The spirt of the Celts’ Samhain thrives today as Halloween

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR

October is a wicked and wonderful month of ghoulies and ghosties, black cats, jack-o-lanterns, witches, haunted houses, and so much fun as the world celebrates Halloween.
Don’t think for a minute that Ireland doesn’t know about Halloween because, after all, this annual spooky occasion actually started there as a pagan religious festival known as Samhain. There have been modifications down the centuries – such as carving pumpkins instead of turnips – but the basic traditions still exist.
In ancient Celtic times, Samhain signaled the end of summer and beginning of the harsh winter. It was time to celebrate the harvest and anticipate the darker half of the year. As the two time periods crossed, the dead were said to return, so large fires were lit to ward off any evil spirits. As the Middle Ages progressed, so did fire festivals, with bonfires becoming a tradition – to offer protection from fairies and witches. Ancestors might cross over during this time too, so Celts dressed as monsters and animals to ward off the fairies that might try to kidnap them.
Over the centuries, the popes in Rome worked long and hard to recraft Samhain as a Christian celebration of saints and souls. But Oct. 31 soon became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. There is no mention of Halloween in America until the early 19th century - after the Irish came here to escape the Famine and brought along their ancient customs.
By the early 20th century, American commercialization of Halloween had begun, with postcards, figurines, masks and costumes, making Halloween one of the most profitable periods of the year for retailers – often more profitable than Christmas. America has had such an impact on Halloween that many people believe it is an American invention rather than from ancient Ireland.
The Bram Stoker Festival 2019 in Dublin promises something for everyone during its four-day/night program of events over the October bank holiday weekend, Oct. 25-28.
For the uninitiated, Bram Stoker,the author of Dracula, lived and worked in Dublin.
The Bram Stoker Festival celebrates the gothic, the mysterious, the after-dark and the supernatural. The program of events mixes family-friendly adventures with late-night antics.
There will be spectacles on water, seances in complete darkness, dress-up screenings in the dead of night and much more. Stay up-to-date on everything happening during the festival using #BiteMeDublin and find the festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
A Halloween Fest with many activities will be held at Westport House in Westport, Co. Mayo, from Oct. 26-31, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The 18th-century historic house will be transformed into a (not too) scary haunted house for the week (suitable for little ones), and the attractions and activities are guaranteed to cast a spell over witches and warlocks! Head to the Haunted Estate House, transformed into a spooky old mansion for Halloween Fest. For more information, contact:
From Oct. 6 to Nov. 3, have fun by day and fright by night throughout Co. Meath at the Spirits of Meath Festival. The high kings once ruled from the Hill of Tara and there are still many mysterious standing stones and ruins from pre-Christian times in the county, including Newgrange, a Neolithic stone age passage tomb listed as a World Heritage Site.
Newgrange is part of a complex of monuments built along a bend of the River Boyne known collectively as Brú na Bóinne. The other two primary monuments there are Knowth (the largest) and Dowth. Throughout the area, there are as many as 35 smaller mounds. See for more details.
Belfast’s biggest Halloween event offers plenty of weird and wonderful activities and events at locations like The Slipways and Titanic Belfast from Oct. 26-31.
The entertainment features street theatre and walkabouts, wicked arts and crafts workshops, fairground rides, and a range of hot food, drinks, sweets and Halloween tasty treats. The evening draws to a close with the largest fireworks display in the city. See for more.
Wicklow’s Historic Gaol is a museum that gives visitors the opportunity to see what life was like behind bars for Irish prisoners in the 18th century. Throughout the Gaol’s long history, inmates were subject to torture, starvation, and death for even the smallest of crimes.
The Gaol is a great setting for the museum’s eerie night tours, where visitors can mingle with ghosts in one of Ireland’s most haunted buildings. See for more.
Greenan Museum and Maze in Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, hosts “The Haunted Maze” Halloween event each year in addition to Greenan Museum’s ‘Nightmare at the Museum.” This successful fun-day is frequently a sell-out, as tours for everyone in the family are available. The grounds include tea rooms, farm animals and scenic wild nature walks. See for more.
A weeklong event of ‘Halloween Happenings’ is planned at Lullymore Heritage Park in Co. Kildare mixing terror and fun. Bringing out the ghouls and treats over this week are haunted holograms, terror train trips, treasure hunts, and zombie attacks. For kids, there are both indoor and outdoor play areas along with Halloween fun and games. See for more.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go. There are many more activities and things to see in October. Visit for more places to go, accommodation listings, advice, and more.


Country Fairs
One of Ireland’s greatest rural events is the country fair. There are many around the country during the year and in the fall.
The historic Maam Cross Fair, a one-day event, is on Tues., Oct. 29 this year, at the Connemara crossroads by Peacocke’s hotel. It stems from the tradition of local farmers selling surplus produce there to supplement the meager living they had eked from the rocky landscape.
This fair has grown over the years to become a major event that features cattle, sheep, and farm produce, as well as the beautiful Connemara ponies. The years we’ve attended, we’ve also seen goats, ferrets, dogs and puppies, geese and ducks for sale. It’s a fascinating fair for visitors.
This year’s event features trophies and cash prizes for the best filly foal and colt foal of registered parents, along with the perpetual cup for the best pony of the fair. Horseshoeing demonstrations and a horseshoe throwing competition are among many attractions planned for this year’s fair. For more information, email:
Another fun fair is the Achill Island Sheep Show, which this year is Sun., Oct. 13, outside Patten’s Bar in Derreens, Co. Mayo. This is the 33rd annual show and it’s always jam-packed and interesting to attend.
There are many more agricultural shows around the country in the autumn and they’re great fun to attend.

Congratulations to lovely Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, which was recently confirmed as the first 5-star hotel in Ireland to be awarded the GREENMark Plastic Smart Standard for its efforts in responsible tourism and its commitment to remove all single use plastics from the property by 2022. Ashford Castle is owned by Red Carnation Hotel group, which in collaboration with the TreadRight foundation, is participating in the #MakeTravelMatter initiative to ensure that tourism has a positive impact on people and communities.