Halloween is Based on the Irish Myths of Samhain

by Kelly R. Smith

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Irish Samhain became Halloween
Irish Samhain became Halloween

We tend to think of Halloween as a holiday of its own accord. But that is simply not true. Just as Christmas traditions and celebrations have connections to the winter solstice and Easter has merged with pagan spring celebrations and has connections to the Jewish Passover, Halloween is based on the Irish myths of Samhain. It is called Oíche Shamhna in Irish Gaelic.

What is Samhain?

As the the Celts understood it, the year was divided into two parts. The “lighter” part was in the summer and the darker part was in the winter. Samhain, or Halloween as it is now called, was the separation between these parts. They believed that the veil betwixt our world and the otherworld was at its thinnest just then. Oíche Shamhna (October 31) is Halloween and Lá na Marbh (November 1) is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day when those who have passed away are remembered.

Irish Myths of Samhain

  • Fionn MacCool. According to one of the several tales told in the “Tales of the Elders,” each year at Samhain for twenty-three years the fire-breathing creature Aillen would lull the men of Tara to slumber and then burn the court to the ground during the night. The young hero Fionn MacCumhail avoided sleep. He stuck the sharp end of his spear into his forehead (ouch!) and killed Aillen with that spear. Because of this act, he was made the head of the Fianna.
  • Queen Maeve. As written in In the ancient Irish epic poem “Tain Bo Cualigne,” the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht waits until Samhain to begin the Cattle Raid of Cooley. In the course of her raid, which drives the plot of the epic, she tries to catch a prize bull of Ulster in order to equal the possessions of her husband Aillel. The hero Cu Chulainn single-handedly protects Ulster until the Ulster men’s birth pangs finish and they can do battle.
  • Lugh. Arguably best known as Cu Chulainn’s father, the god of light arrives the court at Tara to join the Tuatha de Dannan at Samhain. According to Whitney Stokes’ 1891 volume “The Second Battle of Moytura,” as soon as Lugh enters the court, the Tuatha de Danann are oppressed by the Fomorians. After the high king gives him command over the Tuatha de Danna, Lugh begins preparations to overthrow them. After days of battle, Lugh and the Tuatha de Danna are victorious.
  • Nera. The hero that calls Cruachan home undergoes a bravery test ordered by King Ailill. For the king’s own gold-hilted sword, a man must leave Ailill’s hall and go to the gallows where a man had been hung and then tie a twig around the dead man’s ankle. Others had attempted this and given up when spirits harried them. But on Samhain night, Nera finishes the task and the man comes alive and asks for a cup of water. When Nera fetches him the water, he sees the royal buildings burned to the ground and a woman from the fairy mounds informs him it is a vision that will happen if the people of the court are not warned. In one version of the myth cited in Patricia Monaghan’s “Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore,” he is captured by the fairies and held in a fairy mound until next Samhain.
  • Emer. John T. Koch notes in “The Celts: History, Life, and Culture,” in the myth “The Wooing of Emer” Samhain is discussed a couple of times. The tale describes the courtship of the beautiful Emer, who is transformed into a variety of creatures before reuniting with her husband. Samhain is the first of the four “quarter days” mentioned by the titled heroine. Also in this story, Oengus claims the kingship of Bru na Boinne, what is today Newgrange, on Samhain.

So, these Irish myths of Samhain played a large part in the formation of we know today as Halloween. The celebration and traditions may have changed quite a bit, but it just goes to show the malleability of history and tradition. It’s a small world after all. Please participate in the poll located on the right-hand sidebar of this page.


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

The Eternal Wisdom of Irish Proverbs

Kelly R. Smith, údar

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A rainy day in Dublin, Ireland
A rainy day in Dublin, Ireland

The Irish have been at times denigrated in the past, by the Romans, the British, in other European countries, and even in America when they came as immigrants. But you have to acknowledge, not only did the Irish save civilization from the fall of Rome until the rise of the Medieval period by secreting away books in their monasteries, they’re also full of wit and wisdom. Enjoy the following Irish proverbs and wear your Irish Lives Matter t-shirt with pride!

Can You Relate to These Wise Irish Sayings?

  • The older the fiddle the sweeter the tune. Meaning that people and things improve with time.
  • It’s often that a man’s mouth broke his nose. Meaning that not watching what you say could land you in big trouble.
  • The longest road out is the shortest road home. Meaning that if you invest enough time and effort into something important, it will yield dividends in the end.
  • You’ll arrive back with one arm as long as the other. Meaning that when you head out on a thankless quest you’ll find that you arrive back with nothing to show for it.
  • For every mile of road there are two miles of ditches. Meaning that that it’s good to remember that there are two sides to every story, as our two-faced politicians take note of!
  • There’s no use boiling your cabbage twice. Meaning don’t go over and over the same worries in your head because it solves nothing.
  • As the old cock crows, the young cock learns. Meaning that your children learn by your examples. That’s a good thing to remember as you keep them close all day during the COVID-19 lockdown.
  • If there was work in the bed he’d sleep on the floor. Meaning, “That fella is super falsa (lazy)!
  • A woman planted feathers in the dunkel and thought she’d grow hens. Meaning that just because you thought something would work doesn’t mean you were right. Ever been there? Yeah, thought so.
  • No need to fear the ill wind when your haystacks are tied down. Meaning that once you’ve prepared correctly for the task at hand, then there’s no need to fret over the outcome. Yet another sign of maturity, bean mhór (old woman).
  • He didn’t lick it off a stone. Meaning that his actions are influenced by those around him. But if it is any consolation, tá an chloch mhór sin go deas (that big stone is nice).
  • You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind. Meaning sure and it’s nice sitting and thinking about something, but that won’t get it done, mate.
  • It’s a long road there’s no turn in. Meaning no matter how bad your current situation is, things always change. Stiff upper lip now.
  • Now you know you’re home. Meaning that now you’re in your happy place. Or safe space with rainbows and legos to play with if you are a social warrior.
  • I wouldn’t call the Queen my aunt. Meaning that you are in such a blissful frame of mind that even suddenly becoming royalty couldn’t improve it.
  • What I’m afraid to hear I had better say first myself. Meaning that you have to be honest and guard against your own shortcomings.
  • The road to Heaven is well signposted, but it’s badly lit at night. Meaning that life has many challenges in store for us but the reward is well worth it. Once again, the Irish spirit of optimism in future rewards for hard work and diligence.
  • It’s as easy to catch a cold in a king’s castle as in a shepherd’s hut. Meaning that wealth gained won’t protect you from the trials that life brings you.
  • It’s better to pay the butcher than the doctor. Meaning don’t skimp on healthy food as it will cost you your health dearly in the long run.
  • A broken man is better than no man. Meaning that you shouldn’t wait for Mr. Perfect to come along at the expense of becoming an old maid. The same applies to men about the fairer sex. Tá bean mhór bhreá anseo. Ach tá mé sásta! (There is a fine big woman there. But I am satisfied!)
  • A lamb’s bleat is often more telling than a dog’s bark. Meaning a subtle way and a quiet approach can yield more beneficial results than brute force and loudness. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”
  • It’s a lonely washing that has no man’s shirt in it. Meaning that more’s the pity for the widow woman or the one who has spurned all her suitors.
  • No matter how many rooms you have in your house you can only sleep in the one bed. Meaning, your possessions might not be what ye think they are.
  • Even black hens lay white eggs. Meaning that, as ye are wont to say, never judge a book by its cover.
  • An empty sack does not stand. Meaning that folks that bluff and are truly ignorant will always be found out in the long run. If you like your doctor you can keep him comes to mind.

So, now you are well-armed for your next office meeting or dinner party. Wow ’em with your new-found array of the wisdom of Irish proverbs.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Who Was St. Patrick and Why Was His Holiday Invented in America?

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St. Patrick's Day Parade
St. Patrick’s Day Parade

St. Patrick’s day is one of two “foreign” beer holidays (not counting New Year’s Eve) that were actually invented here in the United States, not imported. The other, of course, is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Other holidays, such as Christmas, originate elsewhere but we excel at making our own.

Why, other than the green beer, is St. Patrick’s Day so popular? The last Census showed that 34.1 million Americans have Irish ancestry. That’s seven times the population of Ireland. Chances are that you’ve got a wee bit o’ the Celt in you. The coronavirus is not going to stop you from celebrating, right?

Who was the Real St. Patrick?

Patrick was born not in Ireland, but in Britain into a Romanized family. At 16 years of age he was abducted by Irish raiders from his father’s villa. His abductor was Calpurnius who was a deacon and a minor local official. Patrick was carried off into slavery in Ireland. There he spent six bleak years there working as a herdsman, during which time he turned with fervor to his faith. When he dreamt that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he escaped from his master and found passage to England. There he approached starvation and endured another brief captivity before being reunited with his family. It is thought that after that he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.

The best known passage in the Confessio speaks of a dream, following his return to England, in which one Victoricus offered him a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he heard a company of Irish folk asking him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the brevity of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to answer the call. Even on the eve of reembarkation to Ireland he was overwhelmed by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once there however, his hesitations vanished. Completely confident in the Lord, he wandered far and wide, baptizing and confirming with true zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a minor king here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any.

Legends of St. Patrick

  • St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, Ireland never had snakes because they couldn’t get there for one reason or another. Other islands that don’t have snakes include New Zealand, Hawaii, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica.
  • Patrick raised people from the dead. A 12th-century hagiography places this number at 33 men, some of whom are said to have been deceased for many years.
  • He enshrined the shamrock, which he used to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish. The shamrock represents three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Traditionally, Irishmen have worn shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • He created the Celtic Cross which super-imposed a circle, representing the sun, onto the traditional crucifix in order to convert the Irish. There are many other competing theories as to the origin but this is as good as any.
A Celtic Cross
A Celtic Cross

St. Patrick’s Day is American?

Yes. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade happened not in Ireland but in the good old United States, that veritable melting pot. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

Today in New York City the parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in all of the United States, numbering over 150,000 participants. Ever year, nearly 3 million people line up on the 1.5-mile parade route to view the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah join them in celebrating the Celtic day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.

So who isn’t ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even if it’s an American holiday? Chances are that a bit of you hails from Dublin, Galway, or County Clare. I’ll take any excuse to eat more potatoes.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.