Have you ever wondered what Halloween in Ireland is really like?
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Did you know that this popular holiday is based on the pagan festival known as Samhain?
The ancient Celtic holiday (pronounced “sow-in” as in sow, the female pig), took place between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and was one of four quarterly fire festivals in ancient Ireland.
This one marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.
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It was seen as the division of the earth’s year, going from summer to the much darker winter months.
It was this division that prompted the ancient people of Ireland to believe that the spirits could more easily pass through to the mortal world.
During Samhain, the deceased family members were honored while the evil spirits were banished.
To keep themselves from harm, the Celts often left food and drink outside to keep the spirits happy.
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If you’re curious why we dress up in costume for Halloween, it’s because the Celts often wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves from the evil spirits they most feared.
It was Irish emigrants who brought the old traditions of Samhain with them to America in the 19th century.
The holiday was virtually unknown here before that.
Today, Halloween is a popular holiday in Ireland and while there is certainly a more modern vibe to it, some of those old traditions are being revived in the different festivals that you’ll find in various parts of the country.
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Here are 11 of them to enjoy.
1. Spirits of Meath Festival, Co. Meath
There’s probably no better place to celebrate Halloween than in Ireland's Boyne Valley region, where Samhain was once celebrated with grand fires and feasts.
The Spirits of Meath Festival will take place from Oct. 1 through Nov. 6 and include a number of exciting events in Counties Meath and Louth, including the very popular Puca Festival.
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The Púca Festival
The 4-day festival in County Meath is a popular annual celebration of Halloween that draws locals and international visitors.
It includes a number of free and ticketed events, all focused on “music, myth, food, folklore, fire, feasting and merriment.”
The Púca is a shape-shifting creature from Celtic folklore and a familiar character in the Irish Halloween story.
Most of the entertainment will be centered in the towns of Athboy and Trim, which are steeped in Samhain legend and tradition.
The “Arrival of the Spirits” on Oct. 29 will officially kick off the festival in Trim, with the town and Trim Castle illuminated in holiday colors.
Groups of people will gather in a lively procession to the castle with torches in hand.
In nearby Athboy, the “Coming of Samhain” will take place on The Hill of Ward, once the site of great Samhain gatherings in pre-Christian Ireland.
On Oct. 31, the night of Halloween, enjoy a spiritual and historical retelling of the original Halloween story in the ceremonial enclosure.
The five ancient provinces of Ireland will be represented and symbolically united in flame.
Slane Castle, also in County Meath, is usually turned into a Halloween playground with all sorts of spectacular illuminations and installations throughout the site.
Enjoy a 1-kilometer walk around the grounds for some spooky fun where you’ll be entertained by a series of performers and installations.
This year, expect to hear a reading of “The Darkest Night,” a poem by Stephen James Smith on the Slane Castle courtyard; be amazed by a series of peculiar creatures “that lie somewhere between realistic and nightmarish;” and the opportunity to gaze at the projections on walls of Slane Castle that will bring this uniquely Celtic celebration to life.
You can find out about the other entertainers slated for this year's event by visiting the Púca Festival website.
Other events to enjoy at the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival include Pooka Spooka at Causey Farm, which will run on Oct. 22nd, 23rd, 29th, & 30th from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m each day.
Activities include traditional Halloween games and crafts, a scarecrow corn maze, a mirror maze, hayrides, limb throwing, and more. Suitable for children ages 2-12. Tickets go on sale in September.
The Pumpkin and Fun at Navan Adventure Centre in Co. Meath, which will take place on Oct. 22, 23, 29, 30th, and 31st, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is sure to be another crowd pleaser.
This popular event gives little ones the best spooky Halloween memories that include magic shows, pumpkin carving, a Halloween disco, and more. Suitable for children 3-12. Tickets go on sale in September.
The Tricky Trail at Tayto Park is described as a “spooktacular treasure hunt.”
Take a spooky adventure through this popular Irish theme park, enjoying interactive games, spooky storytelling, potions, spell casting, and magical performances by a whole host of characters along the way. Takes place Oct. 22, 23, and 29th through Nov. 2., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Purchase tickets here.
2. The Bram Stoker Festival
The popular Bram Stoker Festival returns to Dublin on Oct. 28th for four days of “ghastly thrills, spine-chilling spectacles, and fun-filled frights.”
Festival organizers were forced to take a two-year break due to the Covid pandemic.
The highlight of this year's festival is called “Borealis,” a light and sound experience that will beam the experience of an aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) over Dublin Castle’s Upper Courtyard.
The free event will take place each night of the festival from 6.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.
The festival's program of events will be released in early October.
Expect double the fun this year from a celebration that pays homage to Bram Stoker, the Dubliner who created the novel “Dracula,” which was first published 125 years ago.
As in years past, there should be plenty of entertainment for young and old, including film screenings, discussions, and walking tours of Dublin's dark side, specifically the sites most closely associated with Stoker (Marsh's Library, Trinity College, Dublin Castle, and more).
Major outdoor spectacles and installations are the hallmarks of this Halloween celebration, so if you're in the city, be sure to check it out.
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3. Derry Halloween Festival
You haven’t experienced Halloween until you've come to Derry.
Last year, the annual Derry Halloween celebration unfolded across five different “spirit worlds,” each of them representing a different spirit of the Celtic Samhain celebration.
This year, the celebration will continue, with these ancient spirits roaming the streets of the city as well as those of nearby Donegal and Strabane.
This year's festival takes place between Oct. 28th and 31st. Here are some of the details of this year's celebration. You can find more information from the festival's program of events.
The City of Bones, City Centre – mesmerizing projections, installations, and guises will chill as you take the City of Bones trail located in the heart of Derry’s city center. The trail runs through Bishop, London, Pump, and Shipquay Streets, as well as The Diamond.
The Forest of Shadows, St. Columb’s Park – tread carefully through this 1.5-kilometer corridor of light between St. Columb’s Park and Ebrington, where the veil between this world and the next is the thinnest. Situated along the banks of the River Foyle, expect to see 14 different installations, including dancing flames and hypnotic, mesmerizing displays, together with shape-shifting creatures and shadows.
Guildhall Square and Waterloo Place, Oct. 28-31st, noon – 9 p.m. – this section of the city comes alive with “creepy ghosts and ghouls feasting on the sights, sounds, and tastes of Halloween.” Live music and food will be available. You’ll find Saurus, a group of giant beasts from prehistoric times in this area too.
Spark!, City Center, Oct. 30th & 31st, different times – a popular street act that includes live music, movement, and light, together with high-impact drumming, choreography, and playful characters.
Derrie Danders Walking Tour, meet at Waterloo Place, Oct. 24-28th, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. – take a lighthearted and entertaining 1-hour tour of the City Walls with David Douglas from Derrie Danders Walking Tours, an Ireland on a Budget Tourism Ambassador. Hear stories of the city with a decidedly Halloween ghostly theme. Price: £8 for adults and £6 for children.
Enjoy the atmosphere of a city thronged with revelers disguised in scary costumes and enjoy the fabulous food, street theater, stunning light shows, live music, and more in a festival that is now recognized as one of Europe's best Halloween celebrations.
Many of Derry's bars and restaurants will be offering special Halloween menus, with some adding a ghost storytelling experience.
Even the Derry Girls mural, a popular attraction in the city, is getting a Halloween makeover.
The festival will culminate in the Hallowe’en Carnival Parade, which will feature circus and dance performances. The parade will end with a fireworks display.
4. Wicklow Historic Gaol, Co. Wicklow
What better place to celebrate Halloween than at the Wicklow Historic Gaol, possibly the most haunted place in Ireland?
Choose from the Gates of Hell Virtual Reality Tour or a separate day or night tour.
The new virtual reality tour will transport you back in time to the 1700s, providing you with a 3-dimensional view of the prison's conditions, including its dark dungeons.
Some of Wicklow Gaol's most notorious prisoners are characterized in the experience, as well as a guest appearance from one of the jail's famous ghosts.
The virtual reality part of the tour lasts for 19 minutes and is suitable for ages 10 and above.
The ticket also includes a regular tour of the jail, which includes an encounter with Mary Morris, matron of the prison, and her husband, the ill-mannered old jailer, after which you'll board the convict ship, HMS Hercules, for a journey to the New World.
Visit the gaol website for tickets and additional information if you want to visit this popular dark tourism attraction around Halloween.
5. Macnas Halloween Parade, Galway
Unfortunately, this popular event hosted by Macnas, a performance company based in Galway City, will not be taking place this year.
Instead, expect to see something new in the form of Con Mór The Giant.
The giant spectacle will be available for all to see on the banks of the River Corrib on Saturday, Oct. 29th and on Sunday, Oct. 30th from noon to 8 p.m. each day.
Representatives from Macnas are asking children to welcome the giant to the city by making or finding a feather and attaching their message of hope for the world to it.
Children who can’t get to Galway for this event can email their picture to [email protected] or even mail it to Con Mór, c/o Macnas HQ, Fisheries Field, Galway, Ireland.
The Halloween bank holiday in Galway will also include pop-up performances across the city from the Macnas Drummers, Macnas Brass, Macnas Stilters, and the Macnas Youth Theatre.
Macnas promises that the world-famous parade will be back in Galway next year!
6. Halloween Spooktacular at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is one of Dublin’s most popular attractions telling the story of emigration from Ireland.
The museum has an array of Halloween-related events this year. They include the following:
Samhain Festival, Oct. 22nd, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – expect to find a range of workshops in this new collaboration with the Samhain Festival that explores the ancient origins of Halloween. The events are geared toward young children who will be able to engage in a number of activities, including shadow puppetry, mask making, and vampire story workshops, as well as the opportunity to get involved in pumpkin carving and a special art project that culminates in the creation of a Halloween-themed monster. Workshop Price: €5.
Trick or Treat “Around the World,” Oct. 27th (multi-school workshop) – kids will learn about the old traditions of Halloween, such as turnip carving, bonfires, and spellcasting, all retold by a collection of characters dressed as Irish druids, warlocks, and witches. Participants will also have the chance to trick or treat around the globe using Irish soul cakes, Mexican sugar skulls, and creations from the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, an event that takes place in China on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The in-person workshop takes place from 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and a special virtual event is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. the same day. Workshop Price: €6.50 per student at EPIC; €50 per class for the online workshop.
EPIC Spooksplorers Halloween Trail, Oct. 29-Nov. 6, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. – visitors are encouraged to step inside the eerie vaults of the museum to uncover the elements of Halloween, a Celtic festival that began in Ireland. On this special “spooktacular museum trail,” you’ll learn why witches ride brooms and why some famous Irish people were associated with occult societies. Kids will also have the chance to create spooky poetry and then meet ghouls, fairies, and spirits that are all part of the Irish Halloween story. The last admission is at 5 p.m. Workshop included with ticket entry to EPIC.
Spooksplorers Family Experience, Oct. 29, 30th & 31st, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – this special family Halloween experience is a combination EPIC tour and a deep dive into Ireland’s spooky history. An arts and crafts workshop allows little ones to bring the ancient traditions of Halloween to life as they create their own turnip designs, learn how to read the ancient Irish symbols of fate or doom with EPIC’s frightful fortune teller, and then do some spellcasting of their own. Families are encouraged to dress up for this event. Price: €16.50 Adult (14+), €15 for children (4-13), and children under 3 are free.
Ghouls, Ghouls and “Goodie Glover Day:” The Irish Origins of Halloween, Oct. 28th, 29th, 30th & 31st, 4 p.m. – explore the darker side of Halloween on this special Halloween Tour. Delve back into the ancient Celtic traditions and find out how Samhain (“Sow-in”) evolved into the holiday we all know and love today. The tragic story of “Goody Annie Glover” will be retold on the tour. She was the Irish woman who was the last person hanged for witchcraft in Boston in 1688. Participants will also learn how the Irish immigrants who brought their traditions and folktales with them to America helped shape the story of the jack-o-lantern. Price: included in ticket entry.
Notorious Irish Murder Mystery Camp, Nov. 2nd & Nov. 3rd, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – a 2-day camp that involves EPIC’s detectives trying to solve a case and enlisting only the bravest and most fearsome recruits to solve it, all the while delving into the darker side of Irish history. Uncover the Irish figures who made a name for themselves across the globe, including the legendary Billy the Kid; the fearsome pirate Anne Bonny; William Lamport, the Wexford man behind the mask of Zorro; bootlegger, bank robber, and gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and many more. Price: €65 per child (includes the camp and an EPIC camp t-shirt).
Read More: See Revolutionary Routes: Ireland and the Black Atlantic at EPIC
7. Halloween in Belfast
While Halloween activities in Belfast last year included several in-person and virtual events, this year, the city is going all out with its celebrations.
Here are some of them. You can find a complete listing on the Visit Belfast website.
Halloween at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, Oct. 29th, 2 p.m. – the Irish language cultural center in Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter on the Falls Road will have a range of activities throughout the day, including art, storytelling, a trad disco, and a fancy dress competition. Price: Free admission but booking is required.
Frankenstein’s Monster is Drunk and the Sheep Have all Jumped the Fences, Oct. 14-22, 2022, 7:30 p.m. – enjoy a quirky look at the Frankenstein myth in this one hour and 10-minute flick at The Brian Friel Theatre at Queen's University, Belfast, part of the Belfast International Art Festival's offerings. Suitable for kids 14 and up. Price: £14-16. Tickets can be booked on the arts festival website.
Gruffalo Halloween Guided Walk at Colin Glen, Oct. 22-31st, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. – a guided walk along Northern Ireland’s official Gruffalo Trailin the Colin Glen Forest Park, with a Halloween twist of course! Hear the story of The Gruffalo and stop by the pumpkin patch along the way, where kids can pick their own pumpkin to carve and take home. Price: £6-£15.50.
Boo at the Zoo, Belfast Zoo, Oct. 29th & 30th, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. – enjoy a range of activities at Belfast Zoo, including pumpkin decorating, face painting, slime-making, animal meet and greets, and touch tables. Price: normal zoo admission applies.
Halloween Extravaganza at Crumlin Road Gaol, Oct. 21-31st, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. – a visit to the iconic Crumlin Road Gaol at this time of year is a whole lot of fun. Its Halloween Extravaganza includes the Spooktacular Gaol Tour, the Pumpkin Puffer Train Ride, and The Pumpkin Patch, its main attraction, and the petting farm. Crumlin's live interactive Halloween musicals are also part of the jail’s offerings. Price: Adults £12.50, children £14.50.
Hillsborough Castle Walled Garden, The Square, Hillsborough, Oct. 1-Nov. 13th, 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. – little ones will delight in the gathering of scarecrows in the castle's walled garden, part of Hillsborough's Harvest and Halloween Season. Frida Kahlo, Florence Nightingale, and Greta Thunberg are just some of the inspirational women that have been transformed into twig creations thanks to the work of local artists who worked with students and other groups and organizations to make the creative display. The castle is located about 25 miles from Belfast. Price: included in garden admission.
Also at Hillsborough Castle this Halloween season, you can enjoy The Scarecrow Night Walk, where the castle's scarecrows come to life from Oct. 28-31, 6-9 p.m. Price: Adults £13, children £8.60, family (1 adult and up to 3 children) £27.25, family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £37.40. Children under 5 are free.
8. The Nightmare Realm
This adults-only, award-winning Halloween event has been dubbed the most terrifying Halloween event in Ireland and in 2019, was voted the Best Independent Haunt in Europe.
Normally held at the Royal Dublin Society (RDSW) in Dublin, this year's event has been moved to a 130-year-old Victorian red brick building on Mary Street in the inner city.
If you fancy a good spine-tingling experience, you won’t be disappointed.
Expect dazzling special effects, immersive scenery, live actors, and five new mazes, including The Haunted Orphanage, The Sewers, Cannibals Playground, Attack of the Clowns, and Death Row.
The experience also features Ireland’s first 3D binaural experience, giving you the chance to settle down in the dark and immerse yourself in a classic Irish ghost story using only sound and your imagination.
The attraction opens on Oct. 7th and runs for 20 nights until Nov. 2nd. Tickets can be purchased on the website. Use discount code SPOOKY20 to get 20% off the price of your order.
You must be 13+ to see the attraction.
9. Dublin Ghost Tours
While the following ghost tours are available throughout the year, taking one around Halloween in Ireland seems like the right thing to do!
The Haunted History Tour of Dublin is a 1 and a 1/2-hour walking tour of the city that uncovers the macabre and gruesome aspects of Dublin’s history.
It includes information on the burning of the 18th-century Madam Darkey “The Witch” Kelly, the tragic tale of The Green Lady of St. Audoen's parish, and many more spooky tales.
Tours are available Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Tickets cost €19 each.
The Gravedigger Ghost Bus Tour of Dublin is another must-see Halloween attraction. The tour begins at the Gravediggers Pub, a family-run establishment founded in 1833.
The tour is available daily at 7:45 p.m. Tickets cost €29.
The Northside Ghost Walk Dublin Tour will take you to one of Dublin's oldest Viking neighborhoods, Oxmantown.
The ghost tour begins outside the popular Church Bar on Mary Street, not far from a small ruin that exists in an alleyway, once the home of Saint Mary's Abbey.
You'll hear the story of the infamous and sadistic “Hanging Judge” who presided over the trial of the United Irishman Robert Emmet, as well as the legend of “Scaldbrother,” the infamous medieval thief, and Billy the Bowl, the 18th-century murderer, born without legs, who once terrorized two Dublin neighborhoods.
The 1 and 1/2-hour tour also includes a visit to Numbers 7 & 8 Hendrick Street, once home to no fewer than six different ghosts.
The tour is available on Thursdays and Sundays. Tickets cost €19.
10. The Cork Ghost Tour
Take a trip through 1700s Cork to experience what the Cork Ghost Tour organizers describe as ” hilarious, horrible histories, local tales, ghost stories & hysterical shenanigans!”
The tour begins and ends outside the Cork Opera House. Tickets are €18 for adults and €15 for students and seniors.
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11. Kilkenny Ghost Tours
This ghost tour through Kilkenny, the home of the world's first-ever witch trial, is an attraction you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in the city at Halloween.
A new addition to the tour is the chance to walk through the medieval burial grounds of St. Mary's Church, where the remains of Kilkenny's merchant families were buried during the 13th century.
The remains of four skeletons were uncovered in this area in 2016 and were believed to have been among the city's poor.
Tours leave every night at 8 p.m. from Lanigan's Bar and Restaurant. The 1-hour tours cost €16 for ages 13 and up, €14 for ages 12 and under, and €55 for a family of 4.
Are you interested in experiencing Halloween in Ireland? Let me know in the comments below.