Halloween-origins in Eire

One of our favorite days of the year.  Is is a 

big surprise that the origins came from


IRELAND?  Here are some fun reads 

about the traditions.

Top Ten Irish Traditions for Halloween

 Cathy Hayes @irishcentral October 05,2014 

Photo by: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is said that the celebration of Halloween began in Ireland in about 1000 AD!  So it is no wonder there are so many Irish Halloween traditions that are celebrated around the world every year.  Read on to find out more....

Samhain was seen as the end of summer but also the beginning of another year. It was also the one day of the year when spirits could walk the earth. The community would gather together and light huge fires to ward off bad fortune for the coming year and any evil spirits.


People extinguished their fires at in the hearth at home before they left and would reignite them using an ember from the bonfire, for good luck.  The day after the bonfire the ashes were spread across the fields to further ward off bad luck for the farmers during the year.  

It was also traditionally believed that the bonfire encourages dreams,especially of your future husband or wife. It was said that if you drop a cutting of your hair into the embers of the fire, the identity of your first husband would be revealed.


There are two schools of thought the reasons the Irish carried a Jack-o-lantern. One is that it is an ancient Celtic tradition, which, it turns out, is quite practical. In order to carry home an ember from the communal bonfire, the villagers would hollow out a turnip.  Then they would place a burning ember inside.  Not only could they carry the ember safely home, it illuminated their routes!

This other version is spookier. Jack-o-lanterns date back to the 18th century. They are named after an Irish blacksmith, called Jack, who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry into Heaven. Jack was condemned to walk the earth for eternity but asked the Devill for some light. He was given a burning coal which burnt into a turnip that he had hollowed out. Some Irish believe that hanging a lantern in their front window would keep Jack’s wandering soul away. When the Scot-Irish emigrated to America they adapted the tradition and used a pumpkin instead as it is more difficult to find turnips.


The community would gather around the bonfire and many would be dressed in elaborate animal skins and heads.The idea was that evil spirits would be scared off by the fires. The disguises (or costumes) served another purpose.  If spirits happened to be wandering the earth and bumped into one of the Celts, they might be tricked into believing they were spirits as well, and let them go free. This is where our tradition of dressing up comes from.  


Trick or Treat

Trick or treat originated centuries ago. In Ireland, the poor would go from door to door,  visiting rich peoples homes.  They would ask for food, kindling or money. They would then use what they collected for their celebrations on Halloween. 

Snap apple

There are many games that are played on Halloween night and snap apple or bobbing for apples is one of them.

An apple is suspended from a string and the children are blindfolded and their arms tied behind their backs. The first child to get a decent bit of the apple gets a prize. Bobbing for apples is when some apples are dropped into a basin of water and the children have to go in head first and try to get a bite.

The apples are associated with love and fertility. It is said that whoever gets the first bite will be first to marry. It was also thought that if the girls put the apple they bit, while bobbing, under their pillow that night, they would dream of their future lover.


Samhain marked the end of the final harvest of the summer, and all apples had to have been picked by the time the day's feasting began.

It was believed that on Samhain, the puca – Irish evil fairies– spat on any unharvested apples to make them inedible.

- See more at: http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/origin-of-Halloween.html#sthash.OOitobDY.lPcHfwvj.dpuf


Shaving the Friar


This old game was particularly popular in County Meath.


A pile of ash was put down in the shape of a cone with a piece of wood sticking out of the top. Then each player takes turns trying to digger the largest amount of ash without the pile collapsing. All the while competitors chant:


“Shave the poor Friar to make him a liar;

Cut off his beard to make him afeard;

If the Friar will fall, my poor back pays for all!"


Blind-folded cabbage picking

Blind folded local girls would go out into the field and pull up the first cabbage they stumbled upon. If the cabbage had a lot of clay attached to the roots their future lover would have money. If the girl ate the cabbage the nature of their future husband would be revealed, bitter or sweet.


Anti-Fairy Measures


As we all know fairies and goblin collect souls as the trawl the earth on Halloween night! Here is something you didn’t know! The story goes that if you threw dust from under your feet at the fairy they would release any souls they kept captive. However over the years this legend was changed.




(Pronounced kohl cannon)


This is the traditional dinner to have on Halloween night before you head out for an evening of fun and mischief. It is a simple dish made with boiled potatoes, curly kale (a type of cabbage) and raw onions.


Traditionally coins were wrapped in pieces of cleans paper and slipped into children’s colcannon for them to find and keep. Sometimes people also hide a ring in the colcannon. Whoever finds the ring will be married within the year.



Serves 4



3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered

3 tbsp. milk or unsweetened/plain soy milk

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

2 cups chopped cabbage or kale

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

1/4 cup chopped onions or green onions




Cook potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender. Drain, reserving water.

Place the hot potatoes in a large bowl.

Add chopped cabbage to the reserved potato water. Cook 6-8 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, fry the onions in the butter or margarine.

When they are cool enough to handle, mash potates with a hand masher or fork. Add the fried onions and cabbage.

Add milk, salt and pepper and beat until fluffy.


The Barnbrack


(From the Irish name Bairín Breac)


This is a traditional Irish Halloween cake which essentially a sweet bread with fruit through it as well as some other treats.


Shop-bought barnbracks still contain and ring but if you make it at home and add your own treats it’s even more fun. Each member of the family gets a slice and each prize has different meaning.


The rag – your financial future is doubtful

The coin – you will have a prosperous year

The ring – impending romance or continued happiness

The thimble – you’ll never  marry





2 1/2 cups chopped dried mixed fruit

1 1/2 cups hot brewed tea

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon marmalade

1 teaspoon grated orange zest




Soak the dried fruit in the hot tea for 2 hours, then drain and gently squeeze out excess tea.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch Bundt pan. Stir together the flour cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda; set aside.

Beat the egg, sugar, marmalade, orange zest, and tea-soaked fruit until well combined. Gently fold in the flour until just combined, then pour into the prepared Bundt pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Allow to cool in the pan for 2 hours before removing. Continue to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Press the objects of choice into the cake through the bottom before serving.



The origin of Halloween lies in Celtic Ireland

The dark side of Halloween

To find the origin of Halloween, you have to look to the festival of Samhain in Ireland's Celtic past.

Samhain had three distinct elements. Firstly, it was an important fire festival, celebrated over the evening of 31 October and throughout the following day.

The flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids.

It was also a festival not unlike the modern New Year's Day in that it carried the notion of casting out the old and moving into the new.

To our pagan ancestors it marked the end of the pastoral cycle – a time when all the crops would have been gathered and placed in storage for the long winter ahead and when livestock would be brought in from the fields and selected for slaughter or breeding.

But it was also, as the last day of the year, the time when the souls of the departed would return to their former homes and when potentially malevolent spirits were released from the Otherworld and were visible to mankind.

Samhain: its place in the Celtic calendar

The Celts celebrated four major festivals each year. None of them was connected in anyway to the sun's cycle. The origin of Halloween lies in the Celt's Autumn festival which was held on the first day of the 11th month, the month known as November in English but as Samhain in Irish.

The festivals are known by other names in other Celtic countries but there is usually some similarity, if only in the translation.

In Scottish Gaelic, the autumn festival is called Samhuinn. In Manx it is Sauin.

The root of the word – sam – means summer, while fuin means end. And this signals the idea of a seasonal change rather than a notion of worship or ritual.

The other group of Celtic languages (known as Q-Celtic) have very different words but a similar intention. In Welsh, the day is Calan Gaeaf, which means the first day of winter. In Brittany, the day is Kala Goanv, which means the beginning of November.

The Celts believed that the passage of a day began with darkness and progressed into the light. The same notion explains why Winter – the season of long, dark nights – marked the beginning of the year and progressed into the lighter days of Spring, Summer and Autumn. So the 1st of November, Samhain, was the Celtic New Year, and the celebrations began at sunset of the day before ie its Eve.

The Roman Autumn festival

The original Celtic year

Three young witches prepare for Ireland's biggest Halloween celebrations in Derry.


Samhain marked the end of the final harvest of the summer, and all apples had to have been picked by the time the day's feasting began.

It was believed that on Samhain, the puca – Irish evil fairies (see right hand column) – spat on any unharvested apples to make them inedible.

Harvest was celebrated by the Romans with a festival dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of the fruits of the tree, especially apples. The origin of Halloween's special menus, which usually involve apples (as do many party games), probably dates from this period.

Pomona continued to be celebrated long after the arrival of Christianity in Roman Europe. So, too, did Samhain in Ireland and it was inevitable that an alternative would be found to push pagan culture and lore into a more 'acceptable' Christian event.

Sure enough, the 7th-century Pope Boniface, attempting to lead his flock away from pagan celebrations and rituals, declared 1st November to be All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day.

The evening before became known as Hallows' Eve, and from there the origin of Halloween, as a word, is clear.

The origin of Halloween's spookiness

For Celts, Samhain was a spiritual time, but with a lot of confusion thrown into the mix.

Being 'between years' or 'in transition', the usually fairly stable boundaries between the Otherworld and the human world became less secure so that puka, banshees, fairies and other spirits could come and go quite freely. There were also 'shape shifters' at large. This is where the dark side of Halloween originated.

To ward off the evil let loose at Samhain, huge bonfires were lit and people wore ugly masks and disguises to confuse the spirits and stop the dead identifying individuals who they had disliked during their own lifetime.

They also deliberately made a lot of noise to unsettle the spirits and drive them away from their homes. The timid, however, would leave out food in their homes, or at the nearest hawthorn or whitethorn bush (where fairies were known to live), hoping that their generosity would appease the spirits.

For some, the tradition of leaving food (and a spoon to eat it!) in the home – usually a plate of champ or Colcannon – was more about offering hospitality to their own ancestors.

Just as spells and incantations of witches were especially powerful at Samhain, so the night was believed to be full of portents of the future. 


- See more at: http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/origin-of-Halloween.html#sthash.OOitobDY.dpuf