Halloween’s Irish Roots

Halloween has more history than just bowls overflowing with candy and ghouls and goblins traipsing through the streets. In Ireland, which is thought to be the birthplace of this now widely celebrated kid-friendly holiday, a number of time-tested traditions still ring true today. Here’s a look at the day’s history and how it’s celebrated—Irish style.

All Hallow’s Eve History
Like much of Ireland’s history, the roots of modern-day Halloween celebrations are said to trace back to the Celts, who occupied what is now Ireland more than 2,000 years ago. In short, the Celtic people held a festival known as “Samhain” at the end of the harvest before the cold of winter. Celebrated on October 31, the lines between the living and the dead were blurred on this day; many thought the spirits of the dead returned to earth on this day. When Christianity reached the Celts, Samhain began to blend with the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day on November 1, thus the evening before this day is known as All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween and has taken the forefront of the autumnal celebration.

Trick or Treating
While the treats may have changed from loaves of bread and apples to chocolate and candy, the idea behind trick or treating remains the same. Originally, costumed young men would visit homes and riddle the occupants with a rhyme that asked for food. They were then treated to the traditional Irish fare that was on the stove or given fruit and bread to take away. Today, this tradition continues with community gatherings—both in Ireland and abroad—where children receive bounty at the front doors of neighbors.

Feasting on Colcannon and Barmbrack Cake
Many households celebrate the occasion with a traditional Irish meal, which often includes the satisfying dish known as Colcannon (see our recipe here!).  In addition to the main meal, Barmbrack Cake—a sweet bread with fruit and baked-in objects that are said to reveal one’s fortune—is also served. The cakes typically include the following: a rag, which symbolizes an uncertain financial future; a coin, which equals a prosperous year; a ring, symbolizing budding romance or marriage; and a thimble or stick, meaning you’ll be unlucky in romance.

Gathering Around a Bonfire
In ancient times, the Celtic festival was celebrated with bonfires. Numerous sources attempt to explain these fires. All seem to concur that were lit to ward off spirits; however, accounts vary on the other meanings. Today, bonfires are still a part of fall and harvest celebrations in Ireland and around the world.

What other Irish Halloween traditions do you incorporate into your celebration?

The Castles of Ireland: Kilkenny Castle

Located in the heart of Kilkenny City (it’s just a 15-minute walk from McDonagh Railway Station), Kilkenny Castle is a popular destination for tourists who wish to make a day trip from Dublin. Here’s a bit of its history and what you can expect to do and see on a visit today.

History:
Kilkenny Castle was originally built by William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke, during the early 13th century. In the 1390s, it was sold to the Butler family and was home to their descendants for close to 600 years. In the 1930s, this family sold the majority of the castle’s contents before Arthur, 6th Marquess of Ormonde and a member of the Butler family, presented it to the city of Kilkenny for the sum of £50. In 1969, the Office of Public Works took over the care of the historical building. Since its original construction, the Anglo-Norman stone structure has received several additions and numerous alterations, making it what it is today.

The Grounds:
Gardens and green space surround the castle, and many of their features have been recently restored. A formal garden with a central fountain and radiating pathways is located on the west side of the castle. Additionally, guests will see two lead statues near the castle: Diana the Huntress and a version of Hermes that is modeled after the original that is located in the Vatican. The Parade Tower wing of the castle, which is now a modern center dedicated to special events such as conferences, weddings, and dinners features an entrance that is flanked by gates from the 17th century.

What to Do at Kilkenny Castle:

Whether you are attending an event or simply want to take in the history and scenery onsite, Kilkenny allows visitors to step back in time and view architectural details as well as furnishings from the castle’s more than 700 years. From the first of February through the end of October, all visits are self-guided. In the slower winter months, visits are only available by guided tour. Aside from the interior, many visitors note that the grounds alone are worth the trip.

Learn more about Kilkenny Castle and plan your visit at kilkennycastle.ie.

3 Quick Day Trips From Dublin

As one of Ireland’s major hubs, travelers often start or end their journey in Dublin. However, your trip doesn’t have to revolve around the capital city. Make Dublin your home base and then explore the rest of the island with day trips to city sites, waterfronts, and parks. Here are three unique options

Trip #1: Mahon Falls and County Waterford

Travel Time: Approximately 2 hours by bus, train, or car

What to Do: Walk along an easy trail that is suitable for all ages to see this stunning 80m waterfall. Not only can you enjoy its cascading beauty, you’ll also see the Comeragh Mountains, a natural display of Ireland’s beauty. What’s more, a number of festivals are held throughout the year, including film, arts, music, and holiday celebrations, in County Waterford.

Learn more at visitwaterford.com.

Trip #2: Belfast

Travel Time: Approximately 2 hours by bus, train, or car

What to Do:
As the capital of Northern Ireland, there’s no shortage of fun and fare in Belfast. However, the most popular attraction is Titanic Belfast, a museum celebrating the history and mystique of the RMS Titanic, which was built in the city. You may also want to see the nearby “Salmon of Knowledge” or “The Big Fish” as it is more commonly known. This iconic blue-and-white fish is made from ceramic tiles that tell the city’s history. For restaurants and nightlife, head to the popular Cathedral Quarter area of town.

To learn more about Belfast, go to visitbelfast.com.

Trip #3: Wicklow Mountains National Park 

Travel Time: 30 minutes by car

What to Do: This venture is so close to Dublin that you can even make the trip on a day when you are traveling in to or out of the hub—making valuable use of every second of your itinerary. The largest of Ireland’s six national parks, Wicklow covers an expanse of almost 50,000 acres, allowing you to take in the region’s streams, peaks, valleys, and wildlife at your own pace. The main goal of this park is conversation of both plants and animals, so it is of the utmost importance that visitors are respectful of the land. Based on your interests, choose from walking, hiking, a limited variety of watersports, climbing, and more.

Visit wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie for more information.

Classic Irish Stew

Fall has officially arrived—and that means it’s time for soup! We are partial to hearty, stick-with-you versions, such as this recipe for traditional Irish stew—which also happens to be touted as the National Dish of Ireland. While there are no particular rules about what has to go in the pot (potatoes and lamb are favorites!), we’ve found this combination makes a palate-pleasing dish. Feel free to add ingredients from your garden and fridge to make it your own.

Irish Stew

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 lb lamb cutlets (may substitute stew beef, if desired)
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium-sized onions, cut into thin wedges
4 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
8 small russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 sprigs of thyme
6-7 cups beef broth (may use more or less depending on desired consistency)
salt and pepper, to taste

**Note: Some recipes substitute one cup of Guinness or one cup of red wine for the beef broth.

PREPARATION

In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Cut the lamb into bite-sized chunks and brown in the pan. Remove and set aside.

In the same pan with the remaining oil, sauté the garlic for one-two minutes. Combine the cooked lamb and the remaining ingredients with the garlic in the pot. Bring to a boil, and then allow to simmer for 2-3 hours or until all the vegetables are tender. Serve warm. Can be made in advance and reheated.

What do you put in your Irish Stew? Share your must-have ingredients with us.

All About Bodhráns

What is a Bodhrán?
Good question! The bodhrán is a type of musical drum that features a wood frame and stretched goatskin or synthetic covering. They are typically 18 inches in diameter. They have a look that is a cross between a tambourine and a bongo drum.

How you pronounce Bodhrán?
Bow-rawn is the correct pronunciation with a long o in the word bow.

When and where did they originate?
The origin of the bodhrán is arguable. Some claim Africa while others say Asia. Whatever the truth may be, it was the Irish that popularized it and made it their own during the 18th century. Here, the drums were used for both musical performances as well as in war battles.

How do you play the Bodhrán?
There are a couple of different methods. First, you can use the palm of your hand, your knuckles, or your fingers. The second option—which is more commonly seen—is to use a stick. This is very similar to a drumstick, except that many of the bodhrán sticks are double-headed. One head keeps a steady beat while the other produces acoustic rolls. These double-headed sticks are referred to as cipins or tippers.

 Are they still used in Irish music?
Yes! Bodhráns retain their historical significance while still remaining relevant in Irish music today. You will often see them played with Irish folk groups.

Where can I get my own Bodhrán?
Creative Irish Gifts offers this handcrafted version that features real goatskin, fine wood, and a Celtic cross design. The bodhrán comes with a hardwood stick for playing.

 

The Castles of Ireland: Ashford Castle

While most castles call to mind visions of luxurious suites, an impeccably dressed staff ready to serve your every whim, and lush, evergreen gardens, few actually deliver these amenities—at least not to the public. Ashford Castle, western Ireland’s five-star luxury resort, offers all of this along with the charm of a castle that is close to 800 years old. Read on to learn more and plan your stay.

History:
Built in the 13th century by an Anglo-Norman family, the castle has been home to a number of loving stewards. Throughout the years, various buildings—including a French-style chateau—as well as acreage have been added to the property. During the mid 1800s, it was home to the Guinness family who restored its west wing and curated its garden and woodlands. In 1939, Noel Huggard purchased the property and transformed the castle in a luxury hotel. Since that time, several owners have maintained the presence and grandeur of Ashford Castle as a world-class escape—as evidenced by its numerous and prestigious awards. Since 2013 Red Carnation Hotels has been the proprietor, and they continue to restore the palace to its glory today.

The Grounds:
Ashford Castle features a number of gardens for guests to explore, included what is known as the formal Main Parterre, the Walled Garden, and the Terraced Walk. Additionally, a large circular fountain is a scenic draw for guests. There are also 350 acres of Irish woodland that surround the castle grounds.

What to Do at Ashford Castle:

There are 83 guest rooms and suites available at Ashford Castle, so you can enjoy its beauty day and night. Treat yourself to an afternoon of pampering at their state-of-the-art spa or visit nearby Mrs. Tea’s Boutique and Bakery, a boutique gift shop. Delight your palate with their exquisite culinary offerings or attend a wine tasting in one of the castle’s 16th century tunnels. Outdoor enthusiasts can choosing from fishing, golf, horse riding, boat trips, falconry, and more. The castle also offers family friendly activities, making it ideal escape with or without children.

 

Please note that tours are exclusive to hotel guests. Learn more or book your stay at ashfordcastle.com.

5 Ways to Welcome a New Baby

The birth of a baby brings joy, fun times of togetherness, and the excitement of what the future holds for this little one. Commemorate this special time with one (or all!) of these ideas.


Start a Cross Collection

If you are looking for a gift that can last a lifetime, start a collection for the new arrival. Crosses, like this Celtic one that is also symbolic of Irish heritage, can be displayed throughout a lifetime. Be sure to write the date and your name on the bottom so the child will know when they received the thoughtful gift and who gave it.


Care for His or Her Parents

One of the most practical ways to show your love for an infant is to show your love for his or her parents. Take them a meal, offer to babysit for a few hours so they can run errands or have dinner out, or simply visit and show them you care and are excited for their new addition.


Share Your Heritage

It’s never too early to start teaching little ones about your roots. Give the new arrival a sign that’s a nod to Ireland or a sweet music box that plays an Irish lullaby.


Give Him or Her a Soft Best Friend

There’s nothing like a babe finding a blanket or a soft, stuffed animal to love. Give them something to cuddle as they grow and it’s sure to become a favorite for years down the road. We love this sweet Sheep and Shamrock Wool Throw and this cute-as-can-be Dangle Leg Sheep.


Host a Sip & See Tea

Want to introduce the baby to your entire crew? Host a Sip and See for the new family. Invite a small group to your home to meet the little one and share in the joy of his or her arrival. Add an Irish flair by serving tea and scones.

Bake Irish Scones

As the days of summer draw to a close and autumn beckons, our minds are turning to fall baking projects—and traditional Irish scones are at the top of the list. There’s nothing quite like a warm, buttery scone and cup of tea to soothe the soul and appease those afternoon snack cravings. Embrace the cooler days of fall with our recipe for this traditional Irish treat.

Traditional afternoon tea with scones

Traditional Currant Scones

INGREDIENTS

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons currants
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

PREPARATION

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (the first 5 ingredients listed above). Use a fork or pastry blender to cut the butter into the mixture.

In a separate small bowl, combine the milk and egg. Slowly add the wet mixture to the dry to create a dough.

Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it. Knead gently once or twice to incorporate any loose pieces. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick piece. For round scones, use a jar or biscuit cutter to create circles. If you prefer triangular scones, use a knife to cut the dough in to angled shapes.

Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and place the rounds or triangles on it. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with butter and jam.

Have a scone flavor you love? Share your favorite variation with us in the comments section.

THE CASTLES OF IRELAND: Bunratty Castle

A couple of months ago we created a list of five popular castles around Ireland to share with you. (Read that story here.) Soon after that post, we quickly realized five was not enough! Ireland is filled with amazing castles—many of which are open for touring and exploring. In this new series, which will appear here periodically over the next few months, we’ll take a deeper look at more of Ireland’s historic, breathtaking castles. This week, we’re stepping into Bunratty Castle.

Location:
Bunratty Castle is in southern County Clare near the County Limerick line. It is located just miles from N18. The land on which the castle is situated was originally a Viking trading camp.

History:
The present castle, which is the fourth to be constructed on the site, was built in 1425. During the 19th century it was unoccupied and fell into disrepair until the mid 1950s when Viscount Lord Gort purchased the property and restored it to its former glory with aid from the Office of Public Works, the Irish Tourist Board and Shannon Development. In 1962 it opened for visitors year-round, and today it is touted as the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland.

The Grounds:
In addition to the castle, a visit to Bunratty should include time spent at the adjoining Folk Park. Here, you will experience life as it was in 19th century Ireland, complete with villagers in period costumes and the opportunity to visit buildings of the era, including a vertical mill, grocery, post office, pub, and more.

While you are at Bunratty Castle, also be sure to see the Walled Garden. This area was built around 1804 and functioned as a small garden on the east side of the estate.

The Castle’s Interior:
Lord and Lady Gort along with archaeologist John Hunt and his wife Gertrude, spent countless hours furnishing the castle with medieval furniture, artwork, and pieces that would have been a part of every day life at the time the castle was constructed. Guided tours are available or your can browse at your own leisure.

Events:
While you’re visiting, be sure to book a ticket for dinner at the castle’s medieval banquet. These nightly meals offer a glimpse of days gone by complete with musical entertainment and visits from characters in period costumes.

Additionally, Bunratty Castle continues its enchanting tradition by hosting birthday parties and special occasions. Costumed guides are available to entertain small children or give tours of the castle and folk park, making it a destination that continues to delight visitors of all ages from both near and far.

 Bunratty Castle is open year-round from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Learn more at shannonheritage.com.

Get to Know: Kerry Crafted Glass

Located in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, Kerry Crafted Glass is the handiwork of master craftsman Terence MacSweeney. He is no stranger to the craft, having started blowing glass in 1979 as well as training with well-known artisans and companies, including Langham Glass, before opening his business in 1998.

Today, he and his wife Helen along with their three daughters Niamh, Ruth, and Meabh oversee this family business, a venue that is open to visitors who wish to see and learn about the ancient art of glass blowing.

Each piece of Kerry Crafted Glass is made onsite. They are not only blown by mouth but also shaped by hand. The process begins with recycled glass pieces being melted in the company’s furnace. These burn at an astonishing 1,200 degrees. From there, the glass is gathered onto the blowing iron and blown. Color is also added at this time. More glass can be added to achieve the desired size or thickness. Next, the artisan moves to the bench to begin forming the shape of the piece. The entire process is hands-on—much like creating a work of art on canvas or a sculpture.

Candlesticks, urns, vases, bowls, lamps, and mirrors are just a few of the pieces that are created in this unique studio. Inspiration for both shape and palette often comes from the company’s location. The studio is situated near the Lakes of Killarney and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range that includes Ireland’s highest peaks.

Creative Irish Gifts is proud to carry pieces from Kerry Crafted Glass.  You can shop the collection here.

To learn more about the company and their craftsmanship, visit KerryCraftedGlass.com.