Hill of Tlachtga – the birthplace of Halloween
Samhain, the ancient Celtic Festival that we now call Halloween (Christianized ‘All Hallows Eve’), originated here in Co. Meath in the Boyne Valley more than 3,000 years ago. Samhain marks the end of the old Celtic Year and the beginning of the New Year. The Celts believed that this was a time of transition, when the veil between our world and the next came down, and the spirits of all who had died since the last Oíche Shamhna (Night of Samhain) moved on to the next life.
One of the main spiritual centres of the ancient Celts was located on top of the hill of Tlachtga, now called the Hill of Ward. The druids felt that this world and the other world were closest at Tlachtga and it was here on the festival of Samhain, that the sacred fire was kindled.
It was custom of the Druids to assemble on Tlachtga on the eve of Samhain and that a fire was lit on which offerings were made. The old year’s fires were extinguished and, after sunset, the ceremonial New Year Samhain fire was lit here. Torches were lit from this sacred fire and carried to seven other hills around the county including Tara, Loughcrew and then on to light up the whole country side.
According to Irish folklore, a man called Stingy Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity by the devil. A ghostly figure of the night, Jack walks with a burning coal inside of a carved out turnip to light his way. Irish folklore began to refer to this spooky figure as ‘Jack of the Lantern’ which then became ‘Jack O’Lantern.’ As Samhain was a time of year when the veil between this world and the next was at its weakest and spirits roamed the world, people in Ireland began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving grotesque faces into turnips, potatoes and beets, placing them by their homes to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits and travelers.
Irish migrants in the 19th century brought this legend across the Atlantic where they discovered that Pumpkins were easier to carve than Turnips. So it’s to an Irish character called Stingy Jack that we owe the origins of the modern Jack O’Lanterns.
Today, the old Celtic ceremony at Tlacghta has been revived in the mix of the ancient past and the twenty-first century, with a re-enactment of the Celtic celebration starting with a torch lit procession from the Fair Green in Athboy, Co. Meath to the top of the Hill of Tlachtga each year. This inconspicious place, however, is visited by spiritual people all year round.
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