The History of Irish Halloween

UL Global’s Halloween Trilogy- Part One

The origin of Irish Halloween can be traced back to Celtic times when the celebration of Samhain (sow-win) marked the end of harvest and beginning of winter on November 1st. The night before this celebration was known as Oíche Shamhna (eeha how-na) and was celebrated similarly to how modern day society celebrates New Year’s Eve which marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

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Samhain marks the end of the bright half of the year and the start of the dark half, and was perceived in the past as a brief transitional moment in time where the dead can revisit the mortal world. Old Ireland was hugely superstitious and had many apprehensions surrounding this time of year. Tales of fairies and the púca (ghost) taking people on the eve of Samhain (Halloween) were believed by many and to protect themselves they lit bonfires and made large amounts of noise to scare them away.

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The modern day tradition of dressing up on Halloween originated from another superstitious belief of the past that the ghouls from the ‘otherworld’ would abduct them. As the ghouls would not abduct one of their own, the people of Ireland disguised themselves as witches, goblins and ghosts, etc. to avoid being taken!

The Halloween pumpkin originated from Irish folklore where the tale of Jack the blacksmith was born. Jack worked with the devil during his life on earth and upon his death was denied access in to Heaven, instead being forced to wander the Earth for eternity. Jack asked the devil for some light and was given a lit-lantern to guide him on his way, earning him the name of Jack O’ Lantern.  Irish people commemorated the tale by carving a scary face in to a turnip and placing a candle inside. As time went on and Irish people started immigrating to America, they found an easier to carve and brighter coloured vegetable to use…the pumpkin!

Samhain was a day for feasting, games and dressing up, many of these traditions have lasted the test of time and are still common in Irish households today. Modern day Halloween incorporates many of the old traditions such as Barmbrack; a bread with a hidden ring inside said to act as a fortune teller & the new ones such as, trick or treating. Make sure to read our next article which is part 2 of the Halloween Trilogy series by ULGlobal!

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By Saoirse Hammond


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