Despite climate change’s best efforts, the evenings are beginning to draw in.
Many people will not be aware that Hallowe’en has its origins in Ireland. It’s changed quite a bit since I was a child in the 1980s but some facets still remain the same. Back then, we dressed up and went to our neighbours’ doors looking for fruit and nuts. It was a special house that gave out chocolate or sweets. We greeted the neighbours with “Help the Hallowe’en party!” though I have heard different sayings from other parts of the country such as “A penny for the púca!” A púca is the Irish word for a ghost. We would go to watch local bonfires, echoing long past Celtic traditions.
At home we played games involving bobbing for apples, trying to eat apples (there were a lot of apples, being a native in-season fruit!) from a string hung in a doorway and of course barm brack. A ring would be baked into the cake and whoever found it was said to be the next to marry.
While these customs live on in some format, a selection of older traditions can be found in the National Folklore Collection on Dúchas. In the late 1930s, school children were asked to collect stories from older people in their area. They wrote them up in their very best handwriting. The collection can be viewed and searched a number of different ways online. It is a treasure trove. You may even find some from your locality or that someone in your family wrote one!
I picked out a few of the Hallowe’en traditions that were new to me. Thomas Traynor told Phil Joe Traynor from Baileborough in Co. Cavan that people used to throw cabbage in their neighbours’ doors. That doesn’t sound fun!
Francis Davin from Kilkenny described the Three Saucers game. A person would be blindfolded and led to a table contained 3 saucers. One contained clay, one had water and the third had a ring. If a person put their hand in the clay, it meant they would die within a year. Water suggested they would emigrate. A ring would lead to marriage! I’d love to see some statistics on the veracity of this method 😊
Halloween was also night when fairies could cross into the human realm. Ruby Gibson from Donegal recounted a spooky tale of why you shouldn’t mess with the fairies.
The below-unnamed person from Carnaross in Co. Meath talked about how cats should be kept tied up on Halloween!
Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh!