All Hallows Eve is well and truly upon us. Jack-o-lanterns light up every doorway and kids have already started to appear in costume on the streets. As an Irish company, we think it’s only fair to recognise the Irish origins of Halloween and what better way to do this than to take you back to the Oíche Shamhnas of the past. Here are five defining features of an Irish Halloween that you’ll never forget as long as you live…
We can’t have a proper chat about the Halloweens gone by without mentioning the ridiculous costumes. In the 80s your Mammy would resourcefully make use of what was at her disposal to create your costume. The go-to was, of course, the black refuse sack. An old reliable, it doubled as a raincoat for the intermittent showers on the trick-or-treat route. No one knew what you were dressed up as but that didn’t matter because they too, were wearing black plastic bags.
In the 90s, American Halloween culture began to infiltrate the nation and a few incredible additions arrived. Plastic witch fingers covered in fake blood. Horrifically realistic old-crone masks. 3 primary colours of chalky face paint that would melt down your face when you played Halloween games. Glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth that didn’t fit properly over your braces. This was a time when the idea was to look as horrible as possible and we Irish kids understood the assignment.
Or lack thereof. It’s hard to believe but somewhere in our distant memories, sweets were few and far between at Halloween. Nuts and apples were the preferred payment back when “trick or treat” wasn't even a thing. Does the term “Help the Halloween party” ring a bell? If so, you’ll remember being simply delighted with yourself when you heard the clink of coins in your bag instead of crushed monkey nuts and soggy fruit.
Later in Irish Halloween history, the candy came rolling in and we were beside ourselves. Those growing up in the 90s and 00s will remember the sheer stickiness of drumsticks as they ruined the teeth of an entire generation. You’ll recall packets of meanies and dip dabs being the most sought-after loot on the night. Not to mention when Tato released their very own Halloween crisp, Banshee Bones. The obsession was real, and we milked those Halloween sweet bags until Christmas.
The Apple-Themed Games
These days, can we even imagine seeing a queue of kids lining up to dunk their heads in THE SAME barrel of water? We are of course referring to Bobbing for Apples, a traditional Halloween game that probably contributed to various outbreaks of the flu or tuberculosis back in the day. Do you recall how they TIED OUR HANDS BEHIND OUR BACKS to prevent cheating? We would emerge victorious from the filthy bowl, the apple between our teeth and the cheap paint dripping down our faces. Thank God we were kitted out with those water-resistant black bin bags.
There was also Snap Apple, a tamer version of the aforementioned drowning game, where the apple would be tied to the roof, and we’d jump up to bite it. Then pass the apple where you stand in a line or circle and pass the apple to each other using only your chin. Regardless of what fruit-filled fun was on the cards, not one of our traditional Halloween games was Covid-friendly and that’s for sure.
Do you remember being TERRIFIED learning about Oíche Shamhna at school? All Hallows Eve, we were told, was the time when the veil between the living and the dead was at its most thin. If you didn’t dress up as something scary for Halloween, you’d be approached by all sorts of ghosts, spirits and fairies. However, there was one creature that haunted the minds, bodies and souls of Irish kids and you are probably still afraid of her today: The Banshee. We won’t trigger your childhood trauma by describing the horror of the Banshee here. You know what she looks like. You know what she sounds like. Let’s move on before we all start taking out our rosary beads…
Out of all the Halloween traditions, the Báirín Breac has to be the most iconic. Anyone growing up in Ireland will have heard about this weird and wonderful ritual. Though we remember it fondly these days, when you think about it, the concept of the Báirín Breac is bizarre, to say the least. As kids, we were told that a half-burnt, rubbished-filled currant cake that contained some mystery ingredient preventing it from going off, could tell the future.
Never mind Libra season and your daily horoscope. The Breac performed its divination in a way that was blunt, brutal, and oddly specific to your relationship and financial status. Find a piece of cloth in your slice of Breac? You’d be poor. Find a button? Single forever my friend. Bite into a small matchstick? Your spouse would beat you with a stick. It’s safe to say that the Breac provided much disappointment to the Irish children of the past. All except for the smug little feckers who got the ring.