Halloween’s roots in Ireland
The origins of Halloween can be traced back to Ireland and has left us with rich traditions of games, recipes and folklore.
Ireland is the birthplace of Halloween
Spectacular Halloween nights of illuminating firework shows, gory costumes and scary movies can all be traced back to The Feast of Samhain that was celebrated in Ireland’s Ancient East over 2,000 years ago. The festival marked the end of the harvest season and welcomed the darkness of winter.
During this Pagan festival, worshippers believed that the barrier between this world and the next was at its thinnest, allowing demons and the Lord of the Underworld to cross over. To ward off the evil spirits, people dressed in frightening costumes and lit bonfires, traditions that are kept alive to this day. The annual Púca Festival takes place online this year and you can watch the lighting of the Samhain fires from the comfort of your own home on Halloween night.
Every household in Ireland is encouraged to light a Jack O’Lantern at 8pm on October 31st to remember Ireland as the home of Halloween. Connect with family and friends around the country through the Lighting of Lantern celebration and come together in this special moment of peace and unity.
Halloween activities at home
We might not be able to go Trick-or-Treat or celebrate in large groups like we normally would, however, there are still some exciting fun games and traditions that we can enjoy at home.
Carve a Jack-o’-lantern
We all know and love the creative cravings that adorn doorsteps and windowsills at this time of year. Pumpkin carving has become one of the most popular Halloween activities in recent times. You might be surprised to know that this is also an Irish creation. While pumpkins were quite rare in Ireland in the 1800s, people carved scary faces into turnips, beets and parsnips.
Nowadays they are used as a way to decorate our home, Jack-o’-lanterns or Will-o’-the-wisps were originally used to ward off unwelcome visitors around Halloween. As Irish people emigrated to America, they brought this tradition with them where it has since gone on to become a cornerstone of any Halloween celebration.
Find a large pumpkin and carve it this Halloween. Let the little ones draw frightening designs on the pumpkin with markers and have an adult carefully carve it out. What design will you make with your family this year?
Bake a delicious barmbrack
Cutting into a freshly baked barmbrack and hoping to find a ring inside is a treasured childhood memory for lots of us. This uniquely Irish treat, its name meaning speckled bread, was served at The Feast of Samhain. In the olden days, there was a penny hidden somewhere in the cake and whoever found it was destined to become rich.
Bake a barmbrack with the family this Halloween. Celebrity chef Catherine Fulvio makes her barmbrack by combining sultanas, mixed spices, eggs, butter, sugar, flour and tea. Bake for 30 minutes at 160˚C for the perfect Halloween treat. Don’t forget to hide the ring or add a family trinket and start your own tradition.
Decorate your windows with ghastly designs
Give your neighbours a fright with some decorative Halloween window delights. Use colourful card, markers and crayons to create scenes of monsters hunting, ghosts haunting and witches flying through the sky and place them in your window for passers by. Cover your windows in spider webs and make your neighbours think that your house has become possessed.
Really embrace Halloween at home this year and watch a spooky movie with the family. Make it extra special by whipping up some tasty toffee apples and dressing up as a scary ghost, frightening witch or any other devilish costume.
Bob for apples
Apple bobbing is a Halloween tradition that can be traced back almost 2,000 years. As the Romans invaded Britain they also learned of Celtic traditional festivals and games. To help build friendships and trust they decided to merge some of their customs and created apple bobbing.
It was believed at the time that if a woman went apple bobbing and caught one with one bite, she would be allowed to marry. If she slept with the apple under her pillow she would dream of her husband-to-be.
Pick up some apples from your local market and place them in a large basin of water, get your family members to put their hands behind their backs and take turns at bobbing for apples. Whoever gets the most apples is the winner and becomes the family champion and the person to beat next year.
On barren hillsides, in greying woods and isolated peninsulas across the country, there are creepy and haunted buildings waiting to be explored, if you dare.
Hellfire Club, Dublin
Venture into the Dublin Mountains in south County Dublin and seek out the infamous Hellfire Club. The stone building has taken on many roles throughout its lifetime, but none more wicked than when it was a hub of satanic rituals and black magic. During the meetings in the club, its believed that attendees always set an extra place at the table, hoping the devil himself would appear.
The main forest gravel roads make it easy for young kids to come along for the walk to the Hellfire Club on Montpellier Hill and you can challenge teens to a hike on the forest paths, both lead to open views of Dublin Bay.
Leap Castle, Offaly
Deep in the Offaly countryside lies Ireland’s most haunted castle with a long and bloody history. The eerie Leap Castle is home to the Ryan family who share the building with ghosts and spirits. Built after a gruesome trial between warring chieftains, the castle has also hosted Druid initiation ceremonies. The owners speak of footsteps walking around the castle, murmurs of ghostly conversations and even feeling ghosts touch them on their shoulders.
Older kids and teens love the thrill of wandering the grounds of the haunted building and if you have smaller ones there’s a fairy ringfort just down the road. Look from a distance and delight them with fanciful tales of tiny fairies and magical happenings.
Charles Fort, Cork
At a fortified structure on the Old Head of Kinsale is one of Cork’s greatest ghost stories. Packed with soldiers to help fight off potential invasions, Charles Fort’s history was changed by the Warrender family. The daughter of Colonel Warrender fell in love with a soldier and married him, soon after her husband fell asleep while on duty and was shot by the Colonel. Upon hearing the news, she climbed out of a window and jumped to her death. Stories of a ghost wearing a wedding dress still haunt Charles Fort.
The walk around Charles Fort and the incredible views of Kinsale Harbour makes for a great family excursion this Halloween for Cork locals.
You don’t have to look too hard to find scary tales at Halloween, there are ghastly places to explore in lots of our local towns and cities.
Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin and online
The world famous vampire, Dracula has his roots in Ireland. Dreamt up by Bram Stoker, his story of the bloodthirsty creature has gone on to become feared worldwide. The legend of Dracula lives on in Dublin with the equally entertaining and devilish Bram Stoker Festival.
Lead the kids on a self-guided audio tour as you explore the hidden and wicked corners of the city. Learn all about the author with an interview with one of his living relatives, Darce Stoker and play Curse Hunters with the kids, an interactive game played on your smartphone.
Ghosts and witches in Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile
Having the untoward recognition of being Ireland’s most haunted town, Kilkenny is alive at this time of year with stories of the dead. Set off on a journey across the cobbled streets of the Medieval Mile with Kilkenny Ghost Tours to hear of the curse of Sir Richard Shee and visit the Kilkenny Old Jail.
The city is synonymous with witches and none more so than Alice Kyteler. Known for making offerings to dark lords in the town and running wild with her imp, she fled to England for safety while her aide was burnt at the stake. The Kyteler Inn in Kilkenny still bears her name and according to some, is haunted.
Ghostly battlefield in Aughrim, Galway
Ghosts don’t limit their activity to just houses and cities, they can be found anywhere particularly in Aughrim, Galway. In the Battle of Aughrim, Jacobite soldiers were slaughtered by the Williamites where their bodies lay for over a year. Their ghosts still haunt the hilly landscape and at night their cries can be heard across the land.
Halloween will be a little bit different this year, but it’s a great opportunity to start new traditions. Bake a barmbrack, tell ghost stories, explore haunted streets with your family and watch spectacular bonfires online with Púca Festival - get ready to embrace this ancient celebration.