Tourism Ireland Celebrates Samhain (Halloween)

It was a dark and stormy night – well, it very well could have been – 3,000 years ago when the first traces of Halloween took place in Ireland.

“It was an Ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, about 3,000 years ago folks would dress up in costume to ward off evil spirits,” says Dana Welch, manager, Tourism Ireland, Canada. “One of the fun facts is it was actually turnips that were carved originally, which then morphed into pumpkins as it became more westernized.”

Tourism Ireland shared the history of Halloween last night (Oct. 29) during an evening at Dora Keogh Irish Pub filled with music, whiskey tasting, Guinness (of course), storytelling by Jonathan Lynn and an Irish Halloween bread/cake called Barmbrack.

“It’s a traditional Irish dish that would be made around Halloween,” Welch tells PressToday. “Depending on what you’d find in the cake it would tell your fortune for the next year. So if you’d find a ring you’d get married in the next year. There are multiple things that you’d find in it.”

For example, a thimble represented a forever spinster, while those who found a walking stick would be in for future travels.

Celebrate Halloween in Ireland

For the trade, she says Tourism Ireland has loads of images, content, facts and videos travel agents can use in promoting travel to Ireland for the festive occasion.

“I think if you’re a fan of Halloween, being able to experience it where it originated is really exciting,” she says.

As the birthplace of Bram Stoker, who penned Dracula, there’s a Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin, which is described as four days of deadly adventures.

“I had the personal pleasure of celebrating Halloween in Derry-Londonderry last year, which is incredible,” she says. “If you’re not in costume you will be the odd man out. It’s very family-friendly during the day and it’s a walled city and they bring the walls to life with acrobatic displays and fireworks over the river.”

Canadian lift and arrivals remain strong

In terms of getting to Ireland, she says it’s never been easier with 8,000 seats a week in the peak of summer. Not only did Air Canada launch Toronto to Shannon and Montreal to Dublin service this year, but three new direct routes are also on the way next year. WestJet announced Calgary to Dublin service, Norwegian announced Hamilton to Dublin service, and Aer Lingus announced a Montreal to Dublin route.

“It’s a great increase in access and we’re really, really excited to work with our partners, airlines, tour operators and travel agents to be able to promote Ireland this year and next year, it’s a really exciting time,” she says.

Coming off a record year for Canadian tourism to Ireland last year, Welch anticipates the annual number for visitors in 2018 to come in strong.

“We did have a record year last year for tourism so we were able to break the 200,000 mark so over 200,000 Canadians went to Ireland last year,” she says. “We’re a top 10 source market globally and actually number five when it comes to revenue so we’re really excited about the growth that’s coming out of Canada. And we anticipate double-digit growth this year based on how North America is trending for the year, which is really exciting. Going into next year with the new air access that’s been announced, we’re anticipating a really strong year.”

Ireland Halloween facts and trivia

  • Did you know Halloween originated in Ireland nearly 3,000 years ago?
  • The tradition of Halloween remains strong in Ireland. The festival in Derry-Londonderry was voted one of the best festivals in the world.
  • Before carving pumpkins, turnips were used. The tradition dates back to the 18th century as a means to keep away roaming spirits on Halloween. When Irish immigrants came to North America, they found turnips were less common, so they substituted pumpkins.
  • Halloween originally began as the Celtic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. During Samhain people would wear costumes to disguise themselves and light bonfires as protection from evil spirits or fairies. 
  • The Ancient Celts dressed up in animal skins on Halloween, to ward off evil spirits and avoid kidnapping – giving us the tradition of wearing costumes today.
  • The morphing of Samhain into Halloween came about in the 7th century when Christianity declared All Saints’ Day or All-Hallows for Nov. 1. This made the night before it All-Hallows Eve or Halloween.
  • The legendary novel Dracula was written by author Bram Stoker, who was born in Ireland. Each October, the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin playfully celebrates the gothic, the mysterious, the thrill of Halloween, and delves into the legacy of one of Ireland’s most treasured authors.