Halloween’s Irish Origin

Oct 2015
Spanning the line between fall and winter, abundance and dearth, life and death,  Halloween’s Irish origin is a time of celebration and superstition thought to have begun with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The souls of the dead visit their ancestral homes and it was natural  for the holiday to acquire a sinister edge with demons roaming about. Raging bonfires and pagan costumes became traditional hallmarks to ward off wandering ghosts and disguise humans from spirits. At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through to the other side.

Having just returned from Ireland, I observed the country starting to dress in its Halloween finery; traditions, symbols and customs are enjoyed throughout the Emerald Isle. I decided to look further into the connection and found our modern Halloween is an Irish holiday with early origins in this Celtic winter festival.

celtic ties to halloween

Early American history demonstrates that Halloween was not celebrated because of America’s strong Christian heritage, and first evidence is not widely found until the 20th century.  Initially, it was practiced only in small Irish Catholic settlements. When thousands of Irish migrated here during the great potato famine, they brought their customs with them. Interestingly, in American culture, the rise in popularity of Halloween also coincides roughly with the national rise in spiritism that began in 1848.

As millions of children and adults participate in the festivities of Halloween, few will be aware of its ancient Celtic roots in the Samhain festival nearly 2,000 years old. In Celtic Ireland this was the separation of the year straddling between light and dark. Food was prepared for the living and the dead; bones of slaughtered animals were part of communal bonfires.

Christianity incorporated the honouring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd. The wearing of costumes and masks to ward off harmful spirits survived as Halloween customs. Other traditions have blended the holidays together incorporating the harvest and pumpkins.

Halloween traditions thought to be incompatible with Christianity often became linked with Christian folk beliefs about evil spirits. Although such superstitions varied a great deal from place to place, many of the supernatural beings now associated with Halloween became fixed in the popular imagination during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance (14th to 17th century). The jack-o’-lantern, originally carved from a large turnip rather than a pumpkin, originated in medieval Scotland. Various methods of predicting the future, especially concerning matters of romance and marriage, were also prominent features of Halloween throughout the British Isles.
I recently had the pleasure of staying at The Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin where they have a Frightening Feast on their menu to celebrate Halloween. They were kind enough to share the recipe for their spine tingling Eyeball Cocktail. Make sure to keep your wits about you! 
Halloween at the Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin

Tomas Kreml, the mixologist behind the cocktail, is creating his spooke-tacular drink above.

Ingredients for the Eyeball Cocktail:

1 shot of vodka

1/2 shot of Midori melon liqueur

1/2 shot of Blue Curacao

Freshly squeezed orange juice, lime juice and sugar syrup

Topped up with Sprite

leeches + cherries for the eyeball

Halloween at the Fitzwilliam Hotel

Happy Halloween + Cheers!


Top photo via Punkbouncer, cocktail photos via The Fitzwilliam.


  1. Wow!! how cool is that. I’m sad I didn’t see this post earlier, I was looking for some crazy cocktails to make over Halloween. I ended up going for a spiked apple cider, this definitely looks WAY more fun!

  2. Karilyn says:

    It’s interesting to find out more about it’s Irish origins. My husband is Irish and his family and friends always comment how looney we are in America for our love of Halloween! I will have to send this their way 🙂

  3. Halloween cocktail. I’ll have to remember that for next year. Should go down a treat at the Party. Thanks for sharing the recipe 🙂

  4. Miranda says:

    This is so interesting! I had no idea that the Irish had such a role to play in Halloween becoming popular in North America. And, I’ll have two of those eyeball cocktails, please.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I love the carved pumpkin! Not sure I could do that at home. The cocktails would be fantastic for a party. I am sending this on to a few folks I know that love Halloween!

  6. Crizzy Kiss says:

    First of all, I love this postcard design thing that I’m typing right now for the comment 😉 It’s fascinating to know different origins of Halloween in every country. The cocktail looks enticing, thanks for sharing the ingredients 😉