Irish language

Christianity, Paganism and good craic all combine for Halloween

HALLOWEEN IN STRABANE: I don’t know when this photograph was taken but it is frightfully spooky! The Bluffer hopes you all have a scare-free All Hallows Eve 
Robert McMillen

Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh, hello dear friends, Ghostbusters and cowardy custards, welcome to the Halloween Bluffer’s Guide to Irish.

Samhain is the Irish for Halloween (and also the month of November) so it’s time to look at things that go bump in the night.

But before that … festivals all over the world were centred around talmhaíocht - agriculture and na séasúir - the seasons - Earrach - Spring; Samhradh - Summer; Fómhar - Autumn and Geimhreadh - Winter.

The weather in Ireland a millennium or two ago was obviously different to what it is now which is why we celebrated the

first day of Spring on Lá Fhéile Bhríde - The feast of Saint Bridget, 1 February. Most of us now think of March as the first day of Spring.

Likewise, Samhain, 1 November, marked the first day of Winter for our ancestors whereas nowadays it marks the first day of Christmas shopping.

My first port of call when writing about festivals in Ireland is the late Kevin Danaher’s book The Year in Ireland: Irish Calender Customs.

Nós is the Irish for a custom as is gnás and a féile is a festival with féilte being the plural.

In it, he mentions a 19th century description of how the say was kept in western Limerick: “Our ancients looked on the night, as the end of the year’s growth and fairies were let loose to visit every growing plant and with their breath, blast berries and hedge-rows, field blossoms, ragworts and late thistles.”

Scary biscuits!

Some would have called Halloween oíche na sprideanna - night of the spirits or oíche na bpúcaí - night of the pooka.

The pooka was an Irish spirit who was sometimes kind and sometimes malevolent but a more common word for a ghost is taibhse.

Taibhse thorainn is a poltergeist and teach a bhfuil taibhsí ann is a haunted house.

An gcreideann tú i dtaibhsí? - do you believe in ghosts? 

If you do, an bhfuil eagla ort rompu? Are you afraid of them?

With Halloween coming up, let’s face it there is a lot to be afraid of.

Thankfully, we don’t have teenagers throwing bangers at us – or through the letter boxes of local pensioners – but we can still see rockets, fountains, Catherine wheels, lanterns and sparklers being lit if we are out and about on Halloween.

Tinte ealaíne are fireworks in Irish by the way, literally art fires.

But it is the idea that ghosts are all around us is still a strong one, whether we believe in the púca or in the idea of celebrating the souls of the dead who weren’t good enough to get into heaven or bad enough to be sent to Hell. A bit like living in Craigavon.

Lá Fhéile na Marbh - is the feast of All Souls, 2 November.

However, we Irish still like to keep in touch with our Pagan roots despite our once famous reputation for piety.

However, we share with the rest of the world the enjoyment of playing games, whether it is bobbing for apples, spending hours taking the shells off monkey nuts, trying to get a sixpence out of an apple cake (I presume the sixpence hasn’t been inflation-proofed so it’s probably a quid nowadays) and dressing up in white sheets, putting on scary make-up and enjoying all the make-believe.


Samhain (saowan) - Halloween

talmhaíocht (talweeakht) - agriculture

na séasúir (na shayshoor) - the seasons

Earrach (arrakh) - Spring

Samhradh (saoroo) - Summer

Fómhar (fower) - Autumn 

Geimhreadh (gevroo) - Winter

Lá Fhéile Bhríde (la ayla vreeja) - The feast of Saint Bridget

nós (noce) - a custom

gnás (gras) - a custom 

féile (fayla) - a festival

oíche na sprideanna (eeha na spridgeana) - night of the spirits 

oíche na bpúcaí (eeha na bookee) - night of the pooka

taibhse (tiyvsha) - a ghost

taibhse thorainn (tiyvsha horan) - a poltergeist

teach a bhfuil taibhsí ann (chakh a wil tiyvshee un) - a haunted house

An gcreideann tú i dtaibhsí? (un gredgeann too i diyvsha) - do you believe in ghosts? 

an bhfuil eagla ort rompu? (un wil ugla ort rompoo) - Are you afraid of them?

Tinte ealaíne (chintcha aleena) - fireworks

Lá Fhéile na Marbh (laa ayla ne maroo) - is the feast of All Souls

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