The festivities of Halloween in Irish flair find their foundation in another Gaelic celebration and event celebrated by the Celtic Pagans. As the Celtic traditions include the wondrous world of Irish history, Halloween holds a special place in the spirit of Ireland’s holidays. There are many Irish Halloween traditions that you may not be aware of.
While each country has its own traditions, I found it fascinating to dive into the Halloween traditions in Ireland. They’re all very different from the ones I celebrate in America, and it’d be fun to visit Ireland around this time of year sometime.
That said, let’s dive into these 11 Irish Halloween traditions.
Halloween History Ireland – The Spooky Origin
While the candy conglomerates and costume-loving fanatics have taken over this holiday, this spooky spectacle originates from the Celtic (a fun Irish fact).
This event, filled with glowing bonfires and costumes, was known as Samhein in Ireland. The festival marked the beginning of the colder winter months and would allow humans and entities from the spirit world to collide for one night.
This was why people dressed in various interesting garb (such as an animal costume) to remain undercover from mystical creatures that roamed the earth during this time. The burning bonfires were also used to ward off ill-spirited entities, such as witches or ghosts that hunt at night.
During this dark and turbulent night, it was often stated that predictions and prophecies could be made due to its spiritual and otherworldly undertone. People also believed live sacrifices and tributes in the fire would help them seek answers from beyond.
Note: If you have a fancy for things that go bump in the night, make sure you go on this Dublin ghost tour to enjoy the scarier things in life.
Halloween in Ireland – Quirky Things Irish Celts Do
Are you looking to learn about the strange and uncanny ancient stories and traditions of an Ireland Halloween? We’ll guide you through the mysterious past of this supernatural — yet fun-filled — event’s history to uncover the terrific past (sometimes present) traditions of the Irish.
1. Preparing a Dumb Supper
A Dumb Supper was traditionally seen as the dinner that would be eaten in complete silence. So, the term “dumb” in this traditional feast refers to the omission of sound rather than a silly meal.
The menu usually includes favorite nibbles of loved ones that have recently passed to the world of the undead. This is also why the fires in the Samhain played such a pivotal role in the ritual, as this glowing beacon would usually lead the spirits to their families for a visit.
With photos of commemoration and plates set for the ones you’ve lost, this tradition is quite a warm-hearted event to feel a connection between the deceased and the living.
2. Eating Colcannon & Barmbrack
When it comes to Halloween, Ireland goes all out with interesting food concoctions. A mix of curly cabbage, raw onions, and potatoes, the hearty splendors of a Colcannon is commonly eaten before the festivities of Halloween.
See something shiny in your food? Coins were traditionally placed in this dish (usually wrapped in paper) for children to find as a treasure on Halloween.
Barmbrack is a fruit cake loaf, which can be described as a type of sweet and tasty bread eaten as a treat (or trick). Much like the Colcannon, the Barmbrack is filled with things for the family to find to predict their future.
If a family member finds a rag, this is usually seen as an indication of troubles ahead in their financial state. The ring in the bread is said to be a sign of upcoming luck where matters of the heart are concerned, such as romance. The coin’s founder is seen as the lucky person who’ll have good fortune for the rest of the year.
3. Cabbage Picking With a Twist
A fun tradition for any single lady looking for love, Halloween in Ireland means women can take to the cabbage patch fields and predict their romantic future. These local ladies are traditionally blindfolded to make their way through the growing produce and pick the first cabbage they find.
Once the ball of green leafy goodness is pulled, the lady in question can loosen her blindfold to find what’s in store in her future marriage. If the cabbage is found to have a lot of fertile ground stuck to its undercarriage, she’s sure to become betrothed to a husband with a lot of green (money, that is).
After this, the woman has to eat the vegetable to determine whether the partner will be sweet or leave a bitter taste in her mouth during their marriage.
4. Carving a Jack-O-Lantern
While some might regard the staple pumpkin decoration on Halloween as a cute addition to the porch, it has a fascinating history behind its origins. Before the spooky yet cooky faces on this humble vegetable, faces were carved on turnips.
This festively decorated vegetable finds its roots (excuse the pun) in the story of Stingy Jack from Irish folklore. In summary, Stingy Jack played hard and loose with the Devil and was eventually bound to walk the planet in limbo, often referred to as ‘Jack of the Lantern.’
Thus, the tradition found its way to North America, where pumpkins were used instead of the traditional turnip (as it is more common in the region). Instead of the demonic faces used to ward off the malicious spirit of Stingy Jack in Ireland, noways, friendly faces are used on Pumpkins for a more kid-friendly affair during Halloween.
5. Apple Fortune Telling
While pumpkins might be the star produce of Halloween nowadays, the significance of apples was often used in ancient Celtic times to predict a person’s love life. Often associated with sensuality and love, it’s easy to see why people used this fruit to find their chosen path for future romance.
A popular tradition was for an individual to attempt to peel a single apple with one try until it was fully peeled. Once the peel was dropped, it was theorized that the form it takes upon the ground would bear the remembrance of the initial of great love.
Another juicy tradition, which pairs with the apple bobbing game, is when the first apple is bitten, the individual should place it under a pillow before sleeping. This will ensure sweet and melodic dreams for future loved ones (or perhaps a simple headache from its awkward shape).
6. Dressing Up
As mentioned, Samhain is all about bonfires and donning interesting costumes to ward off spirits. Amongst animal skin garb, costumes were also worn with the appearance of devils and evil ghouls to make the actual entities be scared of or come to see them as one of their own.
With ghosts, witches, and scary costumes running around during this late October event, it’s easy to see those old traditions tend to die hard.
If you head out to the pubs in Dublin, you’re sure to see plenty of people in costume on Halloween.
7. Beware of the Fairies – Safety Measures
While in fairytales, fairies are depicted as magical creatures filled with happiness and fairy dust, they have a dark undertone and connotation in Irish folklore. Fairies were known as entities that crept around on Halloween night to select victims and collect their souls to keep.
Luckily, some measures can be put in place to keep these menacing creatures at bay. If you’re in Ireland, be sure to keep a vial of holy water to sprinkle on your farm animals and ensure they don’t get whipped up in the night by fairy friends if you believe in this Irish Halloween tradition.
Tip: If you see yourself as a protector of the people, you can go out on a fantastic Irish night to hunt down the keeper of souls captured throughout the evening. It has been said that if you scoop up the dust from your feet and throw it at fairies, they are bound to release any kept souls.
Traditional Halloween Games in Ireland
Halloween is when the ghosts and ghouls of spook come out to play, from cheerful yet eerie jack-o-lanterns to scary stories that will make you go boo with joy. This is also the perfect opportunity to get some traditional Irish Halloween games going to have some good ol’ fun:
8. A Game of Mischief
As fairies and evil spirits are often to blame for all the wrongdoings on an Irish night on Halloween, youths see this as an opportunity to create some fun-filled carnage. From funny pranks to smashing cabbages, Halloween games in Ireland have always been seen as a young troublemaker’s paradise.
9. Snap Apple
This is quite a popular and fun Irish Halloween tradition to play in a parlor or household. Participants are blindfolded, and their arms are bound to decrease mobility.
Then, players are welcome to try and bite a single hanging apple from a string at head level and see who will be victorious. The winner will either obtain a prize or the great fortune of being the first to marry.
10. Trick or Treat in Irish Tradition
While mentioning this fun activity is usually accompanied by visions of streams of candy, the actual practice has quite an ominous undertone. As peasants were relatively poor, they usually made their way around wealthy homesteads to beg for food or drink.
This practice was derived from poor people receiving baked goods (called soul cakes) from the rich in exchange for praying for their recently deceased loved ones.
11. Shave the Friar
A real testament to the lack of games in ancient times, Shave the Friar could be played with a pile of ash in a cone shape and a shaving of wood at the very top. The game’s objective was to scoop the biggest pile without moving the piece of wood before the solid heap broke down.
Tip: Looking to see some remnants of the Irish Celtics? Take a look at these scenic drives in Ireland to get your fill of the historical wonders of Ireland.
Which of these Irish Halloween traditions do you like best?