Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en: Observed: some Irish Hallowe'en Traditions

According to some historians Hallowe'en was first celebrated by the Celts who called it 'Samhain', the 'Feast of the Dead'. This was the day when the dead revisited the mortal world. In Gaelic the day is called 'Oíche Shamhna', which literally translates to 'night' of 'November', or November eve. It is a harvest celebration which marks the end of summer and the start of the winter months.

In the eighth century the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as 'All Saints Day ('All Hallows'). It was to be a day of commemoration for those Saints who did not have a holy day of remembrance specifically dedicated to them. The night before was known as 'All Hallows Evening' which, over time, became known as Hallowe'en (thus the apostrophe between the two 'e's).

Here are some Irish Hallowe'en Traditions of which my family partake:


Colcannon is a dish of mashed potatoes mixed with curly kale and a little bit of onion; it is served as a traditional Irish Hallowe'en dinner. Tradition holds that clean coins are wrapped in waxed paper and placed in the colcannon for children to find and keep. When I was growing up my mother did not add the coins for fear that someone would choke on a coin, and I do not add them when I make colcannon.

Barnbrack (or Barmbrack)

Barnbrack is a traditional fruit bread/cake in Ireland and is often served on Hallowe'en. Each member of the family gets a slice, and also any guests. Although we do not include them in our barnbrack, traditionally bits of rags are wrapped and baked into the cake. If you get a rag it means you will end up poor. We like to keep everything on the positive side, so in our family both my mom and I bake only wrapped coins and a wrapped ring into the bread. If a coin is in the slice you receive, your future will be a prosperous one; if you find a ring in yours, romance is in your future.

Pumpkin Carving

Carving Pumpkins dates back to the eighteenth century. Many stories exist about the origins of pumpkin carving; however, according to one popular legend, an Irish blacksmith named Jack colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven. He was condemned to wander the earth in the dark, but pleaded with the Devil to give him some light. A burning coal ember was thrown up to him from Hell. He gouged out the core of a turnip and placed the ember inside. Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns was born - the bearer being the wandering blacksmith - a damned soul. Villagers in Ireland placed a lantern in their window to keep the wanderer away. When the tradition emigrated to America with the Irish the more plentiful pumpkins were used instead.

Hallowe'en Costumes

This tradition of wearing costumes also dates back to Celtic times. Legend tells us that, with the dead returning to the mortal world on this special night of 'Samhain', the living Celts would dress in elaborate costumes as spirits and devils, so that they could mingle with the spirits of the dead without fear of being carried away by them during the night.

Thanks to for some of this information.
*Click on photo for larger version.
©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.


  1. I knew about some of the traditions, but it is always great to learn something new. I like the tradition with the bread...I think I will adopt it next year :)

    Happy samhain

    Keep smilin

  2. As always, you educate me. Spooky, thanks


    Happy Halloween

  3. I agree Jenn. Actually, when I've made Colcannon, I haven't added the kale. Just mashed potatoes and scallions, so I'll try this. I'm going to look for a Barnbrack recipe as well.

    Thanks J, appreciate your time and effort in all your writing.

    Oiche Shamhna!

  4. Hi Jenn, and Carol, and Thomas, Thanks for your comments. Lovely to hear from all of you. I hope you have a wonderful day and night this Hallowe'en! I probably shouldn't mention this but I put loads of butter in the Colcannon as well (not very healthy, but tasty). Cheers! Jennifer Oiche Shamhna!! (Good Hallowe'en to you!!)


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Cheers, Jennifer

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