Ireland is the birthplace of Halloween, aka Samhain. The holiday’s roots come from the ancient Celtic calendar, which ended on October 31st and began on November 1st. The ancients believed that a sort of veil separated the ordinary world of the living from the world of the dead and the supernatural. Over the year, that veil wore out. It grew thinner and thinner until on the very last night of the year, ghosts and ghouls could pass through it into our world.
Once here, they could do terrible harm so people developed ways to protect themselves. They carved terrifying faces into autumn gourds. And of course, some took advantage of the night to give their neighbours a good scare. Costumes are one way to blend in with the ghouls and goblins roaming the night. Whether you’re planning to go out for socially distance trick or treating or you’re going to play it safe and stay inside like the ancient Celts normally did, a good costume is a highlight of the holiday. Even if you aren’t going out, you can still show it off on your social media. Here are our top four Halloween costume ideas from Irish folklore and literature.
1. Grainne Ni Mhaille
Also known as Granuile and anglicized as Grace O’Malley, the famous pirate queen scared many, many people. She took land and ships as she wished and bowed to no one. She scandalized the English when she met with Queen Elizabeth by arriving with a dagger and refusing to curtsy. The very idea confused her. Why would one queen curtsy to another? She wasn’t there for tea; she was there to do business. Granuile had a few husbands and lovers, and she lived well in her castles when she wasn’t at sea or at war. But she was often at sea or at war. A dagger, some stunning jewelry and a badass attitude are the basics of this costume.
2. Dracula Creator Bram Stoker
Okay, so the character is technically Romanian. But his creator author Bram Stoker was from Clontarf, Dublin. Stoker was a sickly child who spent a lot of time confined to bed listening to his mother entertain him with scary stories from her native Sligo. He grew up loving drama and managed a theatre in London. Everyone dresses up as the Count. Put a new twist on it and go as Bram. All you need is an old-fashioned, turn of the century suit, a beard and a notebook.
No one wants to hear her, never mind see her. The banshee roams at night, wailing to forewarn of death. If you hear her, you won’t know who is going to die or how, but you know it’s coming. Banshee is the Irish for fairy woman (bean is woman, sidhe is fairy). She appears in female form as women of different ages. The only constant is that she wears black robes and has long silver hair.
4. Celtic Warrior
If you’re looking for something more upbeat, you have any number of Celtic warriors as inspiration. Be Cuchulainn or Oisin or your own unique creation. Celtic warriors wore tunics and leggings, and to look extra fearsome, they decorated themselves with wode, a bright blue pigment. And of course, they had swords and shields – but no armour.
Whatever you’re doing this Halloween, do it in style. Have fun and stay safe!