Samhain and Irish Mythology

Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland

Irish mythology was originally a spoken tradition, but much of it was eventually written down in the Middle Ages by Christian monks, who Christianised it to some extent. Nevertheless, these tales may shed some light on what Samhain meant and how it was marked in ancient Ireland.

Irish mythology tells us that Samhain was one of the four seasonal festivals of the year. The 10th-century tale Tochmarc Emire (‘The Wooing of Emer’) lists Samhain as the first of these four ‘quarter days’. In the 12th century Serglige Con Culainn (‘Cúchulainn’s Sickbed’), it is said that the festival of the Ulaid at Samhain lasted a week: Samhain itself, and the three days before and after. They would gather on the Plain of Muirthemni where there would be meetings, games, and feasting. The tales suggest that alcohol was part of the feast, and it is noteworthy that every tale that features drunkenness…

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