Halloween or Hallow’s Eve has been celebrated in Ireland for thousands of years, dating right back to the time when it was the pagan festival of Samhain. Samhain is not only the Irish word for Halloween, but is also the Irish word for the month of November, which gives us an idea of how significant the ancient Celts considered this time of year.
In this article we are going to explore Halloween in Ireland, why this holiday is so culturally significant across the island, the traditions of October 31st that have stood the test of time.
Oíche Shamhna Shona Duit!
First and foremost, if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in Ireland during Halloween, ‘Oíche Shamhna Shona Duit*’ is an Irish phrase you simply cannot go without! It translates to English as ‘Happy Halloween’ if you’re speaking to a single person.
* Pronunciation: EE-ha HOW-na HUN-a dit
It’s worth noting that if you’re wishing a group of people or more than one person a happy Halloween it changes slightly to ‘Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh*’.
* Pronunciation: EE-ha HOW-na HUN-a DEE-ev
A Brief History of Hallow’s Eve
As mentioned earlier, Halloween is not a new concept here in Ireland. The holiday in facts predates Christianity and the arrival of organised religion in Ireland by a long shot. The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the annual harvest and the transition into the Winter period, hence why October 31st has and always will be Hallow’s Eve.
The ancient Celts celebrated the night with great and bountiful feasts, and crucially lit enormous bonfire in an effort to keep away the spirits of the dead which were thought to awaken during Samhain.
Interestingly, Celtic culture dictates that the transitions between seasons throughout the year are when the boundaries between our world and the worlds of spirits, fairies, and demons are at their weakest.
Samhain in particular was thought to be the time that the boundary between our world and that of the dead was at its most vulnerable, and that spirits could easily cross into our world on October 31st. This vulnerability is where the tradition of handing out candy and other foods was born. Offerings of food and drink were an integral part of the festival of Samhain to keep spirits at bay, as was a seat at the feast table in an effort to appease them and convince them to keep the mischief to a minimum!
Likewise the tradition of dressing up for Halloween dates back to a time when one would need to disguise oneself to hide from these spirits and fairies.
In the next and final section of this article we will take at Halloween in Ireland today, and how many of these traditions dating back to the ancient Celt’s festival of Samhain have survived and been adapted to form what we now know as a typical Halloween.
A Typical Halloween in Modern Ireland
Unsurprisingly, Halloween in modern Ireland is heavily influenced by the pagan festival of Samhain. It is a national holiday or a ‘bank holiday’ here in Ireland and falls in line with the mid-term of the academic year, meaning schoolchildren likely be enjoying some time off no matter what day of the week the holiday falls upon.
Halloween is a time in Ireland where, in a similar vein to American celebrations, kids like to dress up and go trick-or-treating, attend Halloween parties in their costumes, and play traditional Halloween games like apple bobbing, pumpkin carving, and telling spooky ghost stories. Finally an honourable mention for the barmbrack (known in Irish as a ‘bairín breac’) which is a type of yeast bread with sultanas and raisins, a popular staple of Halloween parties and gatherings on October 31st. Traditionally a ring is placed into the bread when it is being baked, and the person who finds this ring in their slice of brack can look forward to good fortune for the year to come!
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