Halloween in Ireland celebrating Samhain
Updated August 2021
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.
Where did Halloween in Ireland start?
- Halloween in Ireland celebrating Samhain
- Where did Halloween in Ireland start?
- Irish Halloween traditions
- Halloween in Ireland Samhain Traditions
- 13 Halloween Celebrations in Ireland
- Halloween in Ireland – Derry 2021
- Hidden Dublin Ghost Tours
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 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.
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 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.
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 2021
With all that happened in the world in the past 17 months, we didn’t get to celebrate but this year’s Halloween in Ireland is going to be epic.
This year, Derry Halloween will unfold across five different Worlds, each representing a different spirit of Samhain. Three of the Worlds are located in the city itself, one in Donegal and one in Strabane. 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 showcases music and mischief to fill the imagination.
World 1 ~ The Whispering Wharf
Queens Quay, Foyle Embankment
As the chilling winds rise from the sea to greet her, Cailleach Queen of Winter, Goddess of the Cold, and winds will lead visitors through Samhain storytelling and the ghost stories that haunt both our World and the World Beyond The Walls.
World 2 ~ The City of Bones
Guildhall Square, The Diamond
Prepare yourself to meet Walter de Burgh and his ancestors as they haunt the confines of the Walled City, turning it into their very own ‘City of Bones’. With installations and guises to chill even the coldest of hearts, the spirit of this starved knight will be welcomed by the people of Derry as they embrace Samhain.
World 3 ~ The Awakening & The Forest of Shadows
Ebrington Square | St. Columb’s Park
As the veil between this world and the next decays, the days of Samhain and Halloween open the door for an Awakening. Portals emerge allowing eager crowds to move through the Samhain circle. As ominous spirits appear… waiting.
Drifting along the banks of the Foyle, nothing is what it seems as you enter the lair of Phantom Queen Morrigan. Welcoming you with dancing flames and hypnotic, mesmerizing displays, luring you into the depths of the forest. Beware of paths lined with shape-shifting creatures and shadows that disguise whatever Queen Morrigan desires.
This was the Wakening of the Walls in Derry in 2020 – celebrating Halloween in Ireland in 2021 is going to be epic.
World 4 ~ The Haunting
Spooky shenanigans are set to return to Strabane this autumn as Halloween descents on the town once again. A gruesome program of animation and festivities will occur around the town. The Halloween Hay trail will be around the district from 15th – 31st October. There will be a spooktacular firework display which you can watch from the safety of your home on Sunday 31st October. As the veil between our world and the world of spirits begins to slip, we will know more about what lies in wait. Keep your wits about you, and your eyes peeled.
World 5 ~ The Ancients
Strategically positioned between Derry and Donegal is the ancient heritage site of An Grianán of Aileach Fort. Among the many legends linked to An Grianan Fort is the story that the ancient Red Branch Knights of Ulster (An Croabh Rua) lie sleeping in full battle armour under the hill, ready to ride forth at Ireland’s moment of greatest need. Be prepared as they ready themselves to ride forth to Swan Park Buncrana, where you can experience legends, lore, and characters associated with the Red Branch Knights. Imagine how they might march again towards Lough Swilly on Halloween night, telling and reliving their stories.
2. The Púca festival
The Púca festival is back for 2021 and will take place this year in Ireland’s Ancient East. Púca’s programme of events will centre around the locations of Drogheda, Trim, and Athboy. The festival will be one of music and light, complemented by rich harvest-inspired food experiences. According to organizers, 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 surroundings 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. On 1 November, All Saints Day, the spirits make their way back to the Otherworld leaving us safe for another year. When Púca returns Drogheda will play host to Farewell to the Spirits, a huge parade, fire, and feast spectacular over and around the Boyne River.
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.
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.
11. 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.)
12. Spirits of Meath
Fingers are crossed for the Spirits of Meath Festival for 2021. The events may include 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, 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!
13. 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.
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’s a few more articles you can read.
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