Samhain (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ SAH-win or /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ SOW-in, Irish pronunciation: [sˠaunʲ])1-
Have you ever thought about celebrating a holiday that your ancestors did? I am not talking about the ones we celebrate today, or today’s version of yesteryears holiday. When we were planning our trip to Ireland for the fall, the one thing that came to mind was Halloween. The hubby loves Halloween! I decided that while in Ireland on this holiday, we needed to celebrate there. I did a lot of internet research to see what would be happening on October 31st so I could plan accordingly.
What I found was super exciting. 16 years ago a group decided that they wanted to recreate the Samhain festival the pagans celebrated. Once I saw the Spirit of Meath Halloween Festival, I knew that is what we would be doing that night.
Samhain originated in County Meath over 2000 years ago, it marks the end of the old celtic year and the beginning of the New Year. The druids believed that the veil between the two worlds came down on this night and that the spirits of all those that died since the last Oíche Shamhna (Night of Samhain) would move on that night. ((Spirit of Meath: Where Halloween Began)) More information on this can be found on the Spirit of Halloween website.
We started the festival at the Fair Green where hundreds of people congregated for the event. Some dressed for Halloween, others dressed for the festival and others dressed for the weather (it was cold that night). The festival started with a short pagan ceremony, a song that was taught to the crowd and then the hundreds of people began the walk up to Tlachtga. (Check out the cool google earth map , I believe the area of Eighty Eight acres is where we walked to).
As we walked up the hill, many of the homes had fires on the roadside lighting the way for all. Some of the families were very active in the celebration, having many great carved pumpkins, some were outside handing out candy to all those that passed by and others were out just to talk to those who felt like conversing as they walked.
Once we got to the top of the hill, we had to climb over the entry to the land, it is closed off as the people who own the land still use it for their animals to roam. They are kind enough to let everyone on their property for this celebration. Once we got over the entrance, we walked a bit further to where the fire pit was set up. It was sooo crowded. We estimated about 800 people in attendance. They did take a poll at the beginning and found that there were people from 5 continents there. Amazing to see so many people come together to celebrate this.
Once the ceremony started, there was a definite feel to the festival. It was very ceremonial and had the feel of a pagan or maybe a Wiccan event. For those that have never attended an event like this, it could be very strange indeed. Personally, I have Wiccan friends and I found it amazing to watch.
Once the main event started, there was an opening ceremony (or circle). Much of the ceremony focused on ancestors. Again, the belief was that all those that died within the past year were moving on to the other side, on this night. Everyone was asked to write a name of an ancestor, or a wish for the coming year. Each of those papers were to be burned in the bon fire. Historically, the bon fire was the pinnacle part of this event. It would not be started until all the other fires in Ireland were out. At the end of the celebration people would light a torch from this fire and take it back home to light the fires there, it was forbidden to light them any other way.
For any of my genealogy friends who happen to be in Ireland around Halloween I would definitely recommend this event. If you have an ounce of Irish blood running through your veins, its pretty safe to say that your ancestors took part in this celebration.
Unfortunately, we were exhausted, we had been out all day enjoying the countryside of County Meath, so we decided we needed to leave before the 800 people left to make sure we could get out without too much of a traffic delay. So we headed out, over the blockade we had to cross to get in and back down the hill, through the Fair Green and to our parked car. My ankles felt like they were going to snap in half. I was not sure I would make it to the car.
I definitely recommend seeking out celebrations that your ancestors took part of in your travels (or close to home as well).