Are you bound for Ireland this Halloween? Whether you're spending Halloween in Dublin or around the country, there's a few things you ought to know about how the Irish celebrate Halloween. The holiday actually originated on these shores, and we have plenty of ancient Irish Halloween traditions that we still abide by today. One of our very own Dublin tour guides, Ian, gives you a little introduction to the origins of Halloween, our Halloween traditions in Ireland, as well as some Halloween events and things to do in Dublin this Halloween 2019 - It's the ultimate guide to Halloween in Dublin, so jump in!
How we celebrate Halloween in Ireland
The ways we Irish celebrate Halloween have been heavily influenced by the rest of the western world; you can expect to find just as much trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples as you would in any other spook-loving western country. It's also par for the course to find enough bonfires to remind our British neighbours of their own 5th of November celebrations, and a barrage of fireworks (although, illegal without a permit) to rival the 4th of July celebrations that mark Independence Day for our trans-Atlantic neighbours in the U.S.
And of course, a good party! Dressing up in costume, or 'fancy dress' as we call it here, and hitting the pubs or a house party when you come of age is a quintessential Halloween tradition in Ireland.
The Halloween of my own youth in Dublin, as a now 30 year old Irish man, is one that will probably be familiar to most Irish people. It's one of white face paint and toilet roll, cheap fake blood and, of course, black bin-bags - one to keep your stash of sweets in and another to wear as the piece de resistance to a hastily thrown together outfit at the hands of your ever-so-creative mammy. As a child in early 90s era Ireland, it seemed the black bin-bag could be transformed into a million possible Halloween costumes.
In droves we would go, marauding around in the hue of orange streetlights, terrorising the neighbours. Descending upon the driveways and doorsteps like a swarm of insects, the promise of sweets and chocolate having long since worked us up into a frenzy.
Traditional Irish Halloween food
In the subsequent days after trick or treating, intermittent bouts of gorging on Halloween night's haul could usually be punctuated by traditional Irish, Halloween-time dishes like 'colcannon' and 'barmbrack'.
Colcannon is a combination of mashed potatoes and curly kale, (full of Kerrygold butter for bonus points). It's traditional to hide a coin in there at Halloween and, of course, whoever finds it will have good luck.
'Barrnbrack (or Brack for short) is a kind of dense, fruity bread, packed with sultanas and raisins (again covered in Kerrygold butter for bonus points). Not to be upstaged by the aforementioned colcannon - it is traditional to hide a ring, rather than a coin, inside. Finding the ring in the Halloween brack is said to be a sign of impending romance in your near future.
Long, long before any of these now familiar rituals and routines were forged into our culture and far beyond my own long and storied history with everyone's favourite fright night, it turns out that Ireland itself does not only have an interesting connection with Halloween but can even lay claim to having played a fundamental part in inventing it!
The origins of Halloween in Ireland
The ancient Celtic peoples of Ireland, Britain, and mainland Europe celebrated the beginning of a new year on the 1st of November, so the day that we now celebrate Halloween, October 31st, was actually the last day of the calendar year.
The world that our ancient Celtic ancestors lived in was a harsh and unforgiving place. Death was far more a part of everyday life 2,000 years ago than it is in our modern world, and there can be no doubt that the end of their year when the long, bright Summer days began their slow retreat to be replaced by long cold winter nights must have felt especially foreboding.
This was also harvest time, when food was plentiful, but it was also said to be the time when the veil between our mortal realm and the land of the living was at its weakest. At the time of the harvest - known as Samhain - It was said that the dead returned to roam the earth, so it became tradition for people to dress in frightening costumes and light bonfires to scare away any spirits that might be wandering about in our midst.
The bonfires also became places to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their Celtic Gods, all in the hope that they would see them through the harsh, cold winter that lay ahead.
The name 'Halloween' probably comes from Alhalowmesse which is Old-Middle-English for All-Saints Day, a Christian holiday that fell towards the end of October that was combined with Samhain in the 9th Century by Pope Gregory lll.
The origins of the Jack O Lantern in Ireland
As if that wasn't enough, Ireland can also lay claim to another Halloween staple. One that is completely synonymous with all things Halloween and permeates every aspect of the holiday in all it's incarnations throughout popular culture - The Jack O Lantern.
The hollowed out pumpkin, bearing a petrifying face carved into its surface, which has become synonymous with Halloween, was actually originally a turnip and has its origins in Ireland of the 1700s. An 18th Century Irish Folk Tale tells of a roguish man by the name of 'Stingy Jack' who - as his name would suggest - was a notorious spendthrift (we all know them).
Jack tricked the Devil into turning himself into a coin so that he could pay for a drink for the two of them but then, rather than using the coin to buy a couple of drinks like a good lad would, immediately put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross. The Devil was trapped! Eventually Jack freed the Devil but only on the condition that he would not claim his soul for at least another year.
When the year was up, Jack tricked The Devil again; this time by convincing him to climb up a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the Devil was up the tree, Jack carved a cross into it so that he could not climb down.
By the time Jack died, Saint Peter decided there was no room in heaven for a soul so sullied by sin and deception, and so to Hell he was he sent. The Devil, perhaps understandably, decided he didn't care much for Jack's patronage in Hell so sent him back to Earth where he is cursed to wander only by the dark of night with nothing but a single smoldering lump of coal to guide his way for all eternity.
Resigned to his fate, Jack hollowed out a turnip and placed the smoldering coal inside to protect its meager glow from the howling wind.
It became tradition to carve your own lantern in the hope that the flame of the candle placed inside, flickering across it's grotesque features, would be enough to ward off the man who would become known as 'Jack Of The Lantern', and any other unfriendly spirits that might be wicked enough to wander your way.
There simply isn't enough time to even skim the surface of the creepy stories that have formed so much of the Irish story-telling canon. For that, you'll have to come and join us in Dublin. Halloween falls on a Thursday this year, making a tour with us the perfect way to kick-start a long weekend of spooky festivities in Dublin.
Things to do at Halloween in Dublin 2019
There is never any shortage of things to do in Dublin at Halloween, and 2019 is no exception. Here are a few of our must-do recommendations if you're spending Halloween in Dublin this year.
Our Free Fables and Folklore Tour of Dublin, naturally.
The stories that make us who we are, their origins in ancient Irish mythology and a special selection of stories about a long forgotten area of Dublin literally known as Hell, wandering spirits of executed criminals, a historic fascination with the occult, sin and debauchery, Devil-worship, and so much more.
This free walking tour is the only one of its kind in Dublin and a genuine Halloween must-do for an unrivaled insight to the mythology and the power of stories in Ireland and, especially, the darker, creepier truths and legends that have shaped our city, traditions and culture. Book your place on the Fables & Folklore Dublin free tour now, here.
Dublin Halloween Pub Crawl
We love a good party in Dublin, and Halloween is as good a reason as any to raise our spirits and have a devilishly good night out on the town. As is now Halloween tradition in Ireland, we love good Halloween costumes and spooky decor, so you can expect the pubs & clubs of Dublin to be clad in creepy cobwebs, jack o lanterns, witches hats, ghouls, goblins and all things gory.
The best Halloween party in Dublin 2019 will certainly be our Halloween pub crawl. We pub crawl every night, including Halloween night, Thursday, October 31st. For just €12, you'll join us lovely guides and fellow Halloween fun-loving travelers to party proper in Dublin, taking in six of our favourite Dublin venues, including the best pubs in the city and the ultimate Dublin nightclub experience, Copper Face Jacks where you skip the line for free VIP entry. You'll also get a free welcome Guinness, free welcome shot in each pub, as well as exclusive drink discounts & specials.
Fancy dress is encouraged on the night, and all weekend in fact, so feel free to get terrifically terrifying and join us for the best Halloween night in Dublin. Check out our fantastically freaky, easy to make, and cheap Halloween costume ideas for travelers for some inspiration.
The annual Bram Stoker Festival
From the 25th to the 28th of October, the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin celebrates the man who gave the world Count Dracula, the infamous vampire character that has inspired countless vampire portrayals in pop culture. Bram Stoker is one of Ireland's most treasured literary sons, and his Gothic horror novel is one of the most well-known works of literary fiction ever.
The festival offers several events to sink your fangs into, for both the young and not-so-young. There's plenty happening over the long weekend, including a Seance, ghost stories and even a Dracula inspired food tour of Dublin.
Some key events we recommend checking out are Bram Stoker and the Haunting of Marsh's Library - Marsh's Library is one of Dublin's best kept secrets, an early 18th century library said to be frequented by the lovelorn spirit of its founder Narcissus Marsh, and Sounds of Wood on Muscle: A Modern Radio Dracula - a live performance, inspired by a 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast of Dracula and their quest for a sound effect to mimic a wooden stake perforating a heart, in the beautiful surroundings of St. Anns Church; the very church where Dracula author, Bram Stoker was married to Florence Balcombe.
Not the Tarantino-esque horror b-movie it sounds like, this is in fact a Halloween-themed club night taking place on Sunday night, October 28th, in the 18th century crypt beneath The Church on Mary Street where the dress code is listed as "less is more, blood and gore". Their website says to 'expect un-dead drag queens and re-activated actors'.
Samhain Halloween Festival at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
One of our favourite museums in Dublin team up with one of Ireland's great storytellers, Eddie Lenehan, on October 28th for a night filled with some of our most enduring Halloween tales and the sinister characters who frequent them. There's a whole host of Halloween themed events happening here throughout the day too, including mask making, carved turnip displays, spell casting and a spooky trail. See the EPIC Museum website for more info.
A Trip To The Hellfire Club
Perched on the crest of Montpelier Hill, just a few miles south of the city, sits Dublin's most famous haunted house; The Hellfire Club. Its illustrious past is filled with stories of sin, debauchery and even devil worship.
Its mythology is as rich as its name is infamous to Dublin's inhabitants and it's considered a rite of passage by some to make the journey up on a blustery autumn night. What better time to do it than Halloween. If you'e brave enough, that is. Learn more about the Hellfire club on our free tours, and ask us anything you want to know.
There you have it, fright-fans, your ultimate guide to doing Dublin for Halloween 2019. Now you can celebrate Halloween the way us Irish do and make the best of your time in the capital with these things to do. We hope to see you on a free tour in Dublin soon, and / or the pub crawl - we promise, no tricks, just treats.