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Irish Claim Halloween Tradition Began in their Homeland

DUBLIN (CNS) – An Irish folklife expert says there is evidence that the tradition of carving pumpkins, which is synonymous with Halloween jack-o-lanterns in the U.S., actually began in Ireland.

Clodagh Doyle, assistant keeper at the Irish Folklife Division of the National Museum of Ireland, said that records in the folklore archives at University College Dublin document what people traditionally did at Halloween in the past.

One tradition recorded, dating to the 19th century, is the making of Halloween lanterns, usually with a turnip but sometimes a large potato.

However, Doyle threw cold water on the likelihood of finding evidence to link a particular emigrant with taking this tradition to the U.S.

“I don’t think we are going to find the direct connection, but we can definitely say they were being made in Ireland,” she said.

The Museum of Country Life in County Mayo, where Doyle is based, has two examples of these lanterns as part of its exhibition on Irish customs and traditions associated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, the predecessor of the modern Halloween holiday.

Angry-Faced Ghost Turnip

The ghost turnip, with its pinched angry face, was made for Halloween. the museum has a plaster cast made of the original turnip lantern, which was close to disintegration.

“The records we have for the lantern from Donegal show it was donated in 1943 by a schoolteacher in the village of Fintown, who said she was donating it because nobody was making this type of lantern anymore, though it was a tradition that was remembered in the area,” Doyle explained. The teacher’s lantern dated back 40 years, which would date it to the turn of the 20th century.

Samhain’s association with winter and death in nature made it a time for remembering those who had died and a time for seeking protection for the home and the family. Holy water was sprinkled on around the threshold and on the family, animals and the farm.

One Halloween tradition that has not survived is the making of small wooden or straw crosses. Four of these Halloween crosses are currently on display in the Museum of Country Life.

“I think it is was about protecting yourself from the dark season of the year, because it was a time of death for everything on the land,” Doyle explained.

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