Irish Halloween ( Samhain ) traditions

by Veronica

Where do the customs associated with Halloween come from? Even in America some of the Halloween activities stem back from the millions who fled to USA from Ireland.

The term Celts is a misused term as the term " Celt " was not used at the time of the Ancient or Early People in the British Isles. The people were not "Celts " ; they were Gaels, Britons and Gauls. Celt comes from the Greek word Keltoi which means barbarian and was used from 17th and 18th Centuries to classify these people who lived a certain life style. The Celts.

Many of the ways we celebrate Halloween here and in America come from Gaels and Britons. Even then though, the festival was not called Halloween. It was known as Samhain( pronounced Sow -win ) Christians took the festival over and Christianised it to Halloween, All Hallows Eve.

Millions of Irish/ Britons who emigrated to America took these traditions with them.


Samhain came at  the end of the harvest as the seasons turned towards winter, and apples had to be harvested by then because it was believed that at Samhain, the shape shifter fairy, the Irish pukka spat on unharvested apples to spoil them. It was a very important festival.

Because of this, one Irish Samhain tradition was Apple Bobbing which made sure apples were eaten before the evil fairies could get them. Apple Bobbing involves apples being put in bowls of water and children with hands behind their backs try to catch an apple. 

Another use of apples was to find the initial of your true love. By throwing a peel over your shoulder your Intended's initial would appear in the peel shape. 


apples are important at samhain
apples are important at samhain
able and cole

Traditional Food

Colcannon and Barm Brack an Irish tea loaf were traditionally eaten. Colcannon is made with left over cabbage and mashed potato fried over and eaten with butter.

The Barm brack or Colcannon may contain a coin for the lucky person who received it in their portion. Sometimes a piece was left outside so that if a fairy or evil spirit passed some food might deter a spirit from harming the house.  

A traditional drink in Ireland at this time  was known as Lambswool. This contained crushed apples warm milk and cider. 



Trick or treat

Trick or treat traditionally started in Ireland when groups of poor children would wander around houses of wealthy people asking for food or coins in return for singing songs or saying prayers. This tradition has developed hugely over the years and no longer includes " poor children " or beggars. 

Dressing up

Dressing up is a large part of Halloween (Samhain). It was believed that by dressing up as fairies, monsters,  demons, that the evil spirits would avoid you. 

Pumpkins and lanterns



Lanterns have always held significance at this time of year. In Britain and Ireland turnips were hollowed out and lights put in them as we didn't grow pumpkins in the British Isles. As turnips aren't widely found in USA, pumpkins became the veg of choice for lanterns and this has now spread to UK. 

To conclude

Whatever your feelings about Halloween, Samhain, call it what you will, it is no longer an evil spirit occasion. It is more an occasion to dress up and have some fun. We personally don't do much if anything for it but I have no objection to those who do. 

Updated: 10/30/2020, Veronica
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Holistic_Health on 09/16/2022

It's nice to see how other cultures celebrate Halloween. I learned about colcannon as well so thanks for this.

Veronica on 10/28/2021

If you hold Halloween celebrations, this article might be of interest.

Veronica on 10/31/2020

Yes I thought I would put some fun in our sad, uncertain times.

I have never been much into Halloween myself but looking at it from a different perspective helps.
Each county in Ireland celebrsted differently . Some counties call Halloween Colcannon night . It is a great irish favourite. In many counties in Ireland, it was a time to do various things to see who you would marry !

Mira on 10/31/2020

This was such an enjoyable read! I will certainly make colcannon. I also enjoyed changing my perspective of Halloween a little (great) bit :)

Veronica on 10/30/2020

Halloweeen 2020.

The festival which originated in Ancient Ireland will be celebrated differently this year in the UK because of COVID 19.

Children are being discouraged from going door to door. It is an unsafe practice at best.

How ever you celebrate the festival, let's all keep safe and distanced . We can watch Halloween films, or have some treats at home.

Take care.

Veronica on 10/31/2019

An excellent point and one which needs reiterating. My parish priest has no problem with the children "celebrating " Halloween" which is after all a Christianisation of The Briton/ Gael feast of Samhain. The people aren't taking part in devil worship. It is "All Hallows Eve " - "Halloween " "All saint's Eve. "

frankbeswick on 10/30/2019

Coven activities are not devil worship, but they are incompatible with Christian commitment.However,if we want an example of a witch who was not evil, we need look no further than Wizzley's Jo Harrington, who is much missed on this site.

blackspanielgallery on 10/30/2019

It is interesting to see the connection to Ireland. Now the costumes include princesses and superheros. Masks include politicians and royals. Zombies and monsters are always present. Some years back the local Catholic bishop proclaimed it fine to celebrate Halloween as long as one does not do so to honor the devil. I suppose this would include coven activities, even though some claim they are witches but not evil.

frankbeswick on 10/30/2019

;Some points on terminology.

1:Lambswool is an English rendering of the Gaelic La mas ubhal [day of the fruit of the apple.] Ubhal is pronounced oowal. It is equivalent to some drinks taken in England in the course of wassailing. Interestingly, the word mas for fruit may have survived in English in the term mast, which denotes beechnuts fallen from trees, which is why years heavy in beechnuts are known as mast years.

2: Colcannon gets its first syllable from cole, a word signifying cabbages, which survives in the word coleslaw.

Veronica on 10/29/2019

re spoiled apples. It is always a problem with spoiled apples even now . Apples which fall or are not picked in time. The pukka story is I think how early people tried to explain such events .

I have never tasted Lambswool but I suspect it links in to the use of apples before winter.

Ty my aim is always to try to take people on a " visit " when they may never actually get a chance to visit places off the standard British tourist trap.

The pumpkins were in a beautiful fireplace which I saw in Wray Castle last week.

As for Colcannon? It is delicious. Just cook a little extra cabbage and mashed potato sometime. Mix them together and fry over very briefly. My dad used to call it Resurrection. Sometimes it has onion added.

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