Halloween in Ireland

We wrote this informative article about Halloween in Ireland for Zomppa magazine which was published in the October magazine which you can view here.

Halloween is a time of
the year steeped in tradition and history, conjuring up thoughts of ghosts and
ghouls. But there is a lot lot more to Halloween than that!
There are literally
thousands of traditions and superstitions which span almost all countries and
cultures around the world, none more so than Ireland. Being from Northern
Ireland we are going to tell you some of the Irish traditions that have been
passed down through generations of many Irish families.
It is thought that
Halloween in Ireland was first celebrated by the Celts who referred to it as
Samhain, which in modern Irish language has actually come to mean November. It
was believed that during this time the dead revisit this world. To celebrate
this they had feasts, the ‘Feast of the Dead’.
During the 8th
Century Samhain became known as All Hallows which was the 1st of
November. The evening before therefore became known as All Hallows Eve, or as
we know it now Halloween.
We’re going to share
with you a recipe for a very traditional Irish fare during the time of
Halloween.  Barmbrack is an Irish fruit
cake, some would call fruit bread. It’s deliciously sweet but with no butter or
oil in the recipe and very little sugar it isn’t too bad for you either. At
least compared to all those sweets we end up consuming over Halloween. The
recipe for barmbrack traditionally uses raisins soaked in tea preferably
overnight which makes the cake not only moist but nice and sweet too. Tradition
dictates that the person baking the cake for their guests would bake a coin, a
ring and a small piece of rag into the cake. When the cake was served, if you
got the ring you were believed to be lucky in love over the coming year, the
coin meant you were to come into money over the coming year and the rag…..was
believed to be a sign of misfortune over the coming year. So as not to distress
any of our guests we decided to leave out the piece of rag from our cake, haha.
Before we share the
recipe we will share with you two more fantastic Halloween tradition and its
The Carved Pumpkin
Everyone knows the
association of the carved pumpkin with Halloween, but few know the story behind
where it originates. It is believed the legend first started with an Irish
blacksmith named Jack. Jack made a deal with the devil and was therefore not
permitted to enter heaven. He returned to the devil and asked for some light to
guide him on his way as he forever wandered the earth. The devil gave him a
bright red hot burning ember. Jack placed this in a turnip which he had
hollowed out. Generations of Irish families followed the tradition of carving
out turnips and displaying them in the windows in their homes with a candle
inside, in the hope to keep jack from visiting them in their homes. As we know
many Irish families emigrated from Ireland to the United States of America
during the famine and other times of hardship. When they emigrated they took
with them generations of traditions, carving turnips was among them. With one
problem, turnips were very hard to source in the USA. They instead started
using the readily available pumpkins and so the tradition of carving pumpkins
began. This tradition then fed back to Ireland over the years. But as a young
boy I still remember our family carving both a turnip and pumpkin at Halloween.
The Banshee
A legend passed down
through many Irish families is that of the Banshee. Believed to be a woman form
of a fairy she visited families and announced her presence outside the family
house by wailing or ‘keening’. None of those inside dared to ever look outside
for they knew what the sound meant. The sound was believed to mean that someone
within the immediate family was about to die. Although not specifically a
Halloween legend it is more strongly believed and feared at this time of year.
There is believed to be a Banshee for my own family, who was rumoured to have
been heard several times. The stories passed down say that one particular
female ancestor in the 1800’s was so superstitious of this legend that she
would be found the morning after hearing the Banshee, writing letters to all
immediate family to check that they had not met their end the following night. The
Banshee isn’t limited to the island of Ireland, for she is said to visit Irish
families wherever they live around the world.
Now for the long
awaited Barmbrack recipe.
The Recipe:
The Ingredients:
380g Raisins
270ml Tea
220g NEILL’S® Plain Flour
2tsp Baking Powder
0.25tsp Bicarbonate
1 Egg
80g Dark Brown Sugar
0.5tsp Vanilla Extract
The How-To:
Steep the raisins in
the tea for at least 3 hours. If you can leave them overnight in the fridge as
this will make them super juicy.
Preheat oven to 160c.
Mix the egg, sugar and
vanilla into the raisins and tea mixture. Ensure these are mixed evenly
Sieve the flour and
baking powder and bicarbonate soda together in a separate bowl and slowly add
this to the wet mixture while mixing. There is no need to use a mixer for this
recipe as it will cause the raisins to break up, a wooden spoon is perfectly
sufficient. Mix enough to combine all the flour.
Pour into a prepared
cake tin and bake near the bottom of the oven for 45-50 mins or until a skewer
inserted comes out clean.
Remove from oven and
allow to cool for 15 mins before turning out to cool completely. Slice and
serve with tea but traditionally this would be eaten with a little butter
spread on it.
You’re Done!


BakingBar was launched in 2010 to provide simple and straightforward baking guides and recipes. BakingBar are currently recipe developers for Neills Flour and MyProtein.

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