During the dark hours of Halloween Eve, adults on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, simply aren’t themselves. No one goes out until about 9 p.m. Then, as the pubs fill slowly, a visitor feels overwhelmed by the complete silence. To preserve their disguises, no one speaks a word. Drink orders are given to the barman on hand-written scraps of paper, and regular Guinness drinkers order gin and tonics to create confusion about their identities. People even drink through straws to avoid lifting up their masks.
The silence, broken only by the ticking of the clock, is odd and a bit disturbing. My husband and I have enjoyed this strange rite on Inis Mor (Inishmore) twice, first as observers and then as participants, with our own straw costumes. It’s more fun to actually take part than to just watch.
Many of the island’s residents begin planning elaborate costumes months in advance, and spent considerable time and effort making them. Generally, homemade costumes are the most prized and respected. But if you prefer, you can buy ready-made rubber masks of Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, among others, in a small shop on the westward point of the island. Outsiders are welcomed in the pubs during the evening. In fact, small groups of people often come out from Galway to take part. At midnight, the silence lifts, and everyone collects in the island’s Big Hall for a Halloween dance where prizes are given for the best costumes.