As an Irish person living abroad, I get a little homesick as October trundles through to November. Hallowe’en, by far one of my favourite parts of Irish cultural heritage, begins to appear in local supermarkets and shops, advertisements for parties, special episodes of your favourite TV show – you name it, it’s everywhere. Without fail, images of cats, witches and carved pumpkins make me nostalgic for homemade costumes, fortune-telling tea loaves, bobbing for apples, a bonfire on a dark night and bags full of sweets.
Given the mass commercialisation and global expansion of this holiday, those outside of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland would be forgiven for thinking that Hallowe’en was a celebration that has its origins in the US. The fact is that in addition to it having roots in traditions spanning many cultures and eras, immigrants from Western Europe (especially from Celtic speaking countries) brought the commonly recognised ‘Hallowe’en’ traditions to the US and Canada during the waves of mass emigration in the 18th- and 19th-centuries. In its homeland, Hallowe’en was a pagan festival following the end of the harvest season. In Irish the phrase for Hallowe’en is Oíche Shamhna (ee-heh how-neh)- loosely translated to something like ‘the night of the end of the summer’.
Even the jack-o-lantern, a well-known symbol of Halloween, has its origins in Celtic tradition, where turnips, more difficult to carve, were swapped out for the softer pumpkin. Turnips are still used on the Isle of Man for the Hop-tu-Naa festivities (the Manx equivalent to Hallowe’en).
Ireland has no shortage of destinations of a supernatural calibre. Below are three things to do in Ireland that have a spooky vibe:
St. Michan’s Church, Dublin
Visit this unassuming 17th-century church on Church St. in Dublin’s city centre and take an engaging tour of the dark crypts below – complete with mummies. The current church’s foundations date back to the 11th-century and the oldest of the mummies an impressive 800-years-old. While the limestone material of the crypts has created the ideal conditions for the preservation of these mummies, the wooden coffins have fallen apart, leaving the remains visible to visitors. Spooky bonus – the mother of Bram Stoker, the Irish author, is buried in the church grounds and it’s said that his visits to the crypts as a child eventually inspired him to write Dracula.
Kingship and Sacrifice, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin
If 800-year-old mummies don’t do it for you how about some bog-preserved people instead? Kingship and Sacrifice is a permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street in Dublin City of Iron-Age bog bodies. The exhibition explores theories of human sacrifice and features other items related to royalty, war, food, tribal boundary markers and ‘votive deposits of butter known as bog butter’ and tells us a lot about customs in Ireland during the Iron Age.
Loftus Hall, Hook Head, County Wexford
Loftus Hall on Hook Head in County Wexford is known to many as ‘Ireland’s Most Haunted House’. The site has been inhabited since the 12th-century and the house’s history was affected at many pivotal points in Ireland’s history. The current mansion, built after the old 14th-century castle was demolished, dates from 1879 and is linked to some pretty impressive ghost stories. Inside, several of the features evoke what must have once been a striking interior. The central staircase is reputedly one of just three ever made, the second being on the sunken Titanic and the third in the Vatican.
The most enduring story about the house is that in 1765, a lone traveller came to the house, stayed and played a game of cards with the family. When one of the daughters of the family bent to pick up a card that had fallen to the floor, she saw that the guest had a cloven hoof. Following her discovery, the guest exited through the roof and the hole he made could never be repaired. it was believed by many that the devil himself haunts the house along with the daughter who was so disturbed by the event that she died not long after the incident.