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Samhain – Hallowe’en in Ireland Posted by on Oct 31, 2020 in culture, history, Irish Language

Dia duit gach duine — Hi everyone!

Did you know that the origins of Halloween are actually Irish? Samhain is a Celtic pagan festival that originated thousand of years ago. It marks the end of the harvest season and the ‘light season’ and the beginning of winter, the ‘dark season.’ Oíche Shamhna is the Irish word for Halloween, literally eve of Samhain.

The Fire Festival 

Tlachtga (Hill of Ward) near Athboy, Co Meath was named after a powerful druidess (a member of the high ranking class in ancient Celtic culture) called Tlachtga who died there while giving birth to triplets. It dates back to approximately 200 AD and was the location of The Great Fire Festival of Samhain.

The festival was important because it gave light and warmth to the dark days of winter ahead. People would gather and give sacrifices to the Gods. No other fire was allowed to burn in Ireland at this time except for the great fire, since it was also believed the fire guided friendly spirits. All fires were extinguished, marking the darkest night of the year, and then the great fire was lit, to mark the new year. People would wear masks and costumes to discourage their dead loved ones from taking them to the other side. The fire was visible from the Hill of Tara, which was the seat of the High Kings of Celtic Ireland and where people gathered for feasts and to celebrate Samhain, both 3 days before and 3 days after.

Hill of Tara

The Feast of the Dead 

It was believed that during this time of the year the dead could return to this world, and the fire guided as well as warmed them. Great feasts were held with places being reserved at the table for the dead.

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The festival of Samhain is mentioned in the Irish myth of Aillén Mac Midgna, the fire breathing goblin:

Aillén Mac Midgna was a fire breathing goblin from the other world, Mag Mell. for 23 years Aillén brought terror to Ireland’s most sacred location, the hill of Tara, the seat of Ireland’s High King.

Each year, on the eve of Samhain, Aillén would arrive at Tara and play the Irish harp with such enthusiasm causing everyone in the immediate area to fall asleep under his spell.

Once Aillén had cast all of the kings guards asleep he would use his fiery breath to set fire to the great halls of Tara with his fire breathing, leaving nothing but burning cinders behind. When done Aillén would return to his fairy mound at sídh Finnachaid leaving the people to rebuild the great halls.

Nobody could kill the fire breathing goblin because as soon as anyone got close to him they fell asleep under his spell which is why he was able to continue year after year. That is, until the Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill learned about the disastrous deeds of Aillén.

A few months after Fionn succeeded in becoming a Fian warrior and chieftain of Clan Baiscne he was told of the fire breathing goblin who was causing chaos at the hill of Tara every Samhain. As Fionn had all the knowledge in the world gained from the Salmon of Knowledge, he made a request to the High King. For leadership of the Fianna, a band of warriors, he would kill Aillén Mac Midgna the fire breathing goblin. With all the warriors in Ireland unable to stop Aillén the burner the Irish King agreed to Fionn’s request.

Like everyone else, Fionn was not immune to the musical spell from Aillén so he needed a way to avoid falling victim to the goblins magic but how? 

Another Irish warrior by the name of Fiacha had a poisoned spear but he lacked the knowledge on how to use it. Fionn mac Cumhaill on the other hand knew exactly how to use it after all, he had all the knowledge in the world.

On Samhain’s Eve Fionn held the spear to his head and inhaled its magical fumes, making him immune to the musical spell  from Aillén’s harp. He lay in wait for Aillén to get closer and within reaching distance he stabbed him with the spear killing the goblin to everyone’s joy.

The King, true to his word, gave Fionn captaincy over the Fianna warriors. Its leader at the time, Goll Mac Morna who was Fionn’s enemy, stood down and swore loyalty to Fionn.

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Some vocabulary for you: 

Halloween – Oíche Shamhna

October — Deireadh Fómhair

Witch — Cailleach

Ghost — Púca

Pumpkin — Puimpcín

Trick or Treat — Bob nó bia

Sweets/ Candy — Milseáin

Scary movie — Scannán Scanrúil

Halloween party — Cóisir Oíche Shamhna

Games — Cluichí

Apples — Úlla

Haunted — Cráite

Moon — Gealach

Shadow — scáth

Tomb — Tuama

Graveyard — Reilg

Coffin — Cónra

Skeleton — Creatlach

Ghost story — Scéal taibhsí

Vampire — Vaimpír

Blood — Fuil

Werewolf — Coinriocht

Devil — Diabhal

Death — Bás

Oíche Shamhna sona – Happy Hallowe’en everyone!

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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Digital nomad. Gaelophile. Creator of A Polyglot's Inkblot: https://www.apolyglotsinkblot.com


Comments:

  1. Rudy Jakma:

    The aerial photo is not of the Hill of Ward, but of Tara. Obvious to anyone who has visited the place, but it may confuse those who are interested in the origins of Samhain.
    Good article, though.


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