Celebrating Samhain in Ireland

Samhain is, of course, the precursor to Halloween and it is the rituals of  Halloween – Samhain 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.

Halloween in Ireland

Where did Halloween in Ireland start?

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.”

Halloween in Ireland

It was in the 8th century that 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.

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 Irish Halloween traditions 

Traditional Irish Samhain/Halloween Dinner

The traditional Irish dinner is a 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.

Halloween dinner in Ireland

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.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

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.

In Mexico, they celebrate the Day of the Dead around the same time as Halloween, but it isn’t a Halloween festival

Samhain Traditions

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 the 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.

celebrating Samhain or halloween in Ireland with fires

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, there are two hills in the Boyne Valley that are associated with Samhain, Tlachtga, and Tara. Tlachtga was the location of the Great Fire Festival which begun 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.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

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.

celebrating Halloween in Ireland at Newgrange
©Our Irish Heritage

Newgrange is an amazing place to visit and see the solstice sun re-enactment

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 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.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

18 Halloween Celebrations in Ireland

1. Derry the best place in the world to celebrate Halloween

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

Otherwise known as being a city of song and dance, rich in history with a reputation for a good night out, the Halloween celebrations fuse the best of Derry together – starting with the 17th-century city walls that give it its nickname, the Walled City (Derry is the only fully intact walled city in Ireland). While they’ve often been seen as a divisive symbol in a city largely populated by Irish nationalists, now the Halloween “wakening of the walls” – which see them brought to life with art projections and nearby parades – has given them a new significance. from the Independent Newspaper

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

2. The Púca festival

The Púca festival will take place this year in Ireland’s Ancient East from 30 October to 1st of November. Púca’s programme of events will centre around the counties of Meath and Louth. The festival will be one of music and light, complemented by rich harvest-inspired food experiences. According to organisers, it will celebrate a time when “light turns to dark, the veil between realities draws thin, rules can be broken and the spirits move between worlds.”

County Meath’s stunning and historic Trim Castle and its surrounds become the spectacular stage for three supernatural nights of music, light & Halloween fun kicking off on the 30th of October. As dusk falls join the Samhain Procession as it weaves its way through the streets of Trim making its way to the Castle. The very best in contemporary Irish music line-up for three massive Púca Festival nights in a specially erected tent on Porchfield.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

The Festival will take place in and around Trim and Athboy, Co. Meath, and Drogheda, Co. Louth more information on activities and events for this festival can be found on the Curated Places website.

dressed up for Halloween in Ireland
©Curated Places

2. 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 are something for everyone, family-friendly adventures and late-night events including performances, theatre, literary and film events and Victorian fun parks.

3. 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, fisherman, 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.

celebrating Halloween in Ireland at the most haunted pub
©Grace Neill’s Bar

4. 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 DraculaAlthough you really need to visit Whitby Cathedral where the life of Dracula really began to come into focus for Stoker.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

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. 

5. 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. 

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

6. 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.

Halloween in Ireland and having a drink at the Gravediggers pub near Glasnevin
John Kavanagh also known as the Gravedigger pub

7. 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

8. Northside Ghost Walk of Dublin

Hidden Dublin Tours takes you through a 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. 

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

“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? “

9. 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. 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. 

celebrating halloween in Ireland
©Gravedigger Tour

Interestingly Hidden Dublin Tours are the only haunted tour in Dublin that are associated with the Organization for Paranormal Study and Investigation Ireland. 

10. Hellfire Club Tour

High up in the Dublin mountains lurks the infamous Hellfire Club ruins. Long associated with Satanism and the supernatural your guides will whisper the hidden secrets of this eerie haunted place. 

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

11. Vaults Live

This is a new visitor attraction in Dublin and it takes you through a gruesome journey of the horrors of Irish history. An interactive show based on 800 years of history that includes live performances, special effects and theatre the Vaults brings to life 6 scenes from Irish History.  A Cromwellian torture chamber, the crypt of a Dublin church, a Viking settlement, Bandon courtroom, medieval apothecary and what was once Europe’s biggest red-light district, Monto, in the heart of Dublin. 

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

12. Dockers & Demons festival

The Dockers & Demons festival takes place again this year in the Irishtown, Ringsend and Docklands area of Dublin. Choose from the curious cabaret, a zombie teen disco, freaky funhouse, seniors’ Halloween monster’s ball, and loads more. The festival ends with the Dockers & Demons parade and street party, on Thorncastle Street (Warning: watch out for the banshee.)

13. Ghoulsley’s Manor

Cuskinny Court has been hit by a 200-year-old curse, unleashing mischief and turning the estate home into a murky manor. “We’ve never seen anything quite like the curse of the purple pumpkin in east Cork,” says Caitriona Johansson of Ghoulsley’s Manor. “It’s quite spooky and funny to see the curse take hold, and we are inviting children to come and experience this imaginative, interactive Halloween experience this October.”

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain
©Lord Ghoulsley pictured at Lord Ghoulsley’s Manor, Cuskinny Court in Cobh.

14. Spirits of Meath

Lots of events including a House of Horrors; Farmaphobia, Terrifying Treasure Trails; PookaSpooka during the day, and spine-tingling spooky-themed nights.

Tales tell us that the Samhain festival began on top of the hill of Tlachtga, now called the Hill of Ward, one mile east of Athboy, Co. Meath. It was believed that Tlachtga was closely linked to the spirit world and it was from here that the sacred Samhain fire was lit and carried to seven other hills around the county including Tara, Loughcrew and then on to light up Ireland’s Ancient East and beyond. To this day the Boyne Valley has remained the home of Halloween. Spine-tingling fun and events awaits for young and old alike in the Spirits of Meath festival, enter if you dare!

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

15. Galway Halloween Festival

Something spooktacular is taking place in Galway this Halloween Weekend. On Saturday and Sunday of the October bank holiday weekend, the city’s medieval streets will host the country’s biggest Halloween Festival with many fun and free events planned for the weekend with high-spirits guaranteed. The highlight of the festival is expected to be the fiendishly creative Macnas Halloween Parade that will wind its way through Galway city centre on Sunday of the bank holiday weekend from approximately 5.30pm and spectators are encouraged to dress up.too!.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

16. Ghosts in the Glens Storytelling Festival in various locations

The Ghosts in the Glens Storytelling Festival is a four-day celebration of the rich traditions of storytelling and music in the Glens of Antrim. This is a storytelling and music festival with sessions being held from Ballycastle and Rathlin Island to Carnlough, Cushendun, Cushendall, and Glenariff. It includes workshops for those looking to develop their storytelling skills along with special children’s activities.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain

17. Halloween Spooktacular in Antrim

This year’s theme is Day of the Dead and little ghosts, goblins and ghouls are invited to come along in their scariest costumes. Join Stephen, Cate and the Q Radio roadshow to see who picks up the bag full of tricks and treats for the best dressed. Be mesmerised by the Wicked Wonder boxes and watch real-life mannequins come to life. Visitors can have a shriek of a time on the ghost train, mingle with scary street performers and enjoy the end of the night as an explosion of colour illuminates the night sky in a spectacular fireworks extravaganza.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain
©Ballymena Daily

18. Halloween Walking Tour of Newtownards

Take a terrifying walking tour to uncover ghostly goings-on in the run-up to All Hallows Eve. Discover, if you dare, dreadful things lurking in this historic town. It is a terrific tour for all the family and fancy dress is encouraged. Booking is essential. The tour departs on foot from Ards Arts Centre, Town Hall, Conway Square, Newtownards.

Halloween in Ireland 18 perfect ways to celebrate Samhain
©Visit Ards and North Down

Have you celebrated Samhain or Halloween in Ireland?

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