Discover Dublin’s history: Halloween, Samhain and Tasty Food

By Ilaria Venturi

The history behind Halloween is surprisingly… Irish

Halloween has come and gone, but have you ever wondered how the tradition started? Usually when we hear about Halloween, we immediately identify it as one of the most representative festivities of the United States but many of us ignore that also Europe has had its own traditions dating back to ancient times, well before America was discovered. Ireland in particular is one of Halloween’s birthplaces, as 2.000 years ago the Celtics celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the new year with the festival of Samhain. 

“Speaking of Dracula, the place that inspired the creation of this infamously famous character is one that can be visited year round: the Church of St. Michan.”

Would you ever have thought that such a popular and fun celebration has its roots in a pagan ritual? The druids used to ritually extinguish and relight the flames of old fires while evil spirits were released from the Otherworld just for one night. The souls of the dead, ghosts, goblins and witches returned to walk among the living and people used to wear masks, suits and lighted bonfires to scare them away.  

In Ireland Halloween is celebrated with so much enthusiasm that it is just as important as St. Patrick’s Day and Dublin, with its innate party atmosphere, is the best place to mix magical atmospheres, scary rituals and all-night parties! Pumpkins, candles, skeletons and spider webs adorn every corner of Ireland’s capital city that offers the best experiences for the most mysterious time of the year. 

So, if you ever find yourself in the land where this famous tradition was born, you should most certainly plan to start with Samhain Parade which begins in Parnell Square, goes along O’Connell Street and finishes in Temple Bar in a ghoulish and overwhelming carnival that fills the streets with frightful creatures, eerie ghosts, and colorful dancers, with a final fireworks show. 

Ireland is also the country where Bram Stoker was born, so during the week of Halloween the namesake festival dedicated to the author of Dracula offers four days filled with lots of vampire-related activities including horror movies, creepy family workshops and also events at stunning Dublin Castle. Speaking of Dracula, the place that inspired the creation of this infamously scary character is one that can be visited year round: the Church of St. Michan. This sacral building is considered one of the most chilling places in the country due to its vaults full of preserved bodies… so you will literally walk among the dead, if you dare.

“Here are the top 5 traditional Irish recipes prepared for Samhain but not only! All the dishes below can be enjoyed year round.”

For those who are inspired to start planning for next year, the following paragraphs will help you get excited. Hellfire Halloween walks is a tour that takes you by bus from the centre of Dublin to Hellfire Club, an ancient ruin of the 18th century, where a dark society was devoted to all kinds of pagan and blasphemous rituals. Many legends are related to this terrifying place, including an old story which tells that the devil himself lived there.

Another activity to look forward to is Walk the Haunted Dublin, which brings you through Dublin discovering its most haunted places and reveals to you the most frightening local stories thanks to a special application named “Questo”. You will walk from one place to another following the step-by-step instructions given by the app and you will have to find hidden objects that unlock scary stories about those places, accompanied by dark presences and restless souls.

If you are particularly brave, at the Freemasons Hall of Dublin you will find Horror Expo Ireland, an immersive experience of audiovisual samples captured in various paranormal investigations where you will not only have the opportunity to interact in the cases, but also have the opportunity to learn how the instruments and devices work. 

If you want to make an excursion out of the city and go deep into Halloween’s Celtic roots Púca Festival is the right choice: three days of music, art and culture in Trim, with the city castle providing a mysterious backdrop. You will also relive the ancient rituals of the druids with a recreation of Samhain’s fires near Ward Hill in Athboy. 

There are parties and celebrations in Dublin during Halloween/Samhain night and any corner of the city will offer for sure a good chance to celebrate and enjoy this mysterious night, so choose your costume and get ready for the magic! If you can’t wait ‘til next year, the Gravedigger Ghost Bus Tour run by Hidden Dublin will be happening every Friday and Saturday evening through 2021. The tour includes a stop at the famous Gravediggers Pub. An authentic family run pub since 1833 and home to the best pint in Ireland. 

Enjoy the food all year long, except for one!

In Ireland October 31st is a double celebration, so on Irish tables one would not only find Halloween’s pumpkins, creepy ‘spooky’ biscuits with ghosts and ghouls and every kind of candy.  Irish people are still very connected to their origins and their Celtic traditions, most especially in the kitchen. One of the most popular food served during Samhain is Barm Brack or Barnbrack, as it is also known. It’s a fruit-studded bread baked with other tiny objects inside to help predict the upcoming year. A ring inside can announce the arrival of true love while a thimble may mean you will never get married, a rag symbolises poverty, and a coin of course predicts abundance and wealth. Remember to choose your piece with care!

Traditionally, all seasonal foods play a large part in Samhain. In ancient times at the end of October the harvest was completed and all kinds of foods were available but with Christian influence Samhain had been overlapped with All Hallows or All Saints Day and as a consequence, eating meat was not allowed, so the dishes went more and more vegetarian.

Here are the top 5 traditional Irish recipes prepared for Samhain but not only! All the dishes below can be enjoyed year round.  
  • Colcannon – a dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale and spring onions. 
  • Soda Bread – the unmissable bread served throughout Ireland from north to south. 
  • Boxty – Irish potato cakes usually cooked on a griddle.
  • Irish Champ – similar to Colcannon but without cabbage or kale. 
  • Beef and Guinness Pie – a tasty and hearty and pie filled with beef cooked in Irish Guinness, a real classic and a source of energy for celebrating all night.