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09th Oct 2019

Your kids can explore Halloween’s ancient origins at Wexford’s Samhain festival


Halloween is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my favourite day of the year.

It’s got all of the excitement of Christmas with none of the present-buying-house-cleaning-visitors-calling-dinner-cooking stress. Plus you get to dress up and eat lots of sweets – that’s what I call magical.

Much as I love all of the amazing new costumes and decorations that are packed into the shops right now, I do look back very fondly on the old school charm of my own childhood Halloween.

In the 1980s, kids didn’t have stacks of professional costumes to transform them into a Disney princess or action hero any time they felt like it. Instead, we were swaddled in an old bedsheet or stuffed into a black plastic bag, given a mask and told that’s what being ‘dressed up’ looked like.

In those days, we came home from doing the rounds of the neighbourhood laden down with carrier bags of fruit and nuts (I very clearly remember being bemused the first time anyone ever gave me sweets on Halloween). And ‘trick or treat’ hadn’t arrived from America at that stage, so we asked anyone who answered the door to ‘help the Halloween party’.

It was also the time before pumpkins, so we made lanterns from turnips to ward off evil spirits. Anyone who has ever cut up a butternut squash for dinner will have an idea of how hard it is to carve a turnip!

There was colcannon and barmbrack for dinner, followed by bobbing for apples or attempting to sink our teeth into one hung from a string. The evening would end with a scary movie that would keep us wide-eyed for half the night.

It was a simple celebration, but we were fiercely proud of the fact that Halloween had been invented in Ireland.

If you’d like to introduce your little ones to the original Halloween traditions – ones even more ancient than our own simpler times! – plan a trip to the Samhain Festival at Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford.

Across the weekend from October 26 to 28, and again on October 31, families are invited to gather around blazing bonfires in the shadow of the lighthouse. At 2pm and 3pm each day, the festival’s druids will share tales of ancient Samhain customs. The events are free to attend, with no pre-booking required.

Later those same evenings, there will be special lantern-led tours of the 800-year-old lighthouse, from 5.30pm to 7pm. The organisers warn that these spooky tours are most definitely not for the faint hearted. They cost €10 per person, and can be booked here.

Sounds like a great way to give your kids a taste of the old Samhain traditions, before they go out to enjoy the new Halloween ones!