There is something special about Ireland’s Ancient East at Halloween
Long forgotten pagan rituals, fireside ghost tales, gloomy stately homes and spectral tours, there’s so much to enjoy in Ireland’s Ancient East this Halloween, the very heartland of Samhain, the precursor to the world’s spookiest festival.
Ireland’s Ancient East harbours 5,000 years of history, weaved together through the stories, both real and imagined of its people – folk tales, legends, myth and recorded fact ingrained in the very fabric of the ruined monastic sites, of the peaty expanses of bog, the megalithic tombs and monuments, of Ireland’s most historic region.
Halloween is a global event now. From China to South America, dressing up in ghoulish costumes and celebrating the darker side of life is increasingly a more familiar activity at the end of October.
However, trace the festival back to its roots and you will be brought to Ireland’s Ancient East. It is here that the ancient festival of Samhain was celebrated first in Celtic Ireland over 2,000 years ago. This Halloween as millions of children all over the world dress up to go door to door trick-or-treating, it’s worth remembering that they are carrying on a tradition that started in Ireland’s Ancient East a long, long time ago.
In Celtic Ireland over 2,000 years ago, 31st of October, the feast of Samhain represented the division of the year into the darker half (winter) and the lighter half (summer) and was seen as the beginning of the new year, equivalent to New Year’s Eve.. At Samhain the boundary between this world and the other world was at its thinnest and thus spirits and demons could easily pass between the two.
A family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home while evil spirits were warded off. People wore costumes to appear like the wandering spirits and therefore remain free from any harm. This is where the tradition of dressing up came from.
At this point as the sun travelled into the underworld, the forces of the underworld were in the ascendency. The Lord of the Underworld, Donn in Celtic mythology, no longer under control of the sun god had the power to walk among us and with him walked all manner of demons, spirits, faeries and dwellers of the underworld.
Bonfires played a large part of the festivities and the lighting of huge fires was supposed to symbolise the human assistance to the waning sun as it past lower in the sky. Fire acted as the great counterpoint to the natural cycles and symbolised man’s power on this earth to control his own destiny in the face of nature’s chaos. The bones from slaughtered livestock were tossed into the flames and household fires were extinguished and lit again from the bonfires.
As Halloween coincided with the feast of the Harvest, great amounts of food were prepared. Not just for the living, but also for the dead. The food for the dead was given to the poor – practised today in the tradition of going trick-or-treating.
Christianity adopted the feast of Samhain as All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd, however, the customs of Samhain endured. In the nineteenth century, the Irish emigrated to America in huge number to escape the Potato Famine they brought those customs with them.
The American Halloween tradition of carving a pumpkin comes from the Irish practice of carving devilish faces in turnips and hanging them aloft as the Celts had done with the heads of their enemies in times of war.
Two hills in the Boyne Valley are associated with the festival of Samhain, Tlachtga (Hill of Ward) and the Hill of Tara. Tlachgta was the scene of the Great Festival of Fires during Samhain and the Hill of Tara some 12 miles away would wait until the fires had been lit at Tlachgta before lighting their own fires. The fires were a reassurance to the farmers of the Boyne Valley that the darkness of the winter would be overcome and the sun would return. All fires were to be extinguished and relit from the flames of the Tlachgta fire.
The Mound of the Hostages (Dumha na nGiall), an ancient passage tomb located on the Hill of Tara. in Co. Meath is also associated with the festival of Samhain and the burial chamber is aligned with the sunrise on October the 31st, when the sun’s rays illuminate the back of the chamber.
The Festival of Fire carries on the custom today. Experience ritual, music, song, storytelling and pageantry as the Story of Tlachtga, the Samhain Festival of Fire is enacted October 31st. Gather on the Fairgreen in Athboy, Co Meath from 7pm and join in honouring our ancestors and emerse yourself in the Samhain magic on Tlachga’s Hill where it all began over 3,000 years ago. Bring along a lighted torch.
Samhain, or Halloween as we now know it, is a magical time, both in ancient pre-Christian Ireland and in Ireland’s Ancient East of today. It was the end of the season of plenty and a time to come home to the hearth for the winter. Boundaries and bridges had a certain significance at this time of the year and it was a time for telling stories. The Celts told stories of their gods and heroes who battled for supremacy and today we tell stories of ghosts and mysterious happenings.
We delight in the spooky, mysterious and frightening themes of a time when the imagination is at its most fertile and we feel the closeness of the otherworld. It’s the perfect time to explore the 5,000 years of history, the ruined castles and great houses, all with their unique tales to share. A time to celebrate our history, together with our families and to cast the mind back to a time long ago.
Standing solitary and exposed to the elements on the Hook Peninsula Loftus Hall has an imposing and sinister presence when seen from a distance and which grows more intense as you approach on the long driveway from the road. At the point where the Three Sisters – the Nore, the Suir and the Barrow rivers enter the sea Loftus Hall has for centuries dominated the landscape. The house has a character all of its own and its storied and eventful history are tied up with tales of the supernatural.
The house is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Lady Anne, and the devil himself is said to have visited the house. It is a uniquely spooky place that is also beautiful and haunting. Loftus Hall is in its element at Halloween with people coming from all over the world in search of paranormal activity it is the perfect place to give the kids a fright at Halloween.
The crumbling decadence of a once great seat of Anglo-Irish aristocracy and a history that goes back to 1350 when the Norman Redmond family rebuilt their castle on this site, there are centuries of struggle and strife from which to mine many a ghostly tale. The house also has a bewitching energy that causes visitors to fall in love with it and return again and again.
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Kilkenny Ghost Tours, Kilkenny Castle
On the banks of the wide and rushing dark waters of the river Nore, Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland with its cobbled streets, imposing castle, ruined city walls and eerie atmosphere is a perfect place for a haunting ghost tour.
One of Ireland’s most dynamic and happening cities is also steeped in history and tale of the paranormal. A walking Ghost Tour of the city is a brilliant way to discover both the old and the new in a way the whole family will love.
Kilkenny locals are fiercely proud of their city and their passion comes through when walking the famous butterslips. They’re also famed storytellers and use ghost stories that are rooted in historical fact, as a way to bring the rich history of Kilkenny to life.
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Down to the dungeon! These stairs decent from one of the landings in wicklow gaol down to cells where torture was carried out as part of interviewing inmates and getting confessions. . . . . . #igersdublin #pocket_ireland #gaol #descoverireland #symmetricalmonsters #finearchitecture #rsa_preciousjunk_ #canonukandie #ig_ometry #feedbacknation #artofvisuals #thedarkpr0ject #wicklow #wanderireland #wicklowgaol
For centuries the Wicklow Gaol housed prisoners in the most atrocious conditions. Often subjected to torture before their execution, sometimes let to languish in squalor for years before their demise due to malnutrition or disease, human suffering is part of the very fabric of the building.
During the rebellion of 1798 rebels used guerrilla tactics to attack British garrisons in the Wicklow Mountains. As the rebellion foundered and the rebel forces grew weak and splintered many ended up in Wicklow Gaol where they were tortured for information before their summary executions. The bodies were dumped offshore from fishing boats.
With the Great Famine came an increase in crime, the stealing of livestock and crops saw the gaol’s population surge, the gaol was crowded with desperate, hungry people.
Tours of the Wicklow Gaol take in the building’s dark history. Wicklow Gaol’s story is a microcosm of the story of Wicklow and of Ireland itself. The spooky atmosphere is the backdrop to real life actors who promise to enthral and terrify in equal measure. Take a night tour if you dare…
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Kinnitty Castle Co. Offaly
Known as one of Ireland’s most haunted castles Kinnitty Castle was built in 1209. Originally a home to druids and bards the castle was burned to the ground by Republicans in 1922 and rebuilt to its current state in 1928. Today it operates as a hotel. The high cross and Abbey wall of the original structure remain and there are many rooms believed to be haunted. The Geraldine and Elizabeth rooms routinely leave visitors spooked but the castle’s most famous ghost is the Monk of Kinnitty, Hugh. The mostly benign spirit has been spotted by both staff and visitors and communicates with one particular member of staff and sometimes predicts future events. Click herefor more.
Charleville Castle, Co. Offaly
A statue of the Virgin Mary looking out an attic window in Charleville Castle in Tullamore, Ireland. Im not a religious girl... But i really liked how the light from the window lit up the statue. Added to the eerie factor to the attic. The statue wasnt exactly something i expected to find up there. #Tullamore #ireland #charlevillecastle #Travel @tourismireland
The daughter of the 3rd Earl of Charleville, Harriet tragically died aged eight in 1861 after sliding down the main balustrade and losing her grip, crashing to the stone floor. Her ghost is still reportedly seen and felt on the stairs, and at night the screams, laughter and singing of a young girl can be heard. The 1st Earl of Charleville has also remained to protect his home, his spirit has been seen walking the tower. Visitors have also seen inexplicable balls of light darting throughout the castle. The visitor experience at Charleville is open daily from 1-5pm with tours lasting 45mins-1hour. Click herefor more.
With the reputation as Ireland’s most haunted house Leap Castle is said to be occupied by many ghosts and spectres. The most terrifying is a small hunched figure or creature that is accompanied by the stench of rotting flesh when he appears. The O'Carrolls, princes of Ely, built it as their main stronghold in 1250 A.D. It was erected on a most commanding site facing the Great Pass through the Slieve Bloom Mountains to the province of Munster. It has a massive tower and walls nine feet thick. Gory murders are said to have taken place there - notably at a window high up in the tower.
Ghosts that have been seen include monks in the Priests’ House and a burly man seen pushing a barrel up a flight of stairs only for it to fall, and in the Murder Hole Room a cold hand has grasped the wrist of a resident, only for the room to fall still, a groaning heard and the sound of a body falling to the floor.
What. A. Day! On Friday night I had been reading about Leap Castle & how it's the most haunted castle in Ireland. (you wouldn't beeeelieve what went on in this castle!!) Anyway, the following morning I took a notion and decided to go see the place. Turns out it's a private residence but I figured 'fuck it, I'll knock on the door anyway'. The owner Sean Ryan (the man in the pic) invited us in straight away, sat us down and told us stories about the castle (by candlelight!) He then showed us the spiral staircase, gave us flashlights, and said we could wander up to the top of the castle and spend as much time as we wanted taking pics! We got to see the castle's old rooms as well as the infamous room at the top of the castle that sparked the hauntings! (we even climbed on to the roof but that's not really allowed so wouldn't advise it.... especially if you have a fear of heights!) When we arrived back down, Sean sat us down again and told us more stories. By that point the rain was pelting, the open fire was lit, and the atmosphere was actually spine tingling! Can't believe that such a spontaneous trip turned out to be so amazing!! (*As it turns out Sean actually holds pre-booked tours so if youve ever thought about visiting the place, definitely do it! It's incredible! I'd definitely advise pre-booking a tour. Don't just rock up to the place like we did!😂) 👻📷🏰🍀💕😱🏹 #leapcastle #leap #castle #haunted #offaly #adventure #Ireland #hauntings #theelemental #hauntedcastle #Ghost #Irish #irishcastle #scare #history #historical #ghoststories #hauntedireland #wanderlust #Oldcastle #instascare #roadtrips #travel #creepy #instadaily #candle #candlelight #historicalstories #irishhistory #tarasireland
A woman known as The Red Lady has been seen prowling the halls, dressed in scarlet and brandishing a knife with a look of pure hatred upon her face. An 11-year-old girl named Emily fell from the battlements in the 1600s and her fall can be witnessed time and again, although she disappears before she hits the ground. Viewing is by appointment only.
Halloween Train at Rathwood, Carlow
15th – 31st October
For a ghoulishly, scary and very exciting adventure get on-board the ‘Rathwood Halloscream Train”. Children will go on a magical journey where they will meet some spooky characters and friendly monsters and pick out and carve their very own pumpkin. Click here for more.
Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival, Meath / Boyne Valley
15th – 31st October
Celebrate in Meath where Halloween began at the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival with fun by day and fright by night. Featuring over 40 events throughout County Meath & the Boyne Valley. Click herefor more.
Ghoulish Story Telling at Wells House and Gardens, Wexford
29th – 31st October
Gather at Wells House and Gardens to meet the Wells witch at her most favourite time of the year for some ghoulish fun and terrifying tales of Halloween! With tales that scare and delight younger children in equal measure and fun festive party games too! Click herefor more.
Halloween Happenings at Lullymore Heritage & Discovery Park, Co. Kildare
29th October - November 4th
Lots of ghastly ghouls and terrifying treats are in store at Lullymore for nine spooky days including Haunted Holograms, Terror Train Trips, Terror Treasure Hunts and freaky fun in the devilish den of play—the Funky Forest. Click herefor more
Halloween is a time for the imagination, let yours run riot in Ireland’s Ancient East. There’s over 5,000 years of history to explore and a wealth of ghostly tales to enjoy. Bring the family along to haunted castles and houses, let the braver among you go for a night time tour. Feel the history come alive in Ireland’s Ancient East this year. Great stories stay with you forever, find yours in Ireland’s Ancient East.