Halloween: Fierce Ladies of the Emerald Isle

Halloween came from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The festival which was created by the Celts, (who arrived in Ireland around 500 BC) celebrated the end of the harvest and ushered in the darker half of the year.

During Samhain, the Celts believed that the barrier with the “Otherworld” was breachable and a lot of Halloween traditions stem from this belief:

https://time.com/5434659/halloween-pagan-origins-in-samhain/

The 31st Oct became known as All Hallows Eve which later became “Halloween”.

Halloween, because of its pagan origins, is a day not celebrated by some due to their religious beliefs.

However, for us as kids growing up in Ireland, it was just a fun night where we would get together with siblings and friends to dress up, play traditional Halloween games and go trick or treating. 

The planning of Halloween costumes would start weeks in advance. There was no such thing as store or market bought costumes when I was a kid – everything was 100% homemade. You would be amazed what we could make with a white bed sheet, black plastic bags and toilet roll! Halloween costumes for us meant witches, ghosts, Frankenstein, vampires, mummies – all the ghouls. 

There was also the neighbourhood bonfire – we lived by the beach and the collecting of driftwood would start days in advance. Nothing tastes as good as smokey toasted marshmallows – toasted on the outside and all sticky and gooey on the inside mmmmmm!

After our initial feast, the loot collected from our trick or treating would be inspected, admired, swapped and munched on for days after.

And of course, there was Halloween Barm Brack. This is like a sweet bread with raisens that was sliced and slathered in butter. The brack held secrets though! Baked into the bread would be some hidden items that would predict your fortune. If you got the ring in your silce it meant you would get married within the year, the coin represented wealth while the ragged cloth meant poor fortune, the stick meant a dispute and the pea meant the person would not marry. Obviously, you had to chew carefully to make sure you didn’t swallow anything you shouldn’t!

We love a good story or legend in Ireland and our culture is full of them.

Dracula, possibly the most famous ghoul of all, was created by Irish author Bram Stoker.

But there are many great ghost stories from Ireland  – meet some of the famous ladies that haunt our legends:

1. The Banshee

Ever heard the expression “wail like a banshee?”

According to mythology, the Banshee is of the fairy world (the dark side as opposed to the sweet tutu wearing variety) that forewarns of death.

To hear the lamenting wail of the banshee meant that someone close to you had just died or was about to die or you were about to meet your own untimely end.

Sometimes the banshee would appear as a haggard old crone with wild hair and sometimes as a beautiful young woman.

(Source: ancient-origins.net)

There are many possible origins for the creation of the legend of the banshee.

One is that her wail came from the screech of a barn owl. During ancient battles, armies would march at dawn which frequently disturbed the owls who were just settling to sleep. The owls would screech as they flew away and the screech became associated with the soldier’s march to their deaths.

(Source: ancient-origins.net)

The legend of the Banshee scared the hell out of me as a kid – she did make for a great Halloween costume though!

2. Lady Anne Clanbrassil of Killyleagh Castle

During civil war in 1649, Lady Clanbrassil’s husband was away at war and she was left in the castle “unprotected” with her children.

Oliver Cromwell (a bad, bad name in Irish history) with his army was making his way across the country, capturing all in his path. 

However, when he reached Killyleagh Castle, in Lady Anne,  he met an unexpected force.

Killyleagh Castle (Source: youirish.com)

She called on the tenants in the castle estate and armed them with anything she could find, barred the gates and waited for Cromwell.

Again and again Cromwell’s army attacked the castle but were met with fierce resistance and everything from arrows to kitchen furniture rained down upon them.

However, food started to run out inside the castle walls and the resistors started to starve. Cromwell accepted their surrender and the fighters left the castle, led by the fierce Lady Anne.

Killyleagh Castle was rebuilt in the 19th century – the great hall still exists and is said to be patrolled by the ghost of a woman.

Locals believe that the ghost is lady Clanbrassil, still protecting the castle that she so bravely defended against Cromwell’s army.(Source: youirish.com

3. The White Lady

The White Lady is said to wander the grounds of Charlesfort in Kinsale. 

Legend says that one of the soldiers in the fort married a local girl. 

The night of their wedding, the soldier had watch duty but, following the excesses of the wedding celebrations, the soldier fell asleep while on duty.

In accordance with protocol, he was shot by the soldiers who found him sleeping on duty.

On hearing what happened, in her sorrow, the new bride jumped to her death from the walls of the fort.

The ghost of the mourning bride wandering the grounds of the fort is said to have been seen by soldiers and their families. 

Her presence is said to be friendly, appearing and smiling at children. However, it also is said to not always be so friendly – soldiers have told stories of being pushed down stairs by invisible forces.

4. Gráinne Mhaol (Grace O’Malley), The Pirate Queen

Pirates seem to be a popular Halloween costume so I had to include one of the fiercest pirates of all!

Gráinne Mhaol (pronounced graw + nya + wail) was a name that commanded respect and also inspired fear in the 1500’s.

As a girl, Gráinne wanted to sail with her father but was discouraged, as a female aboard a ship was considered a bad omen.

Legend has it that she cut off her hair and disguised herself as a boy to sneak on board.

She inherited the family “trading business.” Her strong character created her legendary reputation as a pirate, diplomat and leader. She also controlled several castles along the coast.

She was a fearless warrior of the waves – she is said to have given birth to her son at sea and an hour later appeared on deck leading her crew in battle against another ship of raiders.

Newly appointed governor Sir Bingham arrived in Ireland and set out to ruthlessly take land to give to his supporters. He was desperate to surpress the fearless Gráinne. He brutally murdered her eldest son and sought to curtail her piracy of the seas.

Gráinne went to England, marched into Queen Elizabeth’s palace and demanded an audience to air her grievances about Sir Bingham.

Two formidable women, the Queen and the Pirate – foes, face to face. Gráinne impressed the Queen who instructed Lord Bingham to cease his persecution of Gráinne .

The legend of The Pirate Queen has inspired many songs, poems and even musicals.

On her death, she was buried on Clare Island where her remains may or may not still be.  Doubt exists as apparently her skull was adorned with colourful ribbons and shown to visitors for many years after her death.

(Source: mayo-irelan.ie and ancient-origins.net)

Wait for it, the scariest is yet to come…………..

Are you sure you are ready for this?

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5. My Girls

The cat and the unicorn – so scary…….

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Did you have a favourite Halloween tradition as a kid? Do you remember making your costumes for trick or treating?

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Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh!

(That’s Happy Halloween to the non-Irish speakers)

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