Binbag costumes and apple bobbing: Well-known faces share their Halloween memories

John Brennan, Jason Byrne, Paul Howard, Lucy Kennedy, Emer O'Neill and Will Sliney on how Halloween for their kids differs to their own experiences
Binbag costumes and apple bobbing: Well-known faces share their Halloween memories

Emer O'Neill as a witch with her son Ky dressed as a dinosaur for Halloween


Our Halloweens were filled with monkey nuts, toffee apples, finding the ring in the brack, all simple fun.

As a child, I’d wear a white sheet and a scary mask from my father's shop for Halloween and bobbing for apples is the game I remember best as the floor would be almost flooded!

Halloween celebrations were very simple, I cannot recall Trick or Treating but black bin liners and white sheets were all the rage.

The Halloween Howl is on again in Kenmare, which is a great festival. The Park Hotel Kenmare and The Lansdowne Kenmare are full so we will be busy looking after guests and creating lass scary moments.

Hotelier John Brennan’s memoir ‘My Name is Jhon: An Atypical Story of Success’ is available to buy now.


I once wanted to dress as a gorilla for Halloween, so my mam gave me an old fur coat of hers, and a black woolly hat, it was all finished off with rubber gloves on my hands and feet. I had my glasses on with the patch over them to finish the masterpiece off.

Bobbing for apples was the one Halloween game I hated the most as your mother pushed your face, followed by your brothers and sisters’ faces, into a basin full of water - which, by the way, was the same basin used for the washing up or if you felt sick. You had the impossible task of trying to bite on a floating apple while being semi drowned by your mother like some sort of torture game.

My own children are grown up now, so this year I'll spend Halloween night in, trying to convince them to watch all the Halloween movies while I make them go to the door as the trick-or-treaters knock and ring.

Jason Byrne brings his Audience Precipitation Tour to City Limits on Friday, October 29.


When I was ten, I dressed up as Adam Ant, who was huge at the time. I wore the waistcoat from my Communion suit over one of my dad's white shirts, with my hands lost somewhere up the sleeves. I painted a strip across my nose using Tippex and I clumped around from house to house in my mother's leather boots, which were about five sizes too big for me.

The annual Halloween bonfire was a huge thing in our lives. In Ballybrack, the Dublin suburb where I grew up, there were always about six or seven of them. The job of collecting wood for the bonfire would begin some time in September. We spent weeks collecting pallets, four-by-twos - anything we thought might burn - from building sites and wherever else we could lay our hands on it. Then, when every piece of unused wood within a ten-mile radius was collected, we stole each other's bonfire wood in night-time raids.

I remember eating apples and nuts but they are no longer part of Halloween, which has become more Americanised in Ireland. I discovered that about 15 years ago, when I opened the door to some Halloween callers and went to drop a French Golden Delicious and a handful of monkey nuts in a bag. I was told, ‘Sorry, we don't accept those - only sweets, chocolate or money.’ I don't think I will be marking Halloween this year but callers to the door will definitely leave with something. I just can't say it won't be an apple and a handful of monkey notes. I'm a traditionalist like that!

Paul Howard is the author of Normal Sheeple, Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, Aldrin Adams and the Cheese Nightmare and co-author of Gordon’s Game, Lions Roar with Gordon D’Arcy, all available now.



I was pretty much always a witch for Halloween growing up: long black wig, big fake nose and a cape - pretty much how I looked after the first lockdown!

We pretty much just played games at Halloween, no bonfires or stories. We were usually so tired that we were in bed at 9pm.

I loved all of the Halloween games. After trick-or-treating and emptying the contents on the floor, we played apple dunking and the ‘Mummy game’ which involved lots of toilet paper!

This year, I’m going for it! With three young children, our house has been decorated since September. I have pumpkins at the door and skeletons hanging everywhere. My son Jack is dressing up as an inflatable dinosaur which looks hilarious. Jess is dressing up as Elsa from Frozen and Holly is a dead zombie. We’ll trick or treat and then come home and play games.

Living with Lucy airs on Monday nights at 9pm on Virgin Media One or catch up on Virgin Media Player.


Halloween is my favourite holiday after Christmas, it’s a really close second. We used to go all out for Halloween, we’d have an apple on a string, we’d dunk for money. A new tradition for me is carving pumpkins. We do it every year now, for the last three years we've been carving crazy faces. That actually is my new favourite tradition for Halloween.

We've already got all the decorations up outside, I've got a massive skeleton hanging down from the top window upstairs, outside we have hands with blood in the bushes, spider webs and saws and ghosts. You name it, we’ve got here.

Growing up, all of my costumes were always homemade. We’d be imaginative: if I was a witch I’d get some of my mom's clothes, we might make or buy a broomstick but the majority would be what we put together ourselves. You don't ever forget those memories, making a costume with your parents, your mom or your dad. When I ask my son Ky now what he wants to be, he tells me and I buy it for him but when I was a child there was a really nice excitement around making your costume. Lately, we've gotten a bit lazy and we're just buying costumes.

This year I am dressing up as Ginger Spice from the Spice Girls. I have these ridiculous white knee-high boots and the Union Jack dress, that iconic look. My husband usually entertains me with a mask and Ky wants to be a football player and Sunny will probably wear a hand-me-down like last year, she was a bee in the cutest little suit.

Emer O’Neill co-hosts ‘Today’ on RTÉ One.

Sonia O'Sullivan

Sonya O'Sullivan (right) celebrating Halloween during her college days
Sonya O'Sullivan (right) celebrating Halloween during her college days

We had some great Halloween fun at Villanova, we went to our coach's house all dressed up for the best trick or treating you could imagine in a spooky town that was all dressed up for Halloween, One time I got dressed up with my room mate as a pair of dice and when we managed to walk to a party as we couldn't fit in ant car everyone was resting their drinks on our costumes.

I remember trying to introduce Halloween to my Children Ciara and Sophie in Melbourne and it didnt quite have the same effect in the bright summer evenings though as they got older it became more popular and they stayed out until dark.

I'm not sure what I will be doing this year, I passed through New York recently and the houses were already being decorated, you could do a tour they were so impressive . In the US its all about Falling leaves and pumpkins, the colours are so Vibrant. I may be in Seattle with my daughter Sophie so it will be fun to see what her college friends get up to this year and you never know it may be a requirement to dress up.

I remember trying to use a turnip to make a lantern cutting out the face and putting a candle inside when I was a child. Anyone that has ever tried this will know how difficult it is. There was always the Halloween masks - I was just wondering recently if these would pass as face coverings going indoors. I remember Dracula, The Incredible Hulk and just random bright coloured faces held on by a simple elastic that would barely last the night.

At my Grandmother's house I used to love to hang the apple from the doorframe and taking turns to get a bite and bobbing apples in a bowl and some apples more weighted down with a coin inserted in them, also looking for the ring in the barm brack and often missing the pea and bean.


I used to make whatever Halloween costumes I could, based on the comics, cartoons and video games that I enjoyed. Street Fighter characters, superheroes etc. The list is long and went on long beyond my childhood years.

Just loved the fun of creating costumes, the mishaps of badly made ones through to the ones I was quite proud of. I do remember one Halloween dressing up as Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat. I'm guessing about 10 per cent of people reading this will know the character so it was even less back then, but as a child, I was shocked nobody knew who I had dressed up as after spending a long time making it.

A yearly watch of Ghostbusters is always part of my Halloween traditions. Our children are three and one so the traditions are only starting, apart from of course the last few years where we played Ireland’s most popular Halloween game of turning off all the lights and pretending nobody's home because you forgot to buy sweets.

This year it comes right in the middle of the launch of my new show, Storytellers on RTÉ, so Halloween itself will be the one day that I'll take to spend with family. Our son Tadhg has developed a bit of an obsession for ghosts, zombies and all things spooky, he has even picked out our costumes so we are going to bring him trick-or-treating to a few houses.

Will Sliney’s Storytellers airs on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player.

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up