Samhain - Night of Joy and Merriment

Games and entertainment for Halloween and Samhain. The crops are in, the stores for winter in the barn and larder. Everyone can relax and have some fun. Oíche Shamhna Shona Duit (Happy Halloween)!

The first task is to carve the turnip with a face, then put in a candle. Halloween Lanterns

November night is generaly called "Halloween" in this district. On that night several games are played by the young children. Long ago the young and old people used to take parts in the games but nowadays the games are played by youngsters. First the household and the neighbours if there is any into visit have a big feast. After the feast the children play the games such as the Blind Man's Buff, Snap Apple, and divining in water for money. Halloween Games

Dressing Up

Men and children in particular would dress up in their oldest clothes, put on masks or 'false faces', and roam the area, frightening the neighbours. A format used in the modern trick or treat. In some areas they were known as Brigeens or Caithleens.

Friendly neighbours might give them an apple, a few nuts or sweets, whilst others will chase the 'tramps' away. Musicians might accompany the group, and they would sing songs as they went from house to house.

Annoying the Neighbours

Tie a cord to a door knocker, hide, and then pull the cord. Run! The knocks on the door bring out the house owner, but whoever knocks the door is far away.

What's that hidden in the tree?

Halloween is the last day of October. It is one of the greatest feasts of the year for young people. On that night boys go out and steal gates, carts, traps etc and hide them for a few days. Duchas Schools Collection : Halloween - Co. Galway


These might be thrown at people's doors, or even dropped down the chimney. At the very least a cabbage is taken, broken and strewn on the roads. Or it might be left on the doorstep of a poorer family. Others hang them from the door handles.

Often all the family went to a cabbage patch, blindfolded, and pulled the first heads of cabbage they touched, be it good or bad. Pull a bad head of cabbage, everybody laughs, because they say you would marry an ugly person.

Colcannon ( “cal ceannan,” which means “white-headed cabbage”) was the dish of the day - mashed potatoes and cabbage combined and topped with a knob of butter. And don't forget to leave a dish outside for the fairies. They are out and about and no person would be seen out of doors after twelve o'clock on this night.

Cabbage garden in Co. Kerry

(Duchas Photographic Collection)

Snap Apple

‘Snap apple’ consists of an apple hung from the ceiling by a string. A player is blindfolded, spun around several times as quickly as possible and then tries to catch the apple with one bite.

Of course folk love to tease others and sometimes potatoes would replace the apples, or a cord of both hung across the room. Another option is to add candles with several players trying to grab the apples at the same time. Photo from the dú -The Photographic Collection

Then there was another game two pieces of sticks would be got about a food and a half long and put crossways on each other and nailed in the center in the shape of a cross. Then a cord would be tied from one of the rafters to the center of the cross.

There was four points on the cross, and on one of them would be an apple, on another a candle, on another a bar of soap and on the last a three-penny bit.

The cross would often be put in motion and the game was to try and catch the apple or the three-penny bit in your mouth. Very often it is the bar of soap or the candle you would catch and then the fun would commence. Whoever would catch the apple or the three-penny bit could keep them. Duchas Main Manuscript Collection

Bobbing / Ducking for Apples

On Halloween all the children of a village gather into one house. They get a tub of water into which they put an apple. They then stick their heads up and down in the water trying to get the apple with their teeth. The child who succeeds in getting it may eat it.

Sometimes a shilling or a penny is stuck in the apple. This makes it harder for the "ducker" because the money makes it sink in the water. Duchas Schools Collection

Often they tied each others hands behind their backs, then knelt down, hampered by not being able to use their hands to grab the apple. Another complication is that you have to spear the apple with a fork held in the mouth.

It is said that if you put the apple under your pillow you will dream something that will happen in the future.

Story Telling

Several ghost stories are told about Hallowe'en and here is one from Roscommon.

It was said that in olden times there lived two brothers and the youngest was a great rambler. One night the elder decided to wrap a sheet around him and frighten his brother. When the younger brother was on his way home he saw a man dressed in white and laughed at him. It was said that the true ghost came and killed the brother.

Who will I marry?

When the veils are thin, as at Halloween, divination is enhanced. The future was always a concern and for the girls and lads who they would marry. The lasses would often gather together in a house to plan their futures. And mothers would make barm brack, a spiced fruity bread, with a ring hidden in it. Whoever finds the ring will be married within the year. A variation is to add a small rag and a bean (or pea). The rag foretells poverty (or a nun / priest) and the bean wealth.

Make sure you chew all your food well for the cook may be have hidden a button (no marriage for the man), a thimble (remain a spinster), a coin (wealth) and a ring (marriage) in the colcannon.

Another game involves putting two nuts in the fire, the name of a girl on one and a boy's name on the other. If the nuts remain together the two named with be married but if the jump apart they will never be married.

If there is a new moon a person goes to a well with a mirror and holds it over the well. He counts the number of moons he sees with the mirror. The number represents the number of years until he is married.

Peel an apple in front of a mirror and your future spouse will appear. If you can peel it in one go, throw the strip over your left shoulder and it will fall into the initial of the man you will marry. Good luck!

Three Grains of Wheat - A game of three's. Hopeful girls put three grains of wheat into their mouths. Off to three neighbour's houses they listened at the door of the last house and if a man's name was mentioned in the conversation they overhead this would be their future husband.

(Several of the above were sourced from stories in the Duchas School's Collection)

Three Plates Custom

dú - The Photographic Collection

Long ago it was the custom on Novembers night to leave three saucers on the table. One was filled with clean water another with dirty water and the last one with clay. A game of cards was then played and the winner was to put his hand into one of the saucers. Before doing this he was blindfolded. If he put his hand into the saucer of clay he would die soon. If he put his hand into the saucer of clean water he would be the first to get married. If he put his hand into the dirty water he would never get married. Duchas Schools Collection - 3 Plates tradition

Another trick they practice, is to put three saucers on the table, into which they put clay, water and a ring. Each person present is blindfolded to the saucers. If he puts his hand in the one with the water, he is expected to cross the sea the soonest of the crowd; and if he puts his hand in the clay, is expected to die the soonest. If he puts his hand in the ring saucer, he is supposed to get married before the rest of the crowd present. Duchas Schools - clay, water and ring

Another version has clay, water and a bead. If the person puts his hand into the saucer where the clay is will be the soonest to die and if he puts his hand into the saucer where the water is he will cross the water. If he puts his hand into the saucer where the bead is he or she will be a priest or a nun.