Samhain or Halloween – Ancient Irish Tradition

Posted in News on 11th October 2018

Origins of Halloween

The ancient Irish festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) originated in Co. Meath.   It is now Internationally known as Halloween.  The tradition of carving turnips to ward off evil spirits evolved into the carving of pumpkins for a very simple reason … have you ever tried to carve a Turnip into a Jack O’ Lantern? Nearly impossible!  I can vouch!  (Unless you have arms like Schwarzenegger, forget it!!!)  Also, pumpkins weren’t commonplace in old Ireland.

The Halloween we know today is merely a representation of the original festival.

Old Tradition Meets New…

Traditionally, 2 bonfires would be lit side by side in a field with a few metres distance between 🔥 and cattle herded between the fires for good luck.  The good Agricultural Irish wouldn’t have Photo by Jens Mahnke from Pexels intentionally traumatised their cows! 😆 A number of superstitions surround Samhain/Halloween so black cats and counting magpies isn’t unusual! Life events were often predicted by the behaviour of animals.

A visit to the Murtagh clan out at the Causey Farm between Kells and Athboy in Co. Meath is an education in itself!  They are mines of information on Samhain … which began right there on their doorstep.  What better people to run the enormously successful  Truly, this event is not to be missed!  Definitely not for the faint hearted, it will scare, shock and crack you up laughing!  An event for the little ones called Pooka Spooka is also run by the Murtagh family.  The very best of Halloween entertainment is happening in County Meath … even still!

Deirdre Murtagh gave me an overview of this years event:

We work hard to make every Farmaphobia experience bigger and better than the year before.  Guided by suggestions from visitors and our own imaginations, we’re sure that what we have in store for you in 2018 will blow you away!”

The staff here at cannot wait to visit!  😊  Farmaphobia is the new family tradition for all within driving range, seeing enormous numbers walk through the gates year on year.


According to the ancient tradition, a massive bonfire would be lit and all others then extinguished.  Homefires would burn low and be allowed to burn out. (So as to hide from the attentions of any passing negative soul).

Samhain celebrations began at Tlachtga, otherwise known as the Hill of Ward outside Athboy, Co. Meath.  A place rife in magic, energy, peace and grounding, it was the centre of the celebration of the Celtic New Year.

Druidic priests would gather their communities together on this night, for the veil of existence between the living and the dead grew thin.  It was a time for high jinx, dancing and celebration.  Also a time to remember those we have lost during the year.  It was a community bonding experience, people being acutely aware of the long dark winter to come, food would be scarce and days would be long, people drew close together to reaffirm their support for one another. 

It is said that relatives and friends who had passed on, would revisit their families and homes on this night, finding a warm welcome from the living.  Plates of food were left out for the visiting dead as offerings and greetings – this is where the tradition of children dressing as dead people and knocking on doors comes from 👻 so, Trick or Treat, although a modern phenomenon, has it’s basis in ancient tradition!

The Samhain festival ran from October 31st through November 1st which is now the Christian All Souls Day, another nod to the old Irish ways.  The dawn of Christianity failing to completely wipe out our ancient traditions luckily!

Personalising Samhain

While homes are filled with paper ghosts and ghouls and children are excited to dress up in their Halloween costumes, there is an alternative or addition to the modern Halloween.  Traditions will vary from family to family but a nod towards the old festival is very easy to construct.  Games and decorations will, of course, be part of the Halloween celebrations but why not add a touch of Celtic mysticism with a Samhain Altar?  Each altar will be totally individual and can be as decorative as you wish.  There are no rules.  My own Samhain altar is put together from the things that represent Samhain to me, below are a list of things I commonly use and the reasons why …

A large gold coloured platterIt represents the autumn colour and changing leaves (It also holds everything together)  Celtic New Year

A pumpkin or a turnipsometimes carved, sometimes not – To ward off evil spirits or the unwelcome dead

Fallen Leavesthey have just fallen from the trees and are changing in colour, a symbol of the earth at rest.

A Fairy StatueCeltic mythology is steeped in Fae lore (it is my personal dedication to the Celtic Goddess Aine – Queen of the Fairys)

A candleTo represent the Samhain Fire

Fallen FeathersIn memory of those we have loved and lost

Dried Fruit and NutsIn thanks for the harvest (a prayer for sustenance through the long cold Winter)

A Glass of Red WineTo quench the thirst of our visiting loved ones, the crystal glass representing winter ice

Soda BreadTo feed our ghostly visitors!

Why not put your own altar together, it can be decorated to suit you, there are no rules with this! Let your creative side out!  It will add to the interest and colour of your hallway at Halloween as people visit your home, you can impress them with the history of  Samhain!😉

It’s also a lot of fun to do this as a family.  The altar should represent you and the things you hold dear. Don’t worry about what you should or shouldn’t do …. the Samhain police won’t come to your door and arrest you!  Have some fun with it and email your Samhain Altar photos to [email protected] We’d be delighted to see them!

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