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), would take 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.
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 the 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 many festivals that you’ll find around the country.
Here are 9 of the best known Halloween festivals in Ireland.
1. The Puca 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.
This 4-day festival in County Meath is a popular annual celebration of Halloween that draws locals and international visitors.
The festival, which takes place Oct. 27-31, includes a number of free and ticketed events, all focused on “music, myth, food, folklore, fire, feasting and merriment.”
Some of this year's musical acts include The Charlatans, Macy Gray, The Waterboys, Damien Dempsey, Hothouse Flowers, and Sharon Shannon, to name a few.
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.
In Trim, expect five nights of music, comedy and Halloween spectacle around the town's Trim Castle.
The festival's opening procession will take place in Trim on Oct. 28th, blending outdoor theater as well as street performances and music, all focused on the lore of Samhain.
In Athboy, an ancient Samhain hub, visitors will gather on Oct. 31st at the town's Fair Green to view the festival's closing ceremony known as “An Lasadh Suas.”
Expect the Puca flame to ignite on a special stage, beginning a night of music and celebration.
Other events to enjoy at the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival include Pooka Spooka at Causey Farm, which will take place on Oct. 15th and again from Oct. 21-22 and from Oct.28-31, from 12 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.
For more information on the Puca Festival, be sure to check out the 2023 program of events.
2. The Bram Stoker Festival
The popular Bram Stoker Festival returns to Dublin on Oct. 27th for four days and nights of “deadly adventures.”
The celebration pays homage to Bram Stoker, the Dubliner who created the novel “Dracula,” which was first published 126 years ago.
Last year, the highlight of the festival was a light and sound experience called “Borealis,” which beamed the experience of an aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) over Dublin Castle’s Upper Courtyard.
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.
This year's program of events will be released in early October.
3. Derry Halloween Festival
You haven’t experienced Halloween until you've come to Derry.
Enjoy the atmosphere of a city thronged with revelers disguised in scary costumes.
In addition, you can 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.
This year's festival takes place between Oct. 28th and 31st.
Here are some of the details of this year's celebration. A full program of events is expected to be released soon.
Awakening the Walled City Trail, Saturday Oct. 28th-Monday Oct. 30th
Go on a magical journey through the City of Bones where you’ll encounter a cast of weird and wonderful characters who bring Halloween to life in Derry. See the story of Halloween/Samhain through illumination, an aerial performance, pyrotechnics, and music.
Parade and Fireworks, Tuesday, Oct. 31st
Watch as hundreds of local performers participate in the city’s most popular parade, bringing the story of Halloween together in the form of magic displays and more.
The celebration culminates in a wonderful fireworks display over the River Foyle.
If you plan on being in Derry during this very popular time, be sure to book your accommodation in advance.
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 virtual reality experience known as the Gates of Hell Tour or a separate day or night tour.
The 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.
5. Macnas Halloween Parade, Galway
Unfortunately, this popular event hosted by Macnas, a performance company based in Galway City, did not take place last year, but it is hoped that it will this year.
The expected date for the Galway Halloween parade is Sunday, Oct. 29th.
If the 2023 parade is anything like years past, expect it to include the signature Macnas giant creations and sculptural images along with pyrotechnics, bespoke costumes, and epic performances to live, original music.
In the past, audiences have been brought on a journey that conjures up the magic of Halloween, with fizzling light displays that brings out the street-hopping, traffic-stopping excitement that this event is known for.
If you plan to be in Galway around this time, you won’t want to miss it.
6. The Nightmare Realm
This adults-only, award-winning Halloween event has been dubbed the most terrifying Halloween event in Ireland and the Best Scream Park in Europe.
The attraction is housed in 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. 6th and runs through Nov. 3rd. Tickets can be purchased on the website.
You must be 13+ to see the attraction.
7. 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.
8. The Cork Ghost Tour
Take a trip through 1700s era 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 €17 for adults and €14 for students and seniors.
9. 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.