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The origins of quirky Irish Halloween traditions

Posted on: 2019-10-30 12:43:08
Halloween pumpkins

The origins of quirky Irish Halloween Traditions 


In Ireland, it widely acknowledged that we have some very unique traditions when it comes to marking occasions and Halloween is no different. In fact, the occasion of Halloween itself has some deeply embedded Irish roots as it actually originated from the Irish Celts. The Celts celebrated the festival ‘Samhain’ on the 31st of October each year marking the passing from Summer to Winter. They believed that on this night, the veil between our world and the next world was particularly thin, allowing spirits to pass between the two. The now over 2000-year-old festival has gone on to shape many Halloween traditions both in Ireland and around the world.

We’ve taken a look back at some of the games, activities and customs that have become associated with celebrating Halloween in Ireland or ‘Oíche Shamhna’ as it is otherwise known.


Dressing up in Costumes

Dressing up in frightening costumes is known as fun activity for people of all ages to engage in during Halloween, donning a mask and costume and stepping out as a spooky, mystical version of themselves but in fact it was the Celts who began this tradition and they actually had a very good reason for doing so. They would use animal skins, foliage, and anything they could find to disguise themselves from evil spirits which were likely to be lurking around on the notorious night.


The Barmbrack Cake

Another signature ritual of Halloween on Irish shores. Barmbrack is a traditional fruit cake served at Halloween but there’s a twist. Hidden within the cake are some unsuspecting items – a rag, a coin and a ring! Find the rag buried within your slice and it’s a sign that your financial future is looking unsteady, find the coin and you’re likely to become very rich. Find the ring and you’re bound for a future filled with romance or continued happiness. Which would you choose?!


The Pumpkin – Originally a turnip!

Carved pumpkins may signature the symbol associated with Halloween today but in fact this was not always so. The ritual of carving pumpkins goes once again back to Celtic times. As the Celts thought that evil spirits were likely to be looming around during Halloween or ‘Samhain’ as they knew it, they lit large bonfires to keep these spirits away. Towards the end of the night in order to keep on deterring the spirits, they would often carry hoe an ember from the fire and let it continue burning – but not in a pumpkin, rather in a turnip! Yes, the humble Irish vegetable was the original symbol associated with the festival. It was only when the Irish later emigrated to the USA, that they carried the tradition with them but began to replace turnips with pumpkins as these were more readily available.


 The Bonfire

As previously mentioned, the bonfire was adapted from Celtic times where they lit the large fires in order to deter evil spirits during the festival of Samhain. Along with this, bonfires were also associated with dreaming who your future husband or wife would be! One cut a small piece of their hair, throw it into the fire and then dream of their future loved one! Please note, we do not encourage this!

 Colcannon for Dinner

Another staple of the traditional Halloween meal. Mashed potato, curly kale (a type of cabbage) and raw onions were mashed together to make colcannon. The most likely explanation for this vast consumption of potatoes in Ireland in the past! For extra luck, coins would be wrapped in baking paper and hidden amongst the potatoes for children to find and keep!


Have you got any unusual Halloween traditions? We would love to hear them!