Snap Apple Night (aka Halloween or All Hallow Eve)

Art on Sunday #21

"Snap Apple Night: All Hallow Eve," Currier & Ives, circa 1953 from 1932 Daniel Maclise

Snap Apple Night: All Hallow Eve1

Snap apple, of Irish origin, is a synonym for apple bobbing, a game in which contestants try to pick apples out of a tub or basin of water, using only their mouth. A variation has the apple hanging by string, with the same goal of picking the apples using only one’s mouth.2

All-hallow Eve by Daniel Maclise3

Maclise revisits Cork —‘ All-hallow Eve’—‘ Scene at Blarney’— His Picture4

At this period there lived. in the village of ‘Blarney’ (a very few miles from Cork) the Rev. Matthew Horgan; he was the parish priest, a genial old gentleman, famous for his antiquarian research, and his profound acquaintance with the literature of Ireland.

A man he was to all the country dear,’—

the arbiter to whom all disputes and differences that sprang up in the parish were invariably referred; in fact, he claimed to possess a kind of feudal jurisdiction over his tractable parishioners, and he ‘had his claim allowed.’ It was the invariable custom of the good old priest to invite a large party on ‘All-hallow eve:’ it was a social gathering, where persons of superior position in society were to be found unaffectedly mingling with the poorest peasantry of the parish. Crofton Croker and Maclise were invited to this entertainment, and whilst the young artist, charmed with the novelty of the scene, surrendered himself, heart and soul, to the enjoyments of the night, and joined in the harmless hilarity that prevailed, he contrived to sketch every group in the ‘Barn.’ On his return to London in the beginning of November 1832, he commenced his wonderful picture of ‘All-hallow Eve,’ and he wrought with such unceasing diligence and rapidity, that it was ready for, and appeared in, the Exhibition of 1833. As the earliest specimen in oil, of his powers on a large scale, its appearance produced an almost electrical effect on the public.

  • Then Peggy was dancing with Dan,
  • While Maureen the lead was melting,
  • To prove how her fortunes ran,
  • With cards that old Nancy dealt in;
  • ..
  • There was Kate and her sweetheart Will
  • In nuts their true love burning;
  • And poor Norah, though smiling still,
  • She’d missed the snap-apple turning.

In the fore-ground of the picture several groups appear; the most prominent are a stalwart and openmouthed country boy and a buxom girl, trying to catch the apples which are affixed to the points of the cross-sticks, or ‘snap-apple,’ suspended from the ceiling: near this group a couple are dancing, and on the right are the fiddler and piper: the former has the expression on his face of exquisite torture caused by a young urchin who is slyly tickling his ear with a straw; and as the unhappy musician dare not stop the music, the contortions of his face are most ludicrous. This picture is so well and so widely known by the engraving from it, that a more detailed description will be unnecessary here. It is characterised by, great boldness of touch with simplicity of composition. The grouping and attitudes are most artless and unrestrained, and the entire coup d’œil fraught with beauty and effect.5

  1. Currier & Ives, American, active 1834 – 1907, Snap Apple Night: All-hallow Eve. Image retrieved from (Photo credit:) Yale University Art Gallery  (Accessed October 19, 2016)
  2. Apple bobbing (Wikipedia): In Ireland, mainly County Kerry, it is known as “Snap Apple”, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, “Snap Apple Night” is a synonym for Halloween. A variation of the game exists, with the apples hung on string on a line, rather than in a bowl of water. (Accessed October 20)
  3. “All-hallow Eve,” painting, oil on canvas, in private collection. (Despite extensive searching, I was unable to find a high quality, higher resolution image.)
  4.  A Memoir of Daniel Maclise, R.A.; pp. 46-48; W. Justin O’Driscoll, Barrister-at-Law; London: Longman’s, Green, and Co., 1871
  5. The principal characters are portraits of Sir W. Scott, Crofton Croker, the Sisters of the Artist, ‘Perceval Banks (who was married to Anne, the younger sister), and the Old Clergyman, who appears in the back-ground, compelling two of his ‘Boys,’ who had been trying their shillelahs on each other’s heads, to shake hands and be friends.
art, art on sunday, autumn, history, holidays, humor, vintage images

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Grannymar Oct 31, 2016

    Lovely painting capturing the mood of the evening. Ours were much simpler. We were family only, bobbing for apples, cracking nuts and the hi-light of the evening was the Brack – light fruit cake with a ring, wrapped in baking paper and mixed in with the fruit before baking. We children were not allowed in the kitchen as mammy sliced the Brack. The plate was brought to the table after the dinner plates were cleared, held over our heads in turn, as the plate was given another turn and we reached up to select a slice. The person to find the ring was supposed to be the next to marry.

    • Mike Oct 31, 2016

      We never really did anything special other than going out trick or treating. Some people get all dressed up in costumes for Halloween parties. Not us.

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