Halloween and fall celebrations are in full swing all around America. Today, I have a little treat for all who are interested in Celtic history and the Irish origins of Halloween.
I’m delighted to introduce you to a documentary film all about “Spiorad na Samhna” (phonetically pronounced as “spir-id nah sow-nah”, with “sow” said as it is when referring to a pig), which in English means the “Spirit of Halloween.”
This bilingual short film tells a two-fold story of how the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) was transformed into today’s Halloween, as well as the origins of Ireland’s biggest Halloween Carnival, in Derry.
The latter began in 1982 in a very bleak period in the city’s history, post- Hunger Strikes. Before then, only children dressed up at Halloween. Tony Toland, manager of the Castle Bar, decided to hold a competition for best costumes.
In the first year, only a half dozen people dressed up but, within 3 years, the idea had spread to other bars and spilled on to the streets in a chaotic but peaceful way. Thousands headed to the city center each year, mingling with armed police and soldiers — some imitating them in great detail!
It was this spontaneous, mad event until 1986 when the City Council, recognizing it was a success, added music and fireworks, then a parade, leading to the 3-day Halloween Carnival in Derry, now the biggest in Ireland.
Of course, the roots of Halloween go deeper. Dr. Jenny Butler, Univeristy College, Cork, narrates how it developed from the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when people prepared for winter, when the Otherworld opened, allowing communication between the living and the dead.
The film has now been screened at festivals in Ireland, Italy and at Irish film festivals in Boston and Seattle.
You can watch the entire short film on Vimeo.
A big thank you to Dessie Baker, the director of this documentary, for sharing his work with us today. Much appreciation goes to other members of this film team including Ciara Ní Fhearghail, the editor, together with Éadaoin Breathnach, Chris McAlinden, and Fiachra O Longain for their camera and sound work, and Paul Kerr for pub photos.
Wishing you all a very happy October, and may all your fall and Halloween celebrations be full of fun and laughter.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)