You don’t need ouija boards and crystal balls to make contact with the dead in Dublin this Halloween. From headless mummies to giant skeletons, Dublin has something macabre to offer those with spooky sensibilities. Here are four ways for the living to spend a day amongst the dead.
A Headless Valentine
Paris may be known as the City of Love but Dublin has equal rights to claim that title as it is home to the man most associated with amore. February 14th is St. Valentine’s Day but all year round you can visit one of Dublin’s best-kept secrets, the remains of the patron saint of love in Whitefriar Street Church.
Fr. John Spratt was gifted the body by Pope Gregory XVI in 1835 having given a particularly rousing sermon in Rome and a year later the mummy (minus the head) made its way to Dublin. The Reliquary contains the remains of St Valentine along with a small vial tinged with his blood all enclosed in a wooden box covered in painted paper, red ribbons and sealed with wax. Couple with a hand-held stroll around the local graveyard for the perfect Halloween date.
The Dead Zoo
The Irish Natural History Museum, known colloquially as “The Dead Zoo”, houses over 10,000 exhibits ranging from the weird to the wonderful. This cabinet style museum has changed little since its inception in 1856 and many of the specimens are unique in their antiquity, showing visible signs of old school taxidermy and hunting methods.
The imposing skeletons of Giant Irish Deer greet visitors at the entrance, while the skeleton of a 20-metre long Humpback Whale hangs from the ceiling casting a shadow on the thousands of unique collections housed on the two stories below. Here you can find a mausoleum of the animal kingdom caught in the eternal pose of their living past.
There is a multitude of strange, extinct and unusual oddities hidden away in the museum's glass cabinets. Many are tucked away in corners, or hidden behind more popular and glamorous animals (push aside the panda to uncover the scaly tree pangolin or the star-nosed mole) so make sure you give yourself ample time to ogle at all the animals and peer into all the cases.
City of the Dead
1.5 million – not the population of living Dublin, but of the City of the Dead. This permanent exhibition, located in the basement of Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, explores the burial practices used in the interment of the cemetery’s deceased. Visitors can wander aimlessly through the veritable forest of gravestones, mausoleums and monuments, or those who want a more purposeful wander can book one of the many guided tours.
The historical tour gives a quirky, energetic insight into this unique Victorian burial place and into the final resting place of the men and women who have helped shape Ireland’s past and present. Visitors can also peer into the lives of the dead through Joycean, Feminist, Military and Religious scopes. Famous graves include Brendan Behan, Christy Brown and Luke Kelly of The Dubliners fame.
Mummies at St.Michan’s
Down a winding set of narrow stone steps, deep in the vaults beneath St. Michan’s Church, dozens of mummies lie in wait. The reason behind the mummification at St. Michan’s remains a mystery (although rumour has it, it’s due to the limestone in the basement walls). Regardless of the reason, whatever is preserving the mummies is also disintegrating their wooden coffins, leaving their petrified inhabitants to tumble free.
The main macabre attraction in the vaults is a collection of four mummies on full display. A nun, a thief and a mysterious mummy simply referred to as ‘The Unknown’ flank the star attraction ‘The Crusader’. It is believed that the 800-year-old Crusader was a soldier in the 4th Crusades and this six-foot soldier was so tall that his legs have been broken and folded beneath him to fit inside his standard-size coffin. The Crusader’s hand stretches out of his casket and visitors can give it a (gentle) shake. One of the Crusader’s most famous historical visitors was Ireland’s own forefather of horror-Bram Stoker.
For more information on Stoker and Dublin’s spooky history check out the Bram Stoker Festival this October.