In this blog, we're going to explore the origins and traditions of Halloween. You'll even learn how to make some Irish Halloween recipes. Keep reading to find out more.

Do Irish People Celebrate Halloween?

Even though Coronavirus has paused much of normal life in 2020, Halloween is still a big deal in Ireland.

πŸ‘» Children Go Trick or Treating in their Local Neighbourhood

πŸŽ† Fancy Dress Parties and Firework Displays Are Popular

πŸŽƒ People Carve Pumpkins and Illuminate Them

πŸ’€ Homes and Stores are Decorated with Pumpkins, Skulls and Skeletons

In fact, Halloween in Ireland bears many similarities to celebrations in USA and Canada.

What's Different About Halloween in Ireland?

πŸ₯” People Eat Traditional Halloween Foods like Barm Brack and Colcannon (find recipes below)

πŸŽƒ Pumpkins aren't the only Jack O'Lanterns - Turnips Were Traditionally Carved in Ireland Too!

πŸ§šβ€β™€οΈ Halloween in Ireland is linked to pre-Christian beliefs in the afterlife and supernatural beings

πŸ—“οΈ Samhain is not only still the Irish word for Halloween, it's also the Irish word for the month of November.

Halloween is SUCH a big deal in Ireland that it's actually a national holiday. Banks, businesses and government offices all close down. This happens on the closest Monday in October to the 31st. Schools close for at least one week.

So, where does Halloween come from?

This Halloween, when you're lighting up your pumpkins, spare a thought for your Irish and Celtic ancestors. They helped create the popular holiday we know today.

Masked tour group in Ireland

A Vagabond Tour group get into the spririt of Halloween on tour in Ireland

Halloween began as a pagan celebration over 1000 years ago. In Ireland, Scotland and other pre-Christian Celtic societies, the major winter festival was known as Samhain (pronounced SAH-WUN).

November in Ireland, with its long, dark, winter nights, symbolised the beginning of the Celtic year. It was believed that the gap between the real world and the ghost world became blurred.

Fairies, pΓΊkas (ghosts), banshees and other spirits slipped into our world at this time to make mischief.

Halloween has always been spooky!

Why Is Halloween Still Celebrated?

Ireland wasn't fully converted to Christianity until medieval times. As early Christian monks like Saint Patrick spread the gospels, the church associated Christian holy days with major pagan festivals.

1st November became All Saints Day or All Hallows Day - a day to pray for all Christian saints.

The night before All Hallows Day was Hallow's Evening. In time, this phrase was shortened to... Hallowe'en!

Foyle Derry fireworks in Ireland at Halloween
Fireworks over Derry in Ireland at night

Traditional Halloween Lives On in Ireland

Halloween in Ireland is still believed by some to be a time for communing with spirits.

To keep evil spirits at bay bonfires are lit. Why bonfires? Animal bones were traditionally burnt in the fires; hence the origin of the name, 'bone-fire'.

We all still dress up and wear masks at Halloween. But did you ever wonder why?

In Ireland of old, people dressed up in garish costumes to confuse the spirits. They would also leave food outside their front door for fairies and leave tributes for fairies at hawthorn trees.

Fairy tree in Killary harbour, Connemara
A 'fairy tree' or hawthorn with rags tied to it for luck, in Connemara

πŸ’‘ DID YOU KNOW? Hawthorn trees are still known as 'fairy trees' today in Ireland.

Of course it's not only evil souls that would visit on the 31st October. Some people believed that their dead ancestors would pop in for a visit. These people would leave a fire roaring and feasts of fresh vegetables and homemade delights for their ghostly visitors on the night!

Agricultural Significance Of Samhain

It wasn't all ghosts though. Halloween/Samhain was important for ancient Irish farmers too.

Cattle in Ireland

Even modern Irish farmers might hold traditional beliefs

For farmers, the festival acted as a deadline. All crops had to be gathered and livestock brought in before the dark, wet days of winter arrived.

It was said that no berries or fruit could be eaten after Samhain in Ireland because the pΓΊka (ghost) would spit on them. Even today, in the Irish countryside, people will not eat blackberries after the first frost of the year (normally in November).

Halloween/Samhain is still today associated with foretelling the future. If you find a ring in your barm brack or colcannon (see below recipe section) love may be heading your way!

But foretelling the future had a practical application for farmers in ancient Ireland. It was believed that weather forecasts for the coming winter would be made according to the direction and strength of the wind at midnight on Halloween, or by the shape of clouds over the moon.

What Were The Pagan Festivals?

As well as Samhain, there were three other major festivals celebrated throughout the year in pre-Christian Ireland.

  • Imbolc (pronounced "im-bulk" ): 1st February
  • Beltaine (pronounced "be-yawl-tin-ah") : 1st May
  • Lughnasa (pronounced "loo-na-sa") : 1st August

These ancient pagan festivals live on in modern Ireland, through Christian saints. 1st February is St. Bridget's Day, celebrated by making Bridget Crosses. Beltaine became May Day. Lughnasa is now known as Reek Sunday in Ireland; pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick in Mayo.

Why do people go Trick or Treating?

Other elements of Halloween can be traced to more recent times.

In early 20th century Ireland, trick or treating was known as 'guising'.

Rural people dressed up in straw masks and went visiting their neighbours. They would walk from house to house without speaking, to try to conceal their identity. This sounds a bit scary was just for fun.

Why Do People Carve Pumpkins?

Carving a pumpkin to make a Jack O'Lantern is now a widespread practice in Ireland at Halloween, as well as elsewhere in Europe and the USA and Canada.

But pumpkins aren't native to Ireland. So where does this Halloween tradition come from?


Well, it too originated in Ireland. Without pumpkins, people used turnips instead. They were known as turnip lanterns, or ghost turnips.

Whatever you do this Halloween, don't forget to leave treats out for any otherworldly visitors you might get during the night!

What Do Irish People Eat At Halloween?

Food has a strong association with Halloween in Ireland. There are a number of traditional Irish recipes still eaten at this time of year.

Make sure you try one of these traditional Irish Halloween foods:

How to Make Colcannon - Irish Halloween Recipe

Colcannon is mashed potato with butter, onions and kale or cabbage.

How to Make Barm Breac - Irish Fruit Cake Recipe

Barm breac or tea brack is Irish fruit cake moistened by soaking raisins in tea. It's then served slathered with butter.

πŸ’‘ Did You Know? Even today, it's traditional to leave a ring or a coin inside colcannon or barm breac. The person who found the lucky item in their food would be blessed with money, a marriage or some other good fortune.

Not full yet? Try these traditional Irish Christmas foods

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