Halloween is the season which owes its roots to ancient Irish customs and beliefs

When the Irish emigrated to America, they brought their customs and beliefs with them. One of these customs was carving a turnip into a scary face before hollowing it out and placing a candle inside. In America as turnips were scarce, they used pumpkins for these jack-a-lanterns, a custom which has now come back to Ireland.

The modern festival of Halloween is clearly rooted in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. That was a time when the ancient Irish lit fires on the sacred hills of the country, when they believed that the Otherworld opened up and spirits were around and mingling with human beings.

Clodagh Doyle, Keeper of the National Folklife Collection, explains:

Halloween is one of the few festivals of the calendar year that is still practiced in much the same way as it was for generations. Before electricity, the countryside was a very dark place, adding to the scariness of the festival.
Disguise, death, protection, fruit and nuts as festive fare, games, pranks and marriage divination were all part of the tradition and still are today. Although nowadays, less is homemade – supermarkets do the barmbrack, the costumes and the treats!”

Traditionally a harvest of fruit and nuts was gathered for the festive fare and also featured in children’s games on the night. Common games included ‘bobbing’ for apples and ‘apples on a string’. Other traditional Hallowe’en foods include col cannon (mashed potato with cabbage and onions) and boxty (potato cakes) and báirín breac. Have look here for a recipe for Col Cannon –

Col Cannon

Guisers (men or children dressed in disguise) went from house to house wearing masks and costumes to frighten their neighbors. The visitors provided entertainment in order to secure a treat from the household. It was a night for pranks and dares, often known as ‘mischief night’ or ‘trick or treat’. The modern day practice of ‘trick or treating’ stems from this tradition. Playing ‘Knick Knock’ jokes was common – knocking loudly or throwing cabbage heads at doors and running away was a well-practiced Halloween prank. Dismantling and reassembling carts in houses or through the farm gate was also common.

Hallowe’en was also known as ‘ghost night’ or ‘spirit night’ and the souls of the dead were expected to return to the family home. All Soul’s Day for remembering the faithfully departed is on the 2 November. There was a belief that evil spirits were about on Hallowe’en so people avoided traveling alone on this night for fear of abduction. Fairy mounds, trees or forts were avoided. People who had to travel on the night often took with them a black-handle knife or a steel needle.

Local school children and their teachers calling on shops in Kilkee for their treats in 2019

On Loop Head this year the Halloween festivities were kept inside the schools due to the level 5 Covid restrictions. These images are from Halloween 2019, the Trick or Treat walk around Kilkee for the children in local schools. Gathering lots of sweets from the local shops. These photos were taken outside Centra. There were some great costumes – even the teachers dressed up. There was a fun atmosphere throughout the town, even though the weather was a little – damp! Let’s hope we can celebrate properly next year.



Halloween on Loop Head

Halloween is the season which owes its roots to ancient Irish customs and beliefs When the Irish emigrated to America, they brought their customs and beliefs with them. One of these customs was carving a turnip into a scary face before hollowing it out and placing a candle inside. In… ..Read more >

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