Ireland's Ancient East isn't called "Ancient" for no reason! We have over 5000 years of history made up of folk tales, myths, legends and recorded fact and it's all ingrained in the countryside.
Halloween is now a global event from China to the Americas, everyone now seems to take part in some way. Whether its dressing up in ghoulish costumes or taking the little ones Trick or Treating.
But let's trace the festival back to its original roots and you will arrive back to Ireland's Ancient East. It was here that the Festival of "Samhain" was celebrated during the time of the Celts over 2000 years ago. So as you take your children out this Halloween it's worth remembering they are carrying on a tradition that started here a long, long time ago.
The Feast of Samhain
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. It was seen as the beginning of a New Year, think New Years Eve to the Ancient Celtic people! At Samhain the boundary between this world and the after life was at its thinnest and spirits and demons could easily pass through. Celtic families would honour their ancestors while evil spirits were warded off. People wore costumes to appear like the wandering spirits and therfore remained free from harm, This is where we get the dressing up tradition from!
As Halloween coincided with the feast of the Harvest, greast amountd of food were prepared - not just for the living but also for the dead. The food for the dead was then given to the poorer families.
Bonfires played a large part of the festivities, fire symbolising man’s power 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. Even the American tradition of carving pumpkins 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.
These traditions continued on even with the introduction to Christianity. They simply rebranded the festivals as "All Hallows" and "All Souls". In the 19th century the Irish emigrated in huge numbers due to the Potato Famine and took their traditions regarding Halloween with them.
The eerie tales of Ireland's Ancient East are brought to life in spooky country houses and on interactive tours such as;
For centuries, 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 was 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 executions.
Today, interactive tours of Wicklow Gaol take in the building’s colourful history, as a microcosm of the story of Wicklow and of Ireland itself. The spooky atmosphere creates a spine-tingling backdrop to the performances of convincing actors – take a night tour if you dare…..