Ordinarily, Ireland is perceived as a land of leprechauns, rainbows and lucky charms. But did you know, the Emerald Isle has its own share of spooky Halloween facts tucked away in a satchel? Learn about them below! By Bayar Jain
Halloween has Irish origins
Around 3,000 years ago, the Irish brewed its own cauldron of mystery amid the country’s Ancient East and the Celtic festival of Samhain. Then, the fire and feasting celebration marked the culmination of the season of light and start of the winter-y dark days. This transition, Celts believed, saw the worlds of the living and the dead spirits interacting with one another, wherein the latter lured the living towards the other side. To prevent this and confuse roaming ghosts, costumes were invented.
Trick or treating, too, arose during the same period. Children and the poor would go from door to door asking for food, kindling, or money. Moreover, they would sing songs or offer prayers for the departed soul in exchange for food. Then, flattened bread containing fruit was the gift of choice.
Irish carved turnips, not pumpkins
Carving pumpkins, too, has a similar background as the Halloween origin story. In the 18th century, the Irish carved turnips and placed lights within the vegetable to ward off roaming spirits. However, when the Americans took back the traditions to their home grounds, they realised that turnips weren’t as common as the orange fruit. And thus, pumpkin carving gained momentum.
‘Jack-o-Lantern’ is Irish
Although turnips—or even potatoes, in some instances—were used traditionally, the phrase ‘Jack-o-lantern’ itself is Irish. According to traditional folklore, a man named Stingy Jack once tricked the Devil. As punishment, the Devil doomed Jack to wander for eternity with only a burning ember from Hell’s everlasting fire inside the turnip to light his way.
An Irish Halloween celebration includes a family feast
As Halloween coincides with the harvest season, an Irish celebration of the scary day comes paired with a lavish feast. During the traditional Celtic festival of Samhain, the recipes concocted during the harvest brought the community together. Work was halted, and the fruits of labour were enjoyed amid a flurry of stories and fortune predictions. Being a harvest festival, these dishes would contain no meat. Instead, foods replete with the likes of potato dishes including champ, boxty, fadge—a type of apple cake—as well as fruit, nuts, barmbrack and a good colcannon dinner find a place instead.
It is traditional to eat charm-filled bread on Halloween
While barmbrack, a kind of bread‚ is eaten all year round, charms are added to the mix on Halloween. These charms can be of various types, each of which is symbolic of one’s future. A ring denotes discovery of true love and marriage, a button denotes a bachelor life. A walking stick indicates future travels; thimble for a spinster life; coin for wealth; and cloth for poverty.
Dracula was inspired by Ireland
Irish folklore is full of stories of revenants seeking revenge. Known as neamh-mairbh, the walking dead, these mysterious beings have given rise to horror tales aplenty. One such story is that of a chieftain called Abhartach. Feared by all, he accidentally fell to his death only to resurface with cuts and wounds the following day. Despite being slain twice, he is believed to have risen again each time. Then, a local saint is believed to have advised people to stab the undead with a sword made from the yew tree. Thus, Abhartach never reappeared.
Abraham “Bram” Stoker, the author of Dracula, is believed to have drawn inspiration for his story from similar folklore. Moreover, he spent countless hours devouring books at Marsh’s Library, the oldest public library in Ireland and home to the death mask of Gulliver’s Travels’ author Jonathan Swift. Apart from inspiring Stoker’s storyline, the design elements and the castle’s structure itself also found a place in the classic horror tale.
There are many kinds of Halloween festivals
The Irish love this time of the year, as is evident by the plethora of Halloween festivals that throng the nation. Think the famed Derry Halloween, which found its inception as a simple fancy-dress party in a pub in the famous Walled City of Derry; the Bram Stoker Festival where the celebrations mark Dublin’s unique link to the author, the supernatural and Irish Halloween traditions; and the Púca Festival where events like recreating the symbolic lighting of the Samhain fires on the Hill of Ward, folklore, music, and light installations await.