CSB/SJU students take part in Northern Ireland Halloween parade

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November 2, 2018

By Cullen Trobec '20

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Editor’s note: Members of the CSB/SJU Galway Study Abroad Program had a chance to participate in the largest Halloween parade in Europe on Oct. 31 in Derry, Northern Ireland. SJU junior Cullen Trobec – a member of the program – gives us a look at the parade and the reaction of the students.

On Oct. 31, most College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University students back home were preparing for classes the next day. But the students studying with the CSB/SJU Galway Study Abroad Program were preparing for something else entirely: participating in the largest Halloween parade in Europe.

The parade was just one part of the week-long Halloween celebration in Derry, Northern Ireland. Running from Oct. 26-Nov. 3 each year, Derry residents sport their most impressive costumes while the city sponsors a wide array of performances, art installations, craft markets and of course a parade.

This year, the Derry City Council estimated the festival attendance at upwards of 100,000 people, with 30,000 attending the parade alone. This is the first year that a group from CSB/SJU has officially participated.

Each of the 23 students received personal costume fittings and makeup, turning them into skeletons, devils and zombie brides for the night. Some carried props, some assisted with the parade’s many frightening floats and still others roamed the parade route trying to spook any of the thousands of spectators that lined the streets.

“We would jump in front of kids and try to scare them while we were walking,” CSB junior Faye Williams said. “But the best was when you tried to scare the kids and ended up scaring the parents instead.”

The students joined hundreds of other community groups, dancers, singers, entertainers and public figures as they marched through Derry’s city center and along the River Foyle. A 15-minute fireworks display over the river followed the end of the parade.

“It was incredible,” CSB junior Murphy Hannula said. “It was literally like being in Halloweentown.”

The students were joined by CSB/SJU accounting and finance professor and Galway program director Mary Jepperson, her husband Craig and Jacqui O’Hara, one of the program’s Irish professors.

Participating in the parade would have been especially difficult had it not been for O’Hara. A former Derry resident, professor emeritus of Gaelic archaeology and now a professor teaching students in the Galway program, O’Hara’s connections with the city made the students’ entry into the parade possible.

“We definitely would not have been able to do this without Jacqui and her guidance,” CSB junior Ellie Riitters said. “Her community involvement is what made it special.”

According to O’Hara, last year’s Galway cohort joined the parade entirely by accident on the night of the event. Despite the mix up, the students had so much fun that O’Hara made it a priority to officially enter the students in 2018.

Having Americans in the parade even drew the attention of Derry’s media. On the morning before the parade, SJU junior Noah Campbell and CSB juniors Abby Proudfit and Molly Kluever appeared on BBC Radio Foyle to discuss CSB/SJU’s involvement.

“They asked how we were enjoying Derry so far, what we were studying, and if we were excited for Halloween,” Campbell said.

The Galway program was in Derry as part of a six-day educational trip throughout Northern Ireland, which included stops in Belfast and Drogheda prior to Derry. The students focused on the history of the area, specifically the political turmoil that gripped much of Northern Ireland in the latter half of the 20th century, and during which Derry was a particular point of contention. The CSB/SJU trip to the city and the Halloween celebration it hosted provided insight into just how much the situation has changed in the last couple of decades.

“Being in the city for three days before the Halloween was cool,” SJU junior Boone Almquist said. “We were able to hear whispers about how much fun it was, and then finally experience it ourselves.”

“I definitely feel like other programs at other colleges don’t have the same opportunities we do,” Hannula added. “We definitely wouldn’t have been able to do something like this anywhere else.”

In the end, the parade was a resounding success. Many students praised the event as their favorite thing they had done abroad, but for a few, the cheerful celebration had a somber edge.

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to be able to celebrate Halloween again,” Hannula said. “Nothing is ever going to be able to top this.”