Halloween (Samhain)

The Halloween (Samhain) festival roots go right back to the Pagan Celtic festivals of Samhain & Calan Gaeaf. The Halloween Festival is well known and celebrated across the World. Irish emmigrants brought Samhain traditions to America, when there it evolved into Trick or Treat. The party games associated with Halloween, dressing up, snap apple, drinking and feasting. Traditionally, Halloween Night (Eve of Halloween), was the one time the dead could return. In Ireland Carroll’s Tours offer Halloween Self-Drives a vacation with a truly unique difference. These tours are about street festivals, like the Dublin Festival of Light, or the Galway Macna Street Theatre. Halloween is about storytelling, firesides, nice food and drink and the comforting solace of dark evenings. Here, we show you some of the things associated associated with this great festival.

Origins of Halloween

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SamhainThe End of Summer“, is the first of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar. Gaelic Celtic parts of Europe celebrate Samhain on the 31 Oct – 1 Nov in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. The Brittonic Celts call Samhain Calan Gaeaf in Wales, Kalan Gwav in Cornwall and Kalan Goañv in Brittany. Calan Gaeaf means”first day of winter“. For the Celts, the day ended and began at sunset. The Halloween festival begins on the evening before 1st November. This, by modern reckoning (is half point between equinox & solstice). In the ancient Irish and Welsh manuscripts, the names of Samhain and Calan Gaeaf both appear. The ancient Celtic names for Halloween are used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs. Both these names are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween.

Halloween Spirits

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The Dullahan (Headless Horseman)

Dullahan or Dullaghan, in Irish known as Gan Ceann (“without a head“), is a Mythological creature in Irish folklore. The Dullaghan figure took the form of a headless rider on a black steed, carrying his head underarm. He rides across the Irish countryside. The Dullahan is male, but there are some female versions. Said to be the embodiment of the Celtic God The Crom Dubh. The myth of the Dullahan comes from Ireland. The correct term is the Crom Cruach, or the “king idol of Ireland“. The Crom had 12 disciplies who changed into Hell-hounds.
The believe was that when ever the Dullahan stops riding, a person dies. As the Dullahan calls out the person’s name, he takes the soul of his victim, who immediately drops dead. Golden objects can force the Dullahan to disappear. The movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, features a Death Coach driven by the Dullahan. Irish emmigrants took this tale abroad and from that come the stories of the Headless Horseman.


The Abhartach was a hated Druidic ruler in ancient Ireland. He was brutally cruel and used many of his evil dark powers on his many enemies. Slain by a local chieftain named Cathain. Legend states the Abhartach was buried three times and each time he rose from the dead to drink the blood of the living. His final resting place, is the Slaghtaverty Dolmen. It comprises of a large rock, two smaller rocks lying under a hawthorn tree. It is located in Slaghtaverty, near Maghera in County Derry. Folklorists believe the Abhartach inspired Irishman Bram Stoker to write Dracula, not Vlad III.


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One of the most famous of Irish Supernatural Halloween figures is the Banshee. The Banshee can only be heard when a loved one is dying. Her mournful cry has terrorised the Irish around Halloween. The word Banshee, comes from the Irish “Bean Sí,” literally meaning female fairy. So, grab a white sheet with eye holes will suffice if you wish to dress as a Banshee when partying on October 31!

Jack O’Lantern

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The Jack O’Lantern is where the origins of the modern Halloween pumpkin comes from. Jack O’Lantern a ghostly spirit who trapped Satan in a cross-shaped tree hollow. For Jack’s punishment when he died, he was barred entry to both Heaven and Hell. Poor Jack wanders suspended in a black abyss between heaven and hell. Unable to see, he carries a glowing ember in a carved-out turnip. This light, known as the Devil’s flashlight, helps Jack navigate the dark otherworld.

Oweynagat ‘Cave of the Cat’

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Oweynagat is part of the ancient Rathcroghan Cemplex. While not a cave of great geological significance, it is a cave of great historical and mythological importance. Said to be the entrance to the “underworld” when, at Hallowe’en each year, it served as a portal to/from hell. 

The cave has long associations with the pagan festival of SamhainHalloween, as well as being described as the “fit abode” of The Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. The Morrigan was the Irish Celtic Goddess of War and drove warriors into a war frenzy. She is a shape shifter, appearing as a witch, beautiful woman and a crow. She is mainly associated with war and fate, especially with foretelling doom, death or victory in battle. Also associated with the later connections to the Banshee.

Oweynagat Cat is a place where boys where sent to become men. Alone standing in fear and total darkness it was an ancient Irish rite of passage. The Morrigan and Rathcroghan feature heavily in the epic tales of the Tain or the Brown Bull of Cooley. Rathcroghan was the seat of Connacht’s terrible Queen Meabh who waged war on Ulster to claim the Brown Bull. Meabh was tyrant, a feared ruler, she killed her sibling Eithne and took many lovers. In many ways she was like the Morrigan.

In Oweynagat Cave there is an Ogham Stone used as a lintel. Over the entrance reads the Ogham Script “Fraech son of Medb“. Fraech was a indeed a son of Meabh, lending some credibility to the Tales of the Tain. So in Oweynagat you have the Morrigan, Meabh and the entrance to the underworld. It is believed at Samhain (Halloween) you can enter or leave the Underworld.

Blog written by Austin Rock, Tour Guide, Tour Planner with Carroll’s Tours

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