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Council workers recall thirty years of Halloween

18 October 2016

When Seamus Carlin and Arthur Arbuckle took up their posts at Derry City Council over thirty years ago, they had no idea that a small Halloween event in the city centre in 1986 would become a yearly event that would present the city as the best Halloween destination in the world.

Now celebrating thirty years, the world renowned Halloween Carnival as organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council is sure to be kept on the top spot as the Best Halloween Destination in the World as it recently was voted by USA Today readers. Being the biggest parade in Europe and the highlight of the city and districts events calendar there has not been much Seamus and Arthur have not seen over the years. Both have worked through every Halloween celebration and seen the changes to the festival as the years have progressed.

Seamus started his career with council thirty seven years ago as a painter and now works as a Building Maintenance Foreman alongside his colleague Arthur Arbuckle, who began his career in council as a joiner thirty three years ago.

‘It first started as a small event in the Guildhall Square with some fireworks, recalled Seamus. ‘It took us six hours to build the ‘shamrock’ stage on that first year of the event, as everything at that time was done in house by Council staff. I enjoyed the fact that everything was authentic back then, from the handmade costumes to the specially crafted designs. I’ve seen everything from witches to five Embassy Regal entering the square over the years’ he added.

‘There was some famous faces we’ve had the pleasure of looking after over the years including Sharon Shannon, Boyzone and Dolores Keane who performed at the event. One famous singer we were asked to look after managed to disappear shortly before kick-off and was found in a local watering hole enjoying the craic with locals. On another occasion we had a young Boyzone cause hysteria in the crowd and a genuine panic from our end as to how we’d get them out of city in one piece. The year after they performed, they went onto become global superstars.

‘The crowds coming into the city is now into the thousands. We’ve met people from all over the world who travel especially to the city to celebrate. I remember a guy Alan, a fireworks specialist from Newcastle employed by Council was so impressed by the events he brought back his entire family the next year to enjoy it.

Both men agree that the event has got better as the years have progressed, especially since the introduction of the parade element to the festival. Arthur added, ‘Once the parade was introduced to Halloween, the crowds seemed to have got bigger and better each year and the event has now expanded around the City Walls.

‘The level of detail and preparation that goes into building the parades and costumes each year is great to see. Seamus and I haven’t had the opportunity to dress up ourselves but have got used to the yearly jokes from revellers asking if we’ve dressed up as Council staff and have enjoyed ourselves. It’s great for the people of the city and our visitors and shows the world we don’t take ourselves too seriously!’

The full programme of all the city and districts Halloween events is available at www.derrystrabane.com/halloween.