Halloween is fast approaching and what better place to spend your Halloween break than in Ireland – as this is where this festival is said to have originated! So if you’re up for fancy dress parties, bonfires, fireworks, festivals and all things spooky, then there is nowhere better to be at Halloween than in Ireland.
During Halloween in Ireland you’ll find some ancient traditions and customs still practised here – so come and experience them for yourself. Here’s a little guide to Halloween in Ireland so you can brush up on your knowledge of one of the world’s oldest festivals before you join the Halloween celebrations in Ireland!
The celebration of Halloween started in Ireland around 100AD. Back then, Halloween was a pagan festival celebrated by the Celts of Ireland who called it “Samhain”, an old Irish word meaning the ‘end of Summer’. They believed that on the eve of Samhain (Halloween), the dead spirits would revisit the mortal world, so huge bonfires were lit to keep away any evil spirits. It is known in Gaelic as ‘Oíche Shamhna’ and is celebrated on the 31st of October each year, which is All Souls Day, so in Ireland it is often referred to as the Feast of the Dead.
Here are just some of the Irish Halloween traditions which are still very much alive today.
The Pumpkin at Halloween
In Ireland, the Pumpkin traditionally known as the Jack O Lantern, is a carved out pumpkin whose top and stem have been removed. The shell is then carved normally in the shape of a scary face which is then lit up by placing a candle inside.
There are many stories of how the Jack O Lantern custom came about in Ireland. One old tale says it was as a result of a blacksmith called Jack who crossed the devil. He made the devil promise he would not go to hell, but when he was denied entry to heaven, he was left to wander the earth. He told the devil he could not wander about forever in the dark and the devil tossed him an ember from the fires of hell, so Jack placed this in a hollowed out turnip. From that day, Jack roamed the earth using his Jack O Lantern to light the way so you might spot him when you visit Ireland this Halloween!
It is said that when the Irish immigrated to the States they took this Halloween tradition with them, but instead of using turnips, then began to use pumpkins as they were much more plentiful!
Irish Halloween Food: The Barnbrack
This traditional Halloween cake is a fruit bread. What’s special about this bread though, is that various things are baked inside the bread such as a coin, a rag, a ring and a thimble! The bread is then shared out among family members and eaten very carefully. Each of the items in the cake signify different things, for example if you got the ‘rag’ it meant that you’d be poor, the coin – rich, the thimble meant you would never marry and the ring meant that you would find romance and be happy ever after – so, of course, everyone wants to find the ring!
At Halloween in Ireland the shelves at the local supermarket are packed with every kind of Barnbrack, but nowadays it’s only possible to buy one that contains a ring!
Ireland’s Halloween Bonfire
The Halloween tradition of the bonfire in Ireland is said to also have originated during Pagan times when the Celts lit huge fires on the hills so the spirits could find their way. It was also said that these fires would help to keep away evil spirits. Another old Irish Halloween tale says that if you drop a strand of your hair into the flames and dream of your future husband or wife to be, you’re dreams will come true!
Bonfires are a huge part of the Halloween festivities in Ireland and are lit in both rural areas and towns throughout the country. They are built from all sorts of materials and some take days of preparation!
Trick or Treat in Ireland
This old Irish Halloween custom originated centuries ago when the poor would go round to the rich peoples houses and ask for food or money, which they would then use for their celebration of Halloween. Nowadays, children dress up in scary costumes and go house to house trick or treating, arriving home with bags of goodies which they use for their Halloween party.
Halloween fun & games
There are many games associated with Halloween. Apples are a traditional Halloween fruit as they were very plentiful in October. These games are still played today.
One of the most popular Halloween games in Ireland is ‘Snap Apple’. In this game an apple is hung from the ceiling and the children are blindfolded. The first one to take a bite from the apple wins! This game can also be played by putting apples into basin of water. The first person to lift out an apple by grabbing the stem with their teeth is the winner.
Another Halloween custom involves peeling an apple in one long strip. Then throw the peel over your left shoulder and try to figure out what letter it resembles. The initial will be the first letter of the name of you future spouse!
If you’re in Ireland during Halloween then you might like to sample some traditional Halloween foods. Try some Colcannon, it’s a tasty savoury dish which consists of potatoes, cabbage, onions, butter, milk, salt and pepper. Other foods such as nuts are also hugely popular at Halloween (especially hazelnuts, monkey nuts and peanuts), corn on the cob and, of course, apples!
Over the past number of years, people have begun decorating their homes more and more for Halloween with ghosts, ghouls, witches, goblins and harvest displays. Some of the bigger cities may have authorised firework displays, but be aware that to buy fireworks or bring fireworks into Ireland is illegal and the penalties severe.
There are Halloween celebrations in towns all over Ireland, but if you want to really get into the spirit of Halloween, then we recommend you head for Derry city in Northern Ireland or Dublin city for two of the best Halloween parades in the country!
Remember that Halloween in Ireland is a busy time as it’s celebrated on a bank holiday weekend, and kids are on a ‘mid-term-break’ from school so plan your Halloween break now and book your accommodation!
If you’ve been to Ireland for Halloween and have any stories, comments, or tips on where to go, just drop us a line below. Happy Halloween!