Meath the Home of Halloween
"Did You know that Halloween, which is famous the world over, began at the
Hill of Ward
in County Meath
asks an ad in the latest edition of Primary Times
magazine. And no, I have to admit, that knowledge had somehow escaped me until
now. But whether it's true or not, I congratulate the canny people of Athboy -
home of the aforementioned hill - and its environs on their bid to claim market
leadership of a global industry.
Already the county formerly known as royal has rebranded itself "Meath: the
Home of Halloween". And the message will be promoted by the inaugural "Spirits
of Meath" festival, which begins this weekend and continues for the rest of the
month, promising "spooky tours", "gory tales", "murder mystery weekends" and
other such thrills. All, as the promotional message puts, "only a short
broom-stick ride from Dublin".
Before this, Meath's reputation for scaring people from Dublin and elsewhere
has rested mainly with its Gaelic footballers. These have a vampire-like ability
to rise from the dead at short notice and suck the blood of other teams. As
recently as last year, for example, Meath football appeared to have been safely
buried at a crossroads at midnight with a stake through its heart. Now it's on
the prowl again and no-one is safe.
Nevertheless, Meath's claim to Halloween does appears to have some
foundation. The Hill of Ward, or Tlachtga as it was formerly known, was the site
of a pre-Christian fire festival celebrated on
, the Celtic New Year. It
even still has visible earthworks from that era. But shrewdly, the county is not
pinning its Halloween paternity claims on that one hill alone.
October 31st is, essentially, a "Day of the Dead" festival. And courtesy of
its wealth of ancient burial sites, like Newgrange,
, Meath is home to large numbers of people who, while their identity
may be a mystery, are undoubtedly more dead than almost anyone else in Ireland.
This lends added authority to the county's claims for dominance of the Halloween
And what a market. If the pages of Primary Times
distributed through primary schools in Dublin) are a guide, Halloween now rivals
Christmas as a children's festival.
Meath apart, the huge demand for child-frightening products and services at
this time is being catered from by everything from Dublin Zoo ("Boo at the Zoo")
to Lullymore Bog Heritage park in Kildare ("For the Fright of Your Life").
Dublin City Council has even set up a corner of its website entitled "What's
Scary about Halloween?" with a helpful area-by-area guide to your nearest
ghoulish happening, in the same way it advertises bring centres.
And these are just the entertainment events. Halloween is everywhere else you
look. If you have young children, chances are you will also have been contributing
of late to the booming fancy-dress clothing sector - what with the school
Halloween party now being only slightly less expensive than First Communion day.
Then there are the supermarkets. People of a nervous disposition are advised
to avoid these until November, before which it has become obligatory for the
fruit and vegetable sections to be decorated with skeletons, zombies, werewolves
and other variations of the undead, reminding us to buy our pumpkins, nuts and
barmbracks, before it's too late.
Meanwhile, the market for domestic Halloween decorations is also growing
fast. Walking home the other night, I experienced a brief but genuine scare when
a gust of wind temporarily dislodged a life-sized witch from the front of a
house she was fastened to, causing her to become partly airborne. I nearly
became airborne too. But such sights will soon be as ubiquitous in October as flashing Santas are
That Halloween has become such a big business is, of course, thanks to the
US. In its original Irish form, the event did not involve much buying and
selling. The key feature of it where I grew up was a kind of low-level
vandalism, where the small boys of the neighbourhood pretended to be evil
spirits for the night. The service was provided free, except for a levy known as
"trick or treat": a low-level protection racket that enabled households to
insure themselves against worse damage.
This and the other traditions of Halloween travelled to North America with
our emigrants. Essentially, as is the fate of all developing economies, we
exported the cheap raw materials for the festival, lacking the inclination or
wherewithal to process them ourselves. Then the Yanks developed the ingredients
into a more sophisticated product, with slick packaging, and exported it back to
us at a large mark-up.
It is control of this value-added product that Meath is now attempting to
seize with its bold "Home of Halloween" strategy. At the very least, the county
could secure the Irish franchise, under license. But with enough ambition and
clever marketing, the people behind the festival could soon have tourists
flocking to it not just from the US but all over the world.
There is a helpful precedent in the form of St Patrick's Day. For centuries,
this wasn't so much celebrated here as endured. Then the Americans turned it
into into something saleable. And in the 1990s, belatedly realising there was a
market for large-scale celebrations featuring the colour green, Dublin
reinvented itself as the home of Paddy's Day. Now at last the world is buying
that product from us: which is only right, after all.
- The Irish Times
- October 2009
Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival
Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival
by John Gilroy
The important Celtic site of Tlachtga is situated 12 miles from Tara.
As the centre of Celtic religion, it is the origin of the rituals practiced by the Pre-Christian Irish.
This was the centre of the
Great Fire Festival that signalled the onset of winter. The rituals and
ceremonies carried out here by the pre-Christian Irish, offered assurances to
the people that the powers of darkness would be overcome, and the powers of
light and life would, once again, be in the ascendancy. This was the place where
the Celtic sungod was celebrated at the year's end. Purchase book at
Boyne Valley Private Day Tour
Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and culture of the Boyne Valley with our full-day private tours.
Visit Newgrange World Heritage site, explore the Hill of Slane, where Saint Patrick famously lit the Paschal fire.
Discover the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of power for the High Kings of Ireland.