An Irish Halloween – Meaning & History

An Irish Halloween

Twas the banshee’s lonely wailing
Well I knew the voice of death,
On the night wind slowly sailing,
O’er the bleak and gloomy heath.

A lot of people don’t realize it, but Banshees are not the bringers of death, but rather the speakers for the soon to be dead. They sing of the deeds done by the soon to be departed, but to mortal ears, only the keening wail is heard. She is solitary faire woman, mourning and forewarning those only of the best families in Ireland, those with most ancient Celtic lineages, whose names begin with ‘Mac/Mc’ or ‘O’. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys and the Kavanaghs.

By ‘O’ or ‘Mac’, you’ll always know
True Irishmen they say,
But if they lack an ‘O’ or ‘Mac’
No Irishmen are they!

Intermarriage has since extended this select list. Each Banshee has her own mortal family and out of love she follows the old race across the ocean to distant lands. Her wails or keen can be heard in America and England, wherever the true Irish have settled.

When someone is about to die, the Banshee appears at the family’s home during the night and weeps and wails. Sometimes, the Banshee cries for several nights in a row. Her sharp, cries and wails are also called ‘keen’. The wail of a banshee pierces the night, its notes rising and falling like the waves of the sea, it always announces a mortal’s death.

It is said that when a member of the beloved race is dying, she paces the dark hills about his house. She sharply contrasts against the night’s blackness, her white figure emerges with silver-grey hair streaming to the ground and a grey-white cloak of a cobweb texture clinging to her tall thin body. Her face is pale, her eyes red with centuries of crying. Unseen, banshees attend the funerals of the beloved dead. Although, sometimes she can be heard wailing, her voice blending in with the mournful cries of others.

In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Kerry, the keen is experienced as a “low, pleasant singing”; in Tyrone as “the sound of two boards being struck together”; and on Rathlin Island as “a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl”.

It is possible to offend a Bean Sidhe (banshee). Never cut down a Faerie tree, or move an ancient boundary marker. Or disturb her while she laments the dead. If you’ve managed to get yourself into one of the bean sidhes bad books, go to the place where she most often appears after dark and leave a peace offering of bread. If it is gone the next day, you know that all is forgiven. If not, you must have really got her angry. It is said that if you meet one and she gives you her name, do not tell anyone else her name as she’ll never forgive such an intrusion of her privacy.

In County Clare local legend in the Dysert area told how Aoibheall (a well known banshee) and twenty-five other banshees washed blood-stained clothes in Rath Lake on the eve of the famous battle in 1318 at which Richard De Clare was killed, and that they still do so in times of crisis. Richard the Clare, the Norman leader of the 12th century, had met the “horrible beldame”, washing armor and rich robes “until the red gore churned in her hands”, and had been warned by her of the destruction of his host.

A word of warning, an Adh Sidhe should never be confused with a bean sidhe. Similar in appearance to the Banshee, the Adh Sidhe are spirits that are only seen by people who have an unclear conscience. They appear as either beautiful women who lure the evil to their destruction, or as sleek, terrifying black horses with red glowing eyes. You have been warned……….

But as it fell out on last Halloween
When the seely court was riding by
The queen lighted down on a rowan bank
Not far frae the tree where I wont to lie

She took me up in her milk white hand
And she’s stroked me three times on her knee
She changed me again to my ain proper shape
And I nae more maun toddle about the tree

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. So many terms, all Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. Halloween is a Celtic holiday, ancient, before the written word. The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane.

Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where not many speak Gaelic). Samhain was seen as the end of the year by the Celts, a new years eve. The new year itself began at sundown of halloween night with the onset of the dark phase of the year. The night itself is a celebration of the dead.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of fairy stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.

It is also classed as a Celtic feast of divination. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tealeaf reading so likely to succeed. A game that’s still played, Puicini, involves a blindfolded person who is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then chooses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person’s life for the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year, a saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, etc.

Some of the methods used are; girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple.  You should slice an apple through the middle (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

The jack-o’-lantern is a well known symbol of Samhain. It’s of Celtic origin, when those who had to travel on All Hallows Eve carried lanterns with scary faces painted on them. These were meant to help scare away fairies and dark spirits. These were also placed outside households, to help keep them safe from demonic forces that roamed that night. Nowadays, the pumpkin seems to have taken its place.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Christmas. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Christmas, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Also, the costume often consisted of nothing more than dressing up like the opposite sex. It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. Celtic cross-dressing if you like.

On Halloween night in present-day Ireland, adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, goblins), light bonfires and have firework displays. Children walk around to all the houses in their neighborhood looking for candy and nuts. Salt is still sometimes sprinkled in the children’s hair, to ward off evil spirits.

Houses are covered in decorations. The traditional Samhain cake is served, called bairin breac (type of fruit bread). Every member of the family gets a slice. Contained within the cake are three objects, a piece of rag, a coin and a ring. If you get the rag then your financial future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting the ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness.

Naturally, the most important thing to remember is that Halloween has been around a lot longer than Christianity. It was the church that finally abolished (tried to anyway) the old pagan day of the dead and changed it to All Saints Day.

New Concerts and Shows

November: The Ohio Irish American News and

Beachland Ballroom Presents:

November 12th Enter the Haggis

November 26th – The Prodigals

The Ohio Irish American News is proud to team with Beachland Ballroom to bring fantastic Celtic music to Cleveland in November.

Toronto’s Enter the Haggis is a rockin’ band diversely influenced by seminal groups ranging from the Chieftains to Elvis Costello, unwavering in their social commentary, yet appealing to the mass Celtic music enthusiasts in a way all their own.

New York’s The Prodigal’s need no introduction to Cleveland fans.  Their following only grows with each new concert, festival and CD.

Both shows are sure to be “best of the best”.  We are proud to team with the ground breaking Beachland Ballroom to bring them back to Cleveland.  Hope to see you there.

The Beachland Ballroom is located at 15711 Waterloo Road,  just off I90 and East 185th  Street, in Cleveland, OH. 44110.

December: The Ohio Irish American News and

The Cleveland Orchestra Presents:

Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul’s An Nollaig (An Irish Christmas)

December 18th & 19th

The Ohio Irish American News is partnering with The Cleveland Orchestra and Severance Hall to Present Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul, An Nollaig (An Irish Christmas) at Severance Hall, December 18th & 19th.  See  for details and tickets.  Sure to be a sell-out.

Cherish the Ladies Christmas Shows in Ohio

12/18/08   Brecksville, OH – Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Heritage Concert Series

12/19/08   Columbus, OH – The Southern Theater

Switchback concerts slated for Columbus

(Columbus, OH)–The Hey Hey Club, is proud to present Switchback, the duo of Marty McCormack and Brian FitzGerald in concert for the evenings of Thursday, December 4 and Friday, December 5. The Hey Hey Club is located at 361 Whittier Street in Columbus. For cover information and show times call 614-445-9512.

Cherish the Ladies in Dayton

An Irish Homecoming is a truly special night of unforgettable treats for Irish and Scottish music fans, a traveling mini-festival revue presenting the best of traditional and contemporary Celtic music. The lineup includes the great Irish-American all-female band Cherish the Ladies, longtime Cityfolk favorites led by Grammy-winning flute and whistle player Joanie Madden; outstanding traditionally rooted Irish vocalist Maura O’Connell; Bohola and acclaimed Scottish singer and songwriter Eddi Reader and an “all-star cast of special guests and champion dancers” whose experience ranges from Riverdance to working with the Chieftains.
The next day, Saturday, October 18th, Cherish the Ladies, will be in Cincinnati to hold workshops at the Riley School of Irish Music. Details on the website.

October Events


New Ireland Blog

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mosaic Ireland, in association with the International Community Council and has started a new blog all about Ireland – news, history, blurb, events, issues and discussion. Please visit often and contribute whenever you have something to say – Let mainstream papers know the Irish are active and involved in Cleveland! The blog is written by Ohio Irish American New Associate Publisher John O’Brien, Jr.

Barleycorn Gigs &

Pitch the Peat Gigs News

4th – The Harp
18th – The Harp

25th – Mullarkey’s
26th – The Treehouse

Brigid’s Cross Gigs & News
Portersharks Gigs and News
10th – The Harp
11th – Mullarkey’s

2009 Irish History Writing Contest –  The National Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) announces the 2009 Irish History Writing Contest. Open to all children in grade levels 6-12.  Topics: Grades 6 – 8: From Ireland to the Kentucky Derby- the History of Irish Influence on Horse Races (between 500 and 1000 words) and grades 9 – 12: The Celtic Tiger, What Is It? (between 750 and 1500 words). For more detailed contest rules please contact LAOH Annie Moore Div. #2, attention: Historian, 753 N. Main St, Akron, OH 44310. 330-434-1916, email: or

Adrian, MI – AOH Annual An Gorta Mor Memorial Mass

Sunday, October 5th.  St. Joseph’s Shrine (located North side of US Route 12, between Egan & Springville Highway) in the Irish Hills of Lenawee County).  After Mass, a short ceremony will be held at Michigan’s only An Gorta Mor Monument, located on the church grounds. See for more info.

Regular Stuff:

Bellville – Patrick Street’s Ged Foley Appearing

9, 2008 Lost State of Franklin (Handcrafted Americana) 7:30

23rdGed Foley (of Patrick Street and House Band) 7:30pm

11/6 – Pitch the Peat (Irish trad and original)  7:30pm

Pumpkin Hollow, 24 Bell St., Bellville, 44813  419-886-6093 or Highlands of Ohio 419-522-5058. Presented by Highlands of Ohio

Columbus – Byrnes Pub Music Sched

4th  – Knot Fibb’n, 11th – Yankee Celtic Consort

12th – April Verch Band

Medina – Sully’s Music Sched:

3rd  – Callahan and O’Connor
4th  – Tom Holcomb
10th  – The New Barleycorn
11th  – Jim Gill
25th  – Brigid’s Cross
31st  – The Island Doctor – Halloween Party


Youngstown – Valley to Host 2009 International Ulster Project Conference

The Mahoning Valley Ulster Project has been chosen to host the 2009 International Ulster Project Conference.  The four day event, in October, 2009, will include US and Irish chapter members.  Contact: Char McKenna 330.533.1876

Youngstown – IAAS Irish Heritage Seminar

Saturday, October 11th, St. Christine Parish Center 3165 Schenley Ave. “The Irish Diaspora: The Famine Irish in America”, Burke School of Irish Dance, “Irish Families in the Valley”, “Irish Ballads and Irish-American Songs.”  Contact: Sally Pallante 330-533-7542



Olmsted Twp – West Side Irish American Club
West Side Irish American Club 8559 Jennings Rd. 44138

Food and FREE Concerts in The Pub, every Friday from 6:30 – 11:00

10th – Kay Forrey Ladies Reverse Raffle

12th – Annual Pig Roast.  Serving 3:30 – 5, Music 4 to 8

16th – Monthly General Meeting 8:00 p.m.

19th – Children’s Halloween Party 4 – 6

24th – McNeeley Library 10th Ann. Dinner/Dance

26th – Cahal Dunne Concert, Ham & Cabbage Dinner

31st – Adult Halloween Party

Cleveland -The Harp (West 44th & Detroit, Cleveland) Music:

1- Lonesome Stars

3- Walking Cane

4 Pitch the Peat

8- $100.00 Trio

10- The Porter Sharks

11 Chris Allen

15 Lonesome Stars

17- Kristine Jackson

18- Pitch the Peat

22 – $100.00 Trio

24- Jack Ford

25- Chris Allen

29- Lonesome Stars

Lakewood – Sullivan’s Celebrates New Patio, and 16 Foot Fireplace

Sullivan’s Irish Pub, known for great food and great atmosphere, has opened their new patio – with a 16 foot high wood burning fireplace!  The place to be!

11th – New Barleycorn
17th & 18th 1st Annual Patio Clam-bake

Willoughby – Mick’s Pub

5th – Paper Football Contest

5th – Browns Bye Week Breakfast

31st – Halloween Party

Willoughby – Mullarkey’s Music Sched:

4th – Kevin McCarthy

11th – Porter Sharks

18th – Dan McCoy

25th – Pitch the Peat

11/1 – Kevin McCarthy

Cleveland – West Park Station Music Sched:
2nd – Jim Tigue and Eroc (Happy Hour)
4th – Zippy’s Brother 10pm
10th – Punch the Clown  10pm
11th – Faction  10pm
17th – Turn and Cough  10pm
18th –  Echo Forte  10pm
24th –  Jim Tigue and Quinn (HH)   Skinny Moo 10pm
25th –  Porcelain Bus Drivers  10pm
30th –  Jackson Rohm (HH)
31st – Tricky Dick and the Cover Ups  10pm

WPS Annual Halloween Party- $$$ for Best Costume, Food and Drink Specials

Cleveland – Gaelic Football 60th Anniversary Party

St Pat’s Gaelic Football Club is celebrating their 60th Anniversary with a special celebration dinner on Saturday, November 1st, at the West Side Irish American Club, Olmsted Township. Tickets are $45/person, includes dinner, open bar and entertainment. Guest speaker will be Tom Dolan, North American GAA Chairman. Contact: Mark Owens 440-263-4559 or email

Fairview Park – Stamper’s Grill Pub Sched (West 217th & Lorain)

18th1/2 Way to St. Patrick’s Day Party with The Town Pants

Cleveland – PJ McIntyre’s Music and Events Sched:

3rd – chris allen
4th -joe rohan
10th – reality tour band
11th -mojo mama band
17th – mossy moran
18th – the jack fords
24th – the magpies
25th – cosmic candy
31st – pj’s 1st halloween party!!!!  cash prizes for winners!!!!
* PJ’s is now an official Cleveland Browns Backers Bar!  Come watch all Browns games for your chance to win a trip to Vegas – weekly raffle, food and drink specials during all games!

Akron – 1940 Era USO Swing Dance

11th  – 8th Annual Dance in support of the USO, with music from the era, costumes, food, a dance & costume contest, photo booth, retro candy and 50/50 tickets from our own “Cigarette Girl”!  $10 for members and $11 for non-members.  All active duty military personnel with proper I.D. admitted free!  Doors open at 7 p.m. St. Brendan Hall, 753 N. Main St, Akron, OH – 330-434-1916.


Dayton – AOH & LAOH Events

JFK Division #1 / Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, Mary of the Gael, Division # 1 & Member Organizations.  * The new Men’s Division website is
3rd  – The McGovern Ceili Dancers present “First Friday Ceili Parties”.  7:00 to 8:30 p.m..  Contact Shelagh McGovern 937-830-0655 /
3rd  – The AOH Card Night, 8:00 p.m..  Contact Charley Bolton  937-836-7615 /
11th  – An Irish Music Hall Session, 8:00 to 11 p.m. at the AOH Hall.  Contact Kevin Graham 937-864-2641
17th  – AOH Social Hour, 8:00 p.m., AOH Hall.  Contact John Hickey  These socials are being held to raise funds to go towards the expenses of the upcoming Ohio State Convention, we will be hosting the Hospitality Room at the July, 2009 Convention.
11/1  The Celtic New Year event, 7:00 p.m., American Czechoslovakian Club 922 Valley Street, Dayton.  Tickets $10 in advance, $12 at the door.  Proceeds benefit United Irish and the Dayton Celtic Festival.  Contact Sheila 937-433-7164.
11/14 Reverse Raffle, Columbian Hall, 4704 Burkhardt Road, Dayton Tickets $50.00 p/ couple, includes food & drink.  Only 200 tickets will be sold.  Contact Steve Smith 937-252-8738.

Ongoing Traditional Irish Sessions – Bring your instruments and play along!
            Great Lakes Brewing Co – First Monday of Every month in the Beer Cellar, 6-9 PM.  (Tends to be intermediate to advanced players)

Cleveland WSIA Club, Jennings Rd, Olmsted Twp – 1st Saturdays of the Month in Pub BEGINNERS AND KIDS WELCOME!  Usually 2-5pm, call to verify time. (440) 235-5868  website:

Old Angle Tavern, W. 25th  Street in Cleveland – Thursday nights at 8PM

Bardic Circle at The Shamrock Club of Columbus  Beginner-friendly, intermediate-level Irish session meeting every other Thursdays from 8:00 pm -11:00 pm 2008 session dates: Oct 9, Oct 23, Nov 6, Nov 20, Dec 4, Dec 18.

Bowling Green Common Space* – 437 South Main, Bowling Green. SLOW SESSIONS – so folks can learn tunes.  2nd & 4th Monday of each month, 7:00 to 8:00

Blarney Pub* – 1st  Saturday of the month in Toledo, 5-8pm.
Grounds For Thought* – 174 S. Main Street, Bowling Green. 2nd Sunday of the month, 1-4pm at. October through May or June.

*Mary Dennis or Bob Midden 419-352-8050 or