“The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea…”

“….Lizzie Fleming said Maria was sure to get the ring and, though Fleming had said that for so many Hallow Eves, Maria had to laugh and say she didn’t want any ring or man either; and when she laughed her grey-green eyes sparkled with disappointed shyness and the tip of her nose nearly met the tip of her chin.”

                                                           —from the short story Clayby James Joyce.

I’ve had a hunger on me for a slice of barmbrack, a yeast bread made with dried fruit plumped up overnight in hot tea, traditionally eaten around Halloween at home in Ireland. I made it this fine October Sunday with the help of my mother-in-law who is a far better baker than I.

Typically, a ring is hidden in the dough and whoever finds it in their slice is said to be wed within the year. Other fortunes you might find in a traditional brack are:


  • The Thimble: for which you will stay a spinster.
  • A Button: meaning you’ll always be a bachelor.
  • A bean or a piece of rag: Penury and misfortune for you.
  • The coin: Riches coming to you.
  • The stick: an unhappy, quarrelsome marriage (the stick symbolizes what the husband would beat the wife with but we can assume the fortune has evolved along gender parity lines to keep up with the times, not that I’m advocating wives beating their husbands either mind).


Sliced thick and slathered in salted butter, beside the fire with a cup of tea on a bright, if chilly, day—there’s nothing like it . I didn’t get the coin but I’m content. And I didn’t dress up this year for Halloween either. Sure amn’t I grand as I am?

The Coin

The Ring and the ButtonThe Thimble


2 thoughts on “

  1. What an interesting tradition! I didn’t know about this one. Thanks for the recipe, and also the reference to J. Joyce’s story, which I don’t think I’ve read before either. Have a ghosty Hallow’s Eve!

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