Halloween is one of those great Irish festivals whose origins are deeply rooted in Celtic pagan tradition but with a Christian twist.
Spanning two thousand years, the festival of Samhain on 31st October marked the end of the light and warmth of summer and the beginning of the winter darkness. This cusp between these two divisions of the year’s light and dark halves was believed to be when the veil between this world and the otherworld was lifted allowing spirits to pass through.
Ancestors were invited home to be reunited with family whilst evil and mischievous spirits were warned off. Celebrants wore masks and costumes to resemble the dead so their departed loved ones would feel at ease in their company. Others wore frightening disguises depicting evil spirits to avoid being harmed by them. Bonfires and banquets played an important part of the Samhain festivities. Food was prepared for both the living and the dead and the surplus of uneaten food was shared with the less fortunate.
Christianity adopted this Celtic custom of honouring the dead with All Saints (All Hallows) Day on 1st November and All Souls Day on 2nd November.
The tidal wave of Ireland’s emigrants to America in the 1800s, especially around the time of the potato famine, brought with them memories of home and the traditions of Halloween. The American harvest time practice of carving pumpkins enriched the tradition and exported it back to Ireland in more recent years with the trick-or-treat sharing for children.
In the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East witness 5,000 years of history in a lush green landscape where even the stones tell stories:
- Passage Graves of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth near Slane, Co. Meath
- Jerpoint Park, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. Tradition tells that the remains of St. Nicholas were secretly removed from Bari in southern Italy by returning crusader knights who brought them to Newtown Jerpoint for safekeeping from the Moors. The grave of St. Nicholas is marked by a beautifully carved grave slab outside the church.
- Ireland’s most haunted house, Loftus Hall, Hook Head near New Ross, Co. Wexford.
- Wexford Paranormal is a voluntary paranormal investigation team that facilitates research into the paranormal, ghosts and possible hauntings.
There is 2,500km of a trail to follow to find along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way including:
- Poulnabrone Dolmen (portal tomb), Co. Clare.
This dramatic site, on the karstic limestone pavement of the Burren, is one of the most famous Irish dolmens. The name Poulnabrone means ‘The hole of the sorrows’.
- Skibbereen Heritage Centre – Skibbereen was one of the worst affected areas in Ireland during the potato famine, as testified by the mass graves near the town where almost 10,000 victims are buried.
Dublin is never short on attractions all year round including;
- Glasnevin Cemetery Tours & Museum
- St Michans Church on Church Street in Dublin 1. Amongst the many visitors to the mummified bodies in the crypt was Dubliner, Bram Stoker, author of Dracula
- Bram Stoker Festival, Dublin 26th-29th October 2018.
Killerman’s Run 2013, Kilikanoon, Clare Valley, South Australia
€25.00 – Available at Wicklow Wine Co.; Lilac Wines, Drumcondra; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Dicey Reilly’s, Ballyshannon and online: jnwine.com
The warm earthy bouquet is mirrored on the palate with rich and soothing throat caressing warm alcohol unfurling its inky black fruit. Winemaker and owner, Kevin Mitchell blends a Rhône classic trinity of Grenache, Shiraz and a little Mataro (aka Mourvèdre or Monastrell).
Food friend: Match with a piquant chilli con carne using soya beans instead of kidney beans for a crunchier texture.
Celeste Crianza 2014, Torres, Ribera del Duero, Spain
€22.00 – Available at O’Briens’ nationwide; Sweeney’s, Finglas; Nolan’s, Clontarf; Molloy’s, Dublin citywide; O’Driscoll’s, Caherciveen and Ardkeen Stores, Waterford.
Aromas of black cherry waft from under a veneer of oaky spice. Black fruits and black pepper spice and vanilla pod are supported by tannins and well-balanced with acidity and full-bodied alcohol.
Food friend: Relish with a rare steak and black peppercorn sauce.
Silken Beastie Shiraz 2015, Thistledown, Barossa Valley, South Australia
€30-€35 – Available in Dublin at McHugh’s, Malahide Road and Kilbarrack Road; Donnybrook Fair and Red Island Wines, Skerries.
Muted aromas don’t prepare the palate for an intense and persistent attack of blackberry fruits enriched by spice and pepper through to its long finish. From fruit harvested in some of the Barossa Valley’s most premium zones, Ebenezer, Kalimna and Koonunga.
Food friend: Magic with rare kangaroo and a beetroot risotto.
Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2011, La Joya, Bisquertt, Valle de Colchagua, Chile
€14.99 – Widely available at Independent outlets nationwide.
Ruby colour with a hint of garnet at the rim suggesting its mature age. Subtle clove bouquet from the ageing in French oak. Full-bodied with a peppery spice beautifully integrated into the blackcurrant and cassis fruit. An elegant and silky texture.
Food friend: Serve with a steak tartare and an egg yolk.
Yakka Shiraz 2015, Longview, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
€19.95, reduced to €16.95 from 30th October until Christmas at O’Briens nationwide.
Complex aromas of mulberry fruits, polished oak and a mineral streak. Forward black fruits spiced by pepper and clove with a little vanilla on the finish highlighting its aging in French 250 litre hogshead barrels.
Food friend: Perfect with rare venison and a Marsala and morel mushroom sauce.
Quatro 2017, MontGras, Valle de Colchagua, Chile
From €15.50 at winesoftheworld.ie; O’Briens nationwide; Joyce’s Supermarket, Galway and selected Next Door Off-licences
The quatro refers to the four varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenère and Malbec. Celebrating its 20th anniversary when it broke from Chile’s original single varietal wines. This limited edition displays bright fruity blackberry flavours spiked with peppery spice and a grip of firm tannins. Full-bodied, dark and brooding.
Food friend: Enjoy with a rich beef ragú and your favourite pasta.
Cabernet & Shiraz 2015, Willunga 100, McLaren Vale, South Australia
€18.99 in Dublin: Baggot Street Wines, Clontarf Wines, Jus De Vine and Mitchell & Sons.
In Cork: JJ O’Driscoll and O’Donovan’s chain citywide. Online: wineonline.ie
Firm tannins hold the attention on the entry and then surrender to flavours of chewy and chunky black fruits with a peppery edge from ageing in French oak. Very youthful and a keeper with the best yet to resurrect from 2020.
Food friend: Celebrate with roast beef and the sweetness of caramelised onions to counter the spiciness.
Apothic Red 2015, Winemakers Blend, California
€10.00 reduced from €15.00 at Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Drink Store, Manor Street and Fine Wines, Cork citywide
Decadently ripe, almost jammy aromas. Composed of a medley of black beauties: Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A rich palate of plump soft and juicy black fruity flavours dance on the taste buds. Gentle tannins and the fleshy fruit continues to a long finish.
Food friend: Tasty with duck breast and a plum sauce.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.