What in the Halloween is Samhain? 🎃
What in the Halloween is Samhain you ask?
The traditional Celtic holiday of Samhain, pronounced sow-ween, started over 1,000 years ago as a harvest festival celebration. Celts believed that on the eve of the holiday, which is celebrated on the evening of October 31 and into the day of November 1st, that dead spirits could visit our world. People would dress up in scary outfits and burn bonfires to fend off the evil spirits. Growing up in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, our CEO Ward doesn't remember pumpkins so much, but if there were jack-o-lanterns, they were made from turnips. Leaving small food offerings outside your door appeased visiting spirits and would keep you safe from what lurks in the night.
Samhain is the final festival of the Celtic year. It’s marked by gathering with friends and family around a large bonfire. And what goes best with a bonfire? No, not s’mores. I’m talking about ghost stories of course! The Irish love of storytelling is particularly prominent around Halloween. Gathered together, the Irish have been telling stories of haunting figures and intriguing myths for decades. No one can tell a spooky story better than a Celt! When you have a land covered in castles from the middle ages and a history of wars and famines, it’s easy to turn up a ghost or two. Are you familiar with these Irish legends?
The Faceless Woman of Belvelly Castle, Co. Cork
Sometime in the seventeenth century, Margaret Hodnett and her family inhabited the Belvelly Castle in Co. Cork. Margaret was renowned around the county for her beauty, and it is said that she knew it; she spent many days admiring her reflection in the mirror. An independent and vain woman who had little interest in marriage, Margaret lived her wealthy life in content happiness. A local lord named Clon Rockenby asked for Margaret’s hand many times, but she always refused him.
Rockenby, enraged at Margaret’s continual refusal of his advances, laid siege to Belvelly Castle in an attempt to force her to accept him. Despite the guard of Rockenby’s small army, the Hodnett’s held out for an entire year.
The siege came with a price for both Margaret and Rockenby. When Rockenby at last entered the castle, he found that Margaret had been ravaged by the forced seclusion. She had become skeletal, and her beauty had worn away.
Rockenby was irate, and smashed Margaret’s favorite mirror to pieces. After he did so, Margaret’s brother killed him with a sword, and Margaret watched him die.
After these events, Margaret descended into insanity. She is said to have sought out mirrors, checking to see her beauty ever returned. Every time, she was disappointed to see her gaunt face staring back at her. Eventually, all the mirrors were removed from Belvelly Castle. Margaret died of old age inside the castle.
Her ghost still haunts the castle today, appearing as a lady in white with a veil covering her face or with no face at all. Those who have seen the ghost claim that she stares at a spot on the wall as though it holds her reflection, and often rubs the spot. One spot in the castle, perhaps where her mirror once hung, has been rubbed smooth over the years.
The Founder of Marsh Library, Dublin
Ireland’s oldest public library is located in bustling Dublin City. The Marsh Library was founded in 1707 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. Marsh was a man of faith and learning; he adored spending time among the thick volumes of literature and history, and spent a life passionate about teaching others.
As an unmarried archbishop, he raised his niece, whose parents had died of some eighteenth century malady. Marsh loved his niece, and the young girl spent many hours with him in the library.
When the girl was eighteen, she ran off and eloped with a curate. Archbishop Marsh was blindsided by this, and never heard from the niece again. He never discovered her fate, and it haunted him the rest of his life.
He was told that the girl hid her explanation, a note, in one of the volumes of the library. He spent the rest of his life looking for it, but never found it.
Some say that Marsh’s ghost still lurks in the library, searching for the note that might bring reason and hope into his afterlife.
The Murdered Jester of Malahide Castle, Dublin
Built in the 1100’s, this lavish medieval castle was once home to the most wealthy English nobles and their courts. Now, hundreds of years later, it is home to many spectral figures.
The most famous figure is a murdered jester. This jester, nicknamed Puck, fell in love with a lady prisoner at a banquet. The lady was beautiful but gaunt, and it was clear that her imprisonment would lead to a slow and lonely death.
The jester made up his mind to help his lady-love escape. He snuck down into the dungeon many nights to visit the lady, and together they made their plan to leave the castle. On the seventh night, Puck stole the keys from a guard and unlocked the cell of his lady. The two made it out of the dungeon, only to be faced by another guard, who stabbed Puck to death.
With his dying breath, Puck said he would forever haunt the castle. His lady was taken back to her cell, and later died. It is said they both wander the castle, each one forever searching to rescue the other.
I hope you have a story-worthy Halloween and that you encounter more treats than tricks. Please share your favorite Irish stories with us on our Facebook page or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Slán go fóill - Bye for now