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    Ireland – Home of Halloween

    Did you know that Halloween began in Ireland? 

    If you trace Halloween right back to its origins, you’ll find yourself in the mists of pagan Ireland over 2,000 years ago – a time when the ancient festival of Samhain was celebrated in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East to mark the beginning of winter. It is a festival that celebrates the changing of the seasons and remembering the dead.

    Pumpkins for Halloween © Tourism Ireland



    Halloween began as an old Celtic festival called Samhain. The Celts, thought to be from Western Europe, immigrated to Ireland sometime between 700 and 100 BC. They brought with them pagan beliefs and customs, centered around celebrating the cycles of nature through prayer and festivities. One such celebration to develop out of this is Samhain. Essentially, Samhain was a new year’s party. It marked the end of the ‘pastoral cycle’, a time when all the crops were harvested and livestock were brought in from the fields in preparation for Winter.

    Halloween in Belfast City. Photographer: Tony Pleavin © Tourism Northern Ireland


    Fairies & Spirits.

    The Celts believed that this transitionary period meant that the veil between this world and the world of the dead grew thin, and that departed spirits could return to visit. When this veil between the worlds was thinner, fairies (known by the Celts as the Tuatha Dé Danann) were also thought to appear, and if you were born on Halloween, it was said that you were able to see them!

    One of these fairies was the Púca (pronounced Pooka). An Irish word for goblin or spirit, the Púca could shapeshift into animals such as horses and hares. Neither good nor bad, they demanded payment from the Celts in a share of the harvest every November 1st, otherwise they would cause mischief.

    Many counties in Ireland lay claim to being the birthplace of Halloween including Rathcroghan, Co Roscommon, the Boyne Valley Co Meath, Valentia Island Co Kerry and Co Derry. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of this tradition, there are ancient manuscripts and archaeological evidence to suggest that around October 31st, a great fire was lit on Tlachtga, the Hill of the Ward in Meath by Celtic priests, called Druids, who conducted all sorts of rituals to ask for good fortune for the year ahead.

    Slieve Gullion Forest Park ©

    Halloween Traditions & Superstitions.  

    On Samhain, the Celts practiced a number of traditions or rituals to celebrate the new year and to protect them from the returning ghosts, including extinguishing old flames and fires to make a break with the old year; ceremonially lighting bonfires to welcome in the new; carving turnips, which they filled with a flame from the newly lit fire, to carry home for luck; dressing up in animal skin costumes to confuse the returned spirits; leaving out gifts and offerings of food and drink to appease the spirits and engaging in fortune telling.

    Halloween Bonfire at Dromoland Castle, Co. Clare. ©

    Sometime around the 5th century AD, Christianity begun to spread across Ireland and the church started to adopt traditional pagan festivals. In the 8th century, the celebration of Samhain became All Hallows Eve (31st October) and All Saints day (1st November). This enabled the survival of many Celtic traditions. For example, the tradition of dressing up became ‘souling’, where Christian children would go door to door in costume to ask for soul cakes to pray for their neighbours.


    Caution is required when biting into a slice of warm barmbrack. This traditional Halloween bread/cake could contain any number of items, ready to tell the future of the person who finds something in their slice.

    The three most common items found in a barmbrack are a ring (meaning an impending wedding), a coin (symbolizing wealth) and a piece of cloth (predicting a period of poverty or bad luck). In some parts of Ireland, bracks are packed with even more unusual objects. You may find: a stick/matchstick (an unhappy relationship or major argument), a thimble (a period of independence/singlehood) and a button (bachelorhood).

    Traditional Barmbrack ©

    Emigration from Ireland

    As the Irish began to emigrate, they took these customs with them and adapted them to suit their new home countries. One example is the tradition of carving pumpkins. When the Irish moved to the USA, they discovered pumpkins were both easier to find and carve than turnips, and so they adopted them into their rituals.

    Nowadays, a lot of countries celebrate their own version of Halloween in unique ways. From Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, where altars are built and decorated with sugar skulls to honour the dead, to the Hungry Ghost Festival in China, where children avoid water and swimming for fear of floating ghosts! Over time, the ancient tradition of dressing up in animal skin costumes to confuse the returned spirits evolved and people began dressing up as the returning spirits themselves. Adopting their qualities, they wandered from door to door, performing a poem or song in exchange for offerings of food. This eventually became what we know today as ‘trick or treating’, or in Ireland, ‘bob nó bia’

    Fireworks for Halloween in Derry City – Tourism Ireland © Christopher Hill Photographic

    Ghost Bus Tour in Dublin City

    Hop onto a Ghost Bus Tour in Dublin City (there are a couple of options to choose from) and discover Dublin’s dark secrets including many tales that shocked, repulsed or horrified Dubliners back in the day.

    With Dublin Bus/Do Dublin your Ghost bus ordeal begins as soon as you get on board. From sinister surgeons and body snatchers to ghosts and ghouls…Discover mythological villains and real ones too, buried deep in Dublin’s gruesome past. Visit a medieval vault at Dublin Castle and a hidden city graveyard.

    Have a peep here at the The Gravediggers Ghost Bus Tour – The tour will take you through the weird and wonderful events in times gone by, unearthing legends and ghosts from Dublin’s past and have a stop at the famous Gravediggers Pub, an authentic family run pub since 1833 and home to the best pint in Ireland.

    The Dublin Ghost Bus Tour ©

    Bram Stoker & Dracula. 

    Bram was born ‘Abraham Stoker’ in Clontarf, Dublin, in 1847. His parents were Abraham Stoker of Dublin, a civil servant, and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley of Sligo, a writer and charity worker. He was the third of seven children. Raised as a Christian, his family were very active in the church. Bram wrote Dracula on trips to Cruden Bay in Scotland, and the nearby Slains Castle may have provided some of the inspiration for Castle Dracula.

    Written in the form of an ‘epistolary’ novel, which means a collection of diary entries, letters, telegrams, and newspaper cut-outs, the book establishes some of the most well-known vampire traits, including: physical strength, shape-shifting, and hypnotic abilities; control of nocturnal animals (such as bats); biting people to turn them into vampires; fear of running water, garlic, crucifixes and holy water; death by sunlight; and the need to be invited into a human home.

    Follow in the footsteps of Bram Stoker with a visit to St. Michan’s Church in Dublin. Buried below the church are five long vaults containing the mummified remains of many of Dublin’s most influential families from 1600 to 1800.

    Bram Stoker’s former home on Kildare Street. © Flickr Michael Coghlan – Flickr/Creative Commons

    Fall Is Beautiful in Ireland.  

    “Trick or Treat” yourself to a vacation in Ireland and explore all that Ireland has to offer.

    We love hearing from our friends around the world who share a passion for Ireland like our team here at Specialized Travel Services and we’re more than happy to answer your travel to Ireland queries. Just drop us a line at

    There is a wonderful treasure trove in Ireland and lots of traditions and superstitions waiting to be explored. To find out more please don’t hesitate to get in touch 

    You could also have a look at our private chauffeur vacations for even more ideas on what to visit in Ireland. Our team of fully qualified driver guides would be delighted to explore the hidden gems of the Emerald Isle with you.

    2019 Púca Festival, Co Meath ©Ste Murray Photography_ Púca Festival. Fáilte Ireland




    Note: Featured image at the top of the blog is of pumpkins at Halloween © Seda College – Rômulo Pereira


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      Photo Gallery

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      Halloween Festival Co. Meath ©Allen Kiely Photography_ Púca Festival
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      Halloween Pumpkins © Tourism Ireland
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      Halloween in Derry City © Tourism Ireland
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      Halloween in Derry - Photographer Gardiner Mitchell © Tourism Ireland


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