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Halloween in Ireland

25 October 2017

Halloween is thought to have originated in Ireland, so it is no surprise that it is a significant and much loved festival there to this day. Celebrated by the Celts as Samhain (pronounced Sow-in or variants there of), it was a time of lowered boundaries between this world and the Otherworld of spirits, fairies, goblins and the dead. The festival became better known as Halloween following the Catholic Church’s designation of the first of November as ‘All Saints Day’ (‘All Hallows’), making the 31st October ‘All Hallows Eve’, but the old community celebrations, beliefs and rituals continued.  Traditions still celebrated in Dublin, the rest of Ireland and worldwide, find their roots in those times and ideas. The people of Ireland also remain committed to celebrating Halloween with much greater aplomb than their British neighbours, making it a really exciting time to visit Dublin.

Spooky traditions

Familiar Halloween traditions such as wearing fancy dress go back a long way. Costumes were worn back then to confuse malevolent spirits as to the identity of the wearer, and perhaps also to befuddle enemies who had died and returned on that night, the dead folk the living would rather were not able to identify them!

Communal bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits and encourage good luck and prophetic dreams. The blurring with the spirit world at Halloween was considered to mean it may be possible to discover news of the year to come and tell people’s fortunes. It was traditionally believed that dropping a lock of hair in the fire will reveal the identity of a young woman’s future husband.

Bonfires remain a major part of Halloween festivities in Ireland, as do fireworks. Where over in Britain the flashes, bangs, ooohs and ahhhs, are reserved for the 5th of November, in Ireland the fires and fireworks happen on or around the 31st October. Many people hold their own fire parties, and Dublin’s city council also hosts a whole range of local bonfires and firework festivals. Check out the council’s Halloween event page for further details.

Halloween treats, eats and future peeks

While over in the UK foods associated with Halloween are mostly confined to sweets given to trick-or-treaters (or perhaps a dish made with pumpkin), in Ireland there are a number of Halloween food traditions practiced to this day. Colcannon, made with mashed potatoes, cabbage, cream and sometimes other additions such as scallions, is especially eaten at this time of year. Often a ring, a thimble, and coins would be hidden in the dish; finding the ring suggested imminent marriage, the thimble bad luck and the coins wealth. A dish of colcannon was also often traditionally left out for fairies, other spirits and the family’s ancestors.

Barmbrack cake is another Halloween food tradition in Ireland. The yeasted cakes are made with raisins and sultanas. Various items may be baked into the barmbracks in another symbolic food-based game of fortune. These include a pea, a stick, and a piece of cloth, as well as the now familiar small coin and ring. As with the items in colcannon, each object carried a meaning for the finder, the pea suggested the finder would not marry that year, the stick that the person would have a difficult or unhappy marriage and the cloth bad luck or poverty, with the small coin and ring carrying the same meanings as when in colcannon.

What to do in Dublin over Halloween

It’s all very well finding out about the festival’s rich Irish history, but what is there to do in Dublin at Halloween in 2017?

In addition to the council’s fire festivals, there are many other large events associated with the celebration across the city. Horror Expo Ireland explores all things gruesome including investigations into the paranormal, storytellers, gothic art and terror-themed special guests. A real gothic adventure, this one is not for the faint-hearted!

If a family-friendly event not based around fireworks is closer to what you’re looking for head to Dublin Zoo for the Spooktacular Halloween Boo featuring creepy arts and crafts, face painting, monster music and spookily themed animal talks.

Barn Dance’s Day of the Dead with a line-up boasting Foals, Dax J and Zombie Nation and Samhain Festival headlined by Liam Gallagher of Oasis, offer a different take on Halloween celebrations near Dublin in the form of large music events.

Alternatively you could visit one (or several) of famous Dublin’s pubs, their hospitality will not disappoint on Halloween, or perhaps even see if you can get an invite to a local house party, the way many locals celebrate.

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