’ Dance, along with the traditional Burning of the Scarecrows ritual in the Leap Inn car park, followed by a draw and party.
All proceeds from the festival go to a new picnic park for the village, adjacent to the scenic Moyross woods.
Cahirciveen returns festival to its Celtic roots
Caherciveen is saying away with the guts and the gore and in with the fun and the lore for Halloween this year.
In the south Kerry town, it is the second year of Spookemon, a tale of ancient characters including Sadhbh, mother of Oisín, the local princess, the Tuatha De Danann, and the Fomrorians.
“We all know about Halloween, but we should also remember Halloween is a major Celtic festival, called Samhain, marking the beginning of the Celtic new year and the dark half of the year,” said co-creator Seán O Laoghaire, an Iveragh storyteller and seanchaí.
He and Anita McKeown will again lead a team of local performers around the town in search of characters for the tale they created.
“Spookemon is a human spooky pokemon, adapting the idea of a treasure hunt with the clues leading you to a character that contributes to a story. The story is only complete once you complete the trail,” he said.
Halloween, according to Seán, was the day the Fomorians gathered their taxes from the Tuatha de Danann, “and a time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest”.
He said cultures all over the world have haunting festivals and honour the dead at this time of year — Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is huge in Mexican culture, while Hop-tu-Naa takes place on the Isle of Man.
For generations, we have celebrated and marked this time of year and we think we should keep up the tradition, in a culturally sensitive way with entertainment, humour and scares coming together to have fun,” said Seán.
The trail begins tomorrow at 6.30pm, starting at the old barracks in Caherciveen after a spooky flashmob performance. Groups will be given a set of clues and then sent out on an adventure to gather pieces of a story and explore Caherciveen.
“Spookemon looks to the past for inspiration but it is not nostalgic, we have a strong tradition that can carry young and old alike into the future, confronting monsters and demons, transforming the town, and ourselves,” said Seán.
This year’s events include an extended spooky story trail, the flashmob performance, video projection project with KDYS, and fancy dress party hosted by Sean Constable.
The public is invited to join in the fun in Iveragh tomorrow. For more details, contact Anita McKeown on 083 3659355 or the Old Barracks, Cahersiveen, on 066 4010430, or go to facebook.com/halloweensiveen/