One Halloween night in 1879, several young boys sat huddled together in a field.They had lit a small fire to keep themselves warm from the October chill.
Their duty that night was to keep guard over the farmer’s vegetable patch through the evening and into the night. As it was a custom in the district to steal cabbages as a Hallow Eve prank.
As Patrick Mc Nally, a schoolchild from Aghacloghan, Co. Monaghan recounted in his copybook for the Duchas schools collection in 1937.
“Long ago on a Hallow Eve night, a number of boys would come together and go to some miser’s vegetable garden and pull a number of heads of cabbages.
Then they used to go softly and quietly to the house and throw in the cabbages, saying “Will you have enough now, for you had not enough for the past year.”
Two brothers sat beside each other, eight-year-old Patrick Campbell along with his older brother Peter. The boys and their friends whiled away the evening telling ghost stories of the banshee and the Puca. After a time, they heard a noise and perceived in the darkness, figures climbing the garden walls. The boys called out who was there but got no reply. Suddenly, a stone landed in front of the fire, the boys became spooked and ran for cover. Unfortunately, another stone was thrown, hitting Patrick in the head and he collapsed. His brother Peter shouted at the men that they had killed his brother. The men climbed back over the wall and fled the scene. The young Campbell was brought home for treatment but sadly never regained consciousness. Patrick Campbell died fifteen days later of a fractured skull.
An investigation was launched by the R.I.C, Peter Campbell had recognised two of the men as neighbours, Patrick Dooley and Joseph Hanley.
The men were questioned and arrested. They were charged with manslaughter at the Winter Assizes in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim in December 1879, pleading not guilty.
During the trial, evidence came to light that there were other boys in the area that night, said to be hunting birds. It was alleged that a stray shot from a slingshot caused Patrick’s injuries and not the stones thrown by the defendants.
Several witnesses came forward to testify in support of the men’s version of events that night. The men were found not guilty and released.
There was also another Halloween custom to do with divination where a young woman would be blindfolded and would have to pick a cabbage. Ideally, it was believed that the cabbage should be stolen for the fortune-telling to work. The woman would pull a cabbage, and it would be examined. Depending on the shape and condition of the vegetable, it would determine if she married and what type of husband she would have.
If the cabbage were fully grown, she would have a handsome and healthy husband, but if the cabbage were rotten, her husband would not be good to her. If the cabbage pulled was small, it would mean she would be left a widow early in life.
Another variation of the cabbage-pulling divination as recounted by Lady Jane Wilde:
The young girls also visit the neighbouring gardens at night, blindfold, to tear up cabbages by the root. If the one first seized is a close, white cabbage, an old man is the destined husband; but if an open, green head, then a young lover may be hoped for!
Irish Newspapers Archives – Sligo Champion, December 1879
Duchas School Collection – Duchas.ie
Internet Archive Book Images – Flickr – 13th annual price list & catalogue of fresh and reliable garden
Wilde, Lady Jane. Ancient Cures, Charms and Usages in Ireland. 1890
The Fading Past thefadingyear.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/4081/