Nfld. & Labrador

Finnegan's nightmare: How these Witless Bay seniors are rolling with Halloween

The spry seniors at a Witless Bay retirement home are acting up again for Halloween, and this time are taking a swing at a familiar Irish tune.

It's far from your average funeral down the shore

Bernard King poses for a photo while relaxing in a casket, while he and others made a music video to the tune of Finnegan's Wake. (Submitted by Rodrigo Iniguez Becerril)

There's a lineup of mourners in Bay Bulls. An older crowd from down the shore, dressed in black, pulls up by the vanload to the funeral home.

They make their way inside to pay their respects to the man lying in the casket. The thing is that Bernard King, 94, is still very much alive.

King, like all the others at Ryan's Funeral Home, is pulling off a very different kind of wake — though one that many in Newfoundland and Labrador might find familiar.

"It's culturally appropriate," said Renee Houlihan, who's worked to put all of this together as the recreational director for the Alderwood Estates Retirement Centre in Witless Bay.

With the help of filmmakers Keegan Battcock and Michael Hann, Houlihan and the senior residents at Alderwood are filming a rendition of the iconic Irish folk song Finnegan's Wake, this time reimagined in frightening Halloween form.

Renee Houlihan says the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to offer another haunted house to the public, so new plans needed to be made for this Halloween. (Submitted by Rodrigo Iniguez Becerril)

"Last year we had a haunted house [at Alderwood], which was very, very popular; we had almost 600 children come through," said Houlihan.

"Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, we weren't allowed to do that again this year, so I thought, 'OK, guys, let's do something else.'"

This year's COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people celebrate a lot of things, Halloween included.

As parents and children across the province work out the safest ways to enjoy the season, Alderwood residents are taking the tricks and treats of last year's haunted house right to their screens.

The popular folk song Finnegan's Wake was the inspiration for a music video shot in a funeral home in Bay Bulls. (Submitted by Rodrigo Iniguez Becerril)

As they prepare for their roles, the seniors take turns getting their faces painted in ghoulish colours, complete with dripping red blood and frizzled hair. They make playful jabs at each other's appearance, some remarking as they sit down in the makeup chair that it won't be too hard to make them look dead: they're already halfway there.

"They love being unexpected," said Houlihan. "They like to surprise people with what they can do, and they're so proud of this effort."

Funeral director joins the fun

Joe Ryan is among those helping to make up the seniors into their cadaverous guises, using a 50-year-old set of paints which, on any normal occasion, he would be using to prepare corpses for viewing.

"They just love having the fun," Ryan said. "Even though they know they're at a funeral home, they're still having fun. They don't mind."

WATCH: See how seniors from Witless Bay had fun making a Halloween video: 

These seniors had a Halloween party at the funeral home

Here and Now

3 months agoVideo
3:03
See how residents of Alderwood Retirement Home had a blast making a music video to celebrate Halloween. Video produced by Rodrigo Iniguez Becerril and Conor McCann. 3:03

Ryan runs the funeral home in Bay Bulls, and says over the years he's gotten to know many of the senior residents.

Not only do his funeral home and Alderwood Estates have a good working relationship, but the two establishments have a friendly one as well. That's why when Houlihan called him up to see if he could lend his parlour for the day, he was happy to help.

"You try to do what you can for the senior citizens," said Ryan. "As you can see, they did have a ball today."

A senior is made up for a scene in the Finnegan's Wake video. (Submitted by Rodrigo Iniguez Becerril)

Back at the home, the residents are tired from their busy day on set, but excited to see the final cut of their production.

"We don't know from day to day," said Teresa Lawrence, 93, when asked if she hopes to do it all again next year. "It's always a surprise."


A scare from the past 

Revisit the haunted house the Witless Bay seniors put together in 2019 for families on the Southern Shore: 


Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

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