Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain
Updated September 2022
Samhain is, of course, the precursor to Halloween and it is the rituals of Halloween are from the traditional Samhain rituals that have been folded into our Halloween celebrations. Some will know the ancient Celtic roots of the candy-filled fun night, many won’t. Samhain or Halloween originated here in Ireland. Halloween in Ireland is a time of feasting, special events, parades, and good craic.
Ireland is a land of legends and fairytales and the celebration of Samhain (Halloween in Ireland) is full of superstitions and rituals. Samhain is celebrated all over Ireland including Newgrange where the winter solstice takes place deep within the megalithic barrows.
Where did Halloween in Ireland start?
- Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain
- Where did Halloween in Ireland start?
- How to celebrate Samhain
- Irish Halloween traditions
- Halloween in Ireland Samhain Traditions
- 13 Halloween Celebrations in Ireland
- Halloween in Ireland – Derry 2022
- Hidden Dublin Ghost Tours
How to celebrate Samhain
Samhain is Irish Gaelic for “summer’s end.” The standard Irish pronunciation is “sow-in” with the “ow” like in “cow.” Other pronunciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include “sow-een” “shahvin” “sowin” (with “ow” like in “glow”). The Scots Gaelic spelling is “Samhuin” or “Samhuinn.”
In the 8th century, the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as ‘All Saints Day’ (‘All Hallows’) – a day of commemoration for those Saints that did not have a specific day of remembrance. The night before was known as ‘All Hallows Eve’ which, over time, became known as Halloween. This was done to incorporate the ancient pagan traditions of Ireland that the Church wanted to overcome and blend into Christianity.
Irish Halloween traditions
Traditional Irish Samhain/Halloween Dinner
The traditional Irish dinner is boiled potato, colcannon, cabbage, and raw onions. Not sure why the raw onions as nobody can explain that one, but coins are said to be wrapped in paper and then put into the potatoes for the children to find. I guess that’s the Irish version of trick or treat.
The traditional Halloween cake is served is barmbrack which is a fruit bread. Each member of the family gets a slice. Hidden within the bread are a coin, a ring, and a piece of rag. If you get the rag then your financial future is not great, the coin means prosperity and the ring is of course romance in the offing.
Each member of the family places a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and it is then left undisturbed overnight. If, in the morning, a leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spots then the person who placed the leaf in the cup can be sure of 12 months’ health until the following Halloween. (from Irish Halloween traditions)
Halloween in Ireland Samhain Traditions
In Celtic Ireland nearly 2,000 years ago, Samhain was celebrated as it divides the year from summer to winter. At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. This day falls between two days Oíche Shamhna (October 31) and Lá na Marbh (November 2). Oíche Shamhna is Halloween and Lá na Marbh is the Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day when those who have passed away are remembered. It marks the beginning of the “darker half” of the year as the winter draws near.
Samhain (Halloween in Ireland) is a time to honour the family’s ancestors and those that had passed. These spirits were honoured and invited into the family home while the harmful spirits were kept away. Folks wore costumes and masked themselves as harmful spirits to avoid any harm. The bones of the family livestock were cast into communal fires and bonfires and food played a great role in the festivities.
Food was prepared for the living and the dead, the dead’s portion was shared with those who didn’t have as much. The celebrations went long into the night and offerings of food and gifts were left out for the fairies and wee folk. Participants celebrated with huge bonfires to light the way into the season of the dark.
In Ireland, two hills in the Boyne Valley are associated with Samhain, Tlachtga, and Tara. Tlachtga was the Great Fire Festival’s location, which began on the eve of Samhain (Halloween). The entrance passage to the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara is aligned with the rising sun around Samhain. The Mound of the Hostages is 4,500 to 5000 years old, suggesting that Samhain was celebrated long before the first Celts arrived in Ireland.
Archaeological investigation of Tlachtga has revealed evidence of intense burning on the hill which has been dated from the mid-first millennium AD, this confirms folklore stories of the hill as a setting for the Samhain fires.
Celebrating the Celtic Festival of Samhain (Halloween)
The festival of fire ceremony at Tlachtga was revived a few years back, and all are welcome to attend. Participants assemble in the nearby town of Athboy at around 7 pm on the 31st of October. From there, the gathering proceeds to the Hill of Ward bearing lighted torches and candles, and on reaching the site, great fires are lit and the festival-associated pageantry begins.
There are Samhain Festivals all over Ireland and the UK from Tara to Loughcrew and Rath Lugh celebrations are being prepared and everyone is welcomed to honour the ancestors and step over the threshold to the new year.
The Yellow Book of Lecan
The Yellow Book of Lecan is a medieval book of tales, that reported people referred to Samhain as the “Feast of Mongfind,” a legendary witch-queen who married the King of Tara in old Ireland and was central to ancient Samhain celebrations, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary writes.
Samhain also has been known by other names. Some Celtic Wiccans and Druids call it Calan Gaeaf, Calan Gwaf, Kala-Goanv, or Nos Galan Gaeof. In Welsh, it is Nos Cyn Calan Gaual. It also is known as Oie Houney. A medieval book of tales, the Yellow Book of Lecan, reports that common folk called it the “Feast of Mongfind,” the legendary Witch-Queen who married a King of Tara in old Ireland. In the ancient Coligny Calendar, an engraved bronze dating from the first century C.E.and dug up in 1897 in France, Samhain is called Trinouxtion Samonii, or “Three Nights of the End of Summer.” Variant spellings of Samhain include Samain, Samuin, and Samhuinn.
13 Halloween Celebrations in Ireland
1. Derry the best place in the world to celebrate Halloween
Halloween in Ireland – Derry 2022
This year, Derry Halloween is called Awakening the Walled City.
In 2022 the Ancients will return to Derry Halloween’s Spirit Worlds, each representing a different spirit of Samhain. The myths and mischief of Samhain will be interwoven throughout, connecting our city to the Worlds Beyond the Walls. Choose the Samhain spirit you connect most with, and move through the city soaking up installations and atmosphere, myths and magic as each World showcase music and mischief to fill the imagination.
A great Samhain gathering.
The Walled City comes alive with ancient spirits welcoming you to join our Awakening. Fill yourself with folklore, feasting, and festivity, as Derry~Londonderry reopens the pathways of the Halloween travellers of the past. Programme coming soon!
2. The Púca festival
Púca is back and out to make Mischief this Halloween!
Returning this October 28th to 31st with music, fire, feasting and merriment in Ireland’s Ancient East, join us to celebrate the Celtic New Year with the spirits of Halloween.
When the light turns to dark and the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead thins, the creatures of Samhain, Ireland’s ancient Halloween tradition, come to life.
Roaming the darkness like a shadowy spectre, the shape-shifting spirit of Púca comes alive! Changing the fortunes of all who cross her path as she transforms the night into a colourful playground of hallowed celebration.
Through the spectacular nights at Púca Festival, we salute the Halloween spirits through folklore, food, myth and music reopening the pathways of reflection and celebration carved by travellers over 2,000 years ago.
3. The Bram Stoker Festival
Dublin celebrates four days of Bram Stoker with stories, adventures and so much more on the October Bank Holiday Weekend.
“The Bram Stoker Festival playfully celebrates the gothic, the mysterious, the after-dark and the thrill of Halloween, and delves into the legacy of one of Ireland’s most treasured authors.”
There is something for everyone, family-friendly adventures and late-night events including performances, theatre, literary and film events, and Victorian fun parks.
Friday 28 October – Monday 31st October.
The full programme will be announced in early October. The Bram Stoker Festival, after a two-year hiatus, will finally crawl out of our underground crypt into the streets of Dublin City this October Bank Holiday Weekend.
We’ve had lots of time to conjure up deliciously dark treats for Dubliners this year, including an epic spectacle, the return of some family favourites and all the devilish craic you’ve come to expect.
4. Grace Neills the most haunted pub in Ireland
The oldest pub in Ireland (it’s in the Guinness world book of Records) Grace Neill’s in Donaghadee County Down (N. Ireland) is 400 years old and apparently filled with ghosts. Since the pub was home throughout the ages for pirates, fishermen, smugglers, and soldiers and also visited by author Daniel Defoe, composer Franz List and even Peter The Great of Russia have taken a tipple at the bar.
5. St. Michan’s Mummies
St Michan’s Church in Dublin is surely one of the creepiest and is believed to have inspired Bram Stoker, the Dublin-born author of Dracula. Although you really need to visit Whitby Abbey where the life of Dracula really began to come into focus for Stoker.
The church houses the organ Handel played as he was composing The Messiah and Irish nationalist martyrs buried in the graveyard – but it’s the crypt and its mummified inhabitants that really hold our macabre imaginations.
No one quite knows the processes by which the bodies have been preserved. Some theories suggest the limestone of the walls dried the bodies; others that the methane of the soggy ground did the job.
Recently some idiot stole one of the mummies’ heads but it has now been returned and the crypt has re-opened. It’s a pretty interesting crypt at that. Legs and arms stick out of coffins and the ancient bodies lie exposed. No one knows who the bodies are though and there are guesses including a Crusader Knight and a nun.
6. Ghostbus Tour of Dublin
The Ghostbus tour takes you through Dublin’s dark side with tales and legends from Dublin’s dark history including lessons in body-snatching. You will visit a hidden graveyard and the medieval vaults beneath Dublin Castle. Your ghostly tour guides are so good you may not know where the truth ends or begins.
7. Gravedigger Tour
The Gravedigger tours are the Classic Gravedigger Ghost Bus or the new Gravedigger Ghost Ship Bus. These tours cost around €28 Per person which includes a free shot at the Gravediggers pub and a free Haunted History Dublin walking tour.
Travel back in time to plague-ridden Dublin and the ancient Augustinian Priory, visit “hell” at St. Audeons Gate and visit the haunting Kilmainham Gaol. At the end of the tour, you are treated to a shot at the Gravediggers Pub near Glasnevin Cemetery which is not only haunted by ghosts but the occasional celebrity who turns up for a pint of the black stuff.
8. Zombie Bus Tour
Want to survive the zombie apocalypse then climb aboard the ZombieBus a custom-built Virtual Reality Zombie Bus and take a drive along the infected River Liffey. Stopping for a much-needed rest in one of Dublin’s most infamous truck stop diners you will fight off the zombies as they try to break into the diner. A pretty cool 3-d virtual reality experience.
Hidden Dublin Ghost Tours
9. Northside Ghost Walk of Dublin
Hidden Dublin Tours takes you through 1000 years of history starting in Oxmantown the former Viking stronghold. Tales of “hanging judges” and a visit to the most haunted houses in Dublin on Hendrick Street.
“And what of the haunted hospital? Ghostly nurses have been seen all the way down the block. Could they be the reason for office chairs spinning by themselves in an adjacent building? Or electronic toys turning on and off by themselves? “
10. Haunted History Walking Tour
Ireland is, of course, one of the most haunted places on earth and tales of ghosts and the supernatural have kept many an Irish folk entertained over the centuries. The Haunted History tour takes you through the ancient cobbled streets of Dublin and into the stories of an 18th-century witch Madame Darkey Kelly, the tragedy of the Green Lady of St. Audoen’s, the gates of the Hellfire club and much more.
Ireland is, of course, one of the most haunted places on earth, and tales of ghosts and the supernatural have kept many an Irish folk entertained over the centuries. This tour takes you through the ancient cobbled streets of Dublin and into the stories of an 18th-century witch Madame Darkey Kelly, the tragedy of the Green Lady of St. Audoen’s, the gates of the Hellfire Club, and much more.
Interestingly Hidden Dublin Tours are the only haunted tour in Dublin that are associated with the Organization for Paranormal Study and Investigation Ireland.
12. Spirits of Meath
Spirits of Meath Festival 2022 will run from 1st October to 6th November.
According to legend, Samhain, the ancient Celtic Festival that we now call Halloween, originated here in Co. Meath in the Boyne Valley. Samhain was said to mark the harvest and a time of transition, with feasting and celebration as the long winter nights approached. To this day the Boyne Valley has remained the home of Halloween, the modern equivalent of Samhain. Whether is ‘Fun by Day’ or ‘Fright by Night’, spine-tingling fun awaits for young and old alike in the Spirits of Meath festival. Enter if you dare!
Galway Aboo Halloween Festival 2022
Something spooktacular is taking place in Galway this Halloween Bank Holiday Weekend. On Saturday and Sunday of the October bank holiday weekend, the city’s medieval streets will host many fun and free events planned for the weekend with high spirits guaranteed. The fiendishly creative Macnas Halloween Parade is expected to return once again in Halloween 2022 but has yet to be confirmed.
Have you celebrated Samhain or Halloween in Ireland? Where did you go to find the best celebration of Samhain?
And just to convince you to visit more of Ireland here are a few more articles you can read.
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