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A Spirited Halloween Origin Story in Ireland

by Liz Deslauriers

August 29, 2023

4 minute read

Timing a trip to the island of Ireland during a time of celebration can add an element of excitement. Ireland’s Celtic culture has shaped the country from ancient times through today and that influence is felt in everyday customs and beliefs of the Irish people and especially during traditional holidays.

Ireland, a land of high spirits, deep Celtic roots, and breathtaking landscapes, beckons exploration, from the lively scenes in cities like Dublin and Galway to the haunting beauty of the Irish countryside and dramatic coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way. Imagine experiencing all of that with the added buzz of a beloved holiday. While there’s that big holiday (known for green and Guinness) in March, there’s another you should consider planning your travels around – and this one has been falling at the end of every October in Ireland for more than 2,000 years: Halloween.

Halloween’s Celtic Origins

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Púca Festival

Halloween, known for pumpkins, candy and costumes, has an origin story. And wouldn’t you know, it all comes down to the old ways people observed the transition of the seasons in Ireland.

Samhain (Sow-in) is the name of the over 2,000-year-old Celtic festival that marked the end of the harvest season. The Celts believed that the transition from summer to winter came to its tipping point at the end of the harvest, and with this shift from summer to winter came a thinning of the veils between the living world, the dead, and mysterious beings normally unseen. And so, fearing roaming ghosts, fairies, or hobgoblins they might come across while walking during this transient time of year, the ancient Celts disguised themselves in costumes to confuse or scare away the evil spirits.

When Christianity spread through Ireland, it happened that All Saints’ Day or All-Hallows fell on November 1st, making the night before All-Hallows Eve – or Halloween. The long-held celebration of Samhain crossed with the church year’s holiday and took further root – spreading around the world, especially in the United States and Canada.

Halloween Celebrations

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Cabra Castle

Fast-forward to modern times, where Halloween celebrations in Ireland are grander than ever. You can visit multiple festivals throughout the country, as well as explore Ireland’s castles while there’s an air of spookiness about the land.

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Púca Festival

Púca Festival takes place in County Meath (located just 30 minutes north of Dublin) over several days at the end of October. The days are filled with music, myth, food, folklore, fire, and feasting – a celebration continuing in the spirit of Samhain, as the ancient Celts would mark the end of the harvest season. The name, Púca, stems from a familiar character in Ireland’s story of Halloween: a shape-shifting spirit that roams the night, changing the fortunes of those who cross its path.

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Derry Girls promotion for Derry Halloween

In Derry, also known as Londonderry, explore a complex history while also enjoying the thriving scene of today. Derry Halloween is billed as Europe’s largest Halloween festival, celebrating this age-old holiday with a bang. From fireworks to performances, get ready to be impressed with magical and mischievous festivities within the Walled City of Derry.

Right Place at the Right Time

If you’re ready to discover Ireland, consider lining it up with a festival or holiday. Just make sure you pack a costume (or fancy dress, as the locals call it) if you come for Halloween – you never know if you’ll need it for a celebration or just to ward off the unseen as you explore this captivating and spirited land.

Ready to go? Check out tours of Ireland with Collette.

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