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Reclaiming our Celtic festival

Thursday 3 October 2019 11:43am

The Celtic festival of Samhain

Halloween may now be perceived by many people as an American event when people dress in scary costumes and carve pumpkins into creepy faced lanterns. In fact, Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is a Celtic festival that originated as Samhain.

The Celtic festival of Samhain is one of the most important in the ancient Celtic calendar. Celebrated in Ireland and Scotland from the evening of 31 October into the next day. The 1st November was seen as the Celtic New Year. Samhain marked the end of the light (summer) and the beginning of the dark (winter.) This overlapping moment in time meant that passage between this world and the Otherworld was possible, if not probable.

Irish Folk Lore published in 1870, warned that ‘on All Hallows’ Eve, hobgoblins, evil spirits, and fairies, hold high revel. . . many mortals are abducted to fairy land. Those persons taken away to the raths are often seen at this time by their living friends, and usually accompanying a fairy cavalcade.’

To ward off evil spirits huge fires were lit in prominent outside spaces in towns and villages, leading to the customary Halloween bonfire. In order to confuse any spirit who sought revenge on a living person who had wronged them, people wore masks to disguise themselves which now inspires the dressing up element of Halloween.

View a video of A Cavan Halloween in 1986

At the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies we are reclaiming our Celtic festival

This year we begin our celebration the traditional way with the lighting of fire. Join us outside the Public Library, Dunedin from 5:30pm on Halloween night, 31 October, where the very talented Dunedin Fire and Circus Club will perform a fire dance to welcome the oncoming of our Celtic New Year. After the fire dance we will move inside the library for a special performance by the renowned Irish poet Cherry Smyth of Famished.

Details of the fire dancing and Cherry Smyth's performance of Famished 

Famished presents an innovative understanding of the Irish Famine and the postcolonial legacy for the Irish in Ireland and the diaspora. The polyvocal performance tackles how colonialism was instrumental in starving the Irish people and the silence generated by trauma and shame that ensued.

Famished is dedicated to the Earl Grey Orphan Scheme of the late 1840s through which 4,114 Irish workhouse girls were sent to Australia. Only two ever returned.

This is the first performance in New Zealand.

Watch a clip of Cherry Smyth's performance of Famished 

In the spirit of Samhain all are welcome and there will be no charge or booking necessary.