Uncomfortable with the mass commercialisation of what was always a special time of year to me, last year I looked for something different to do with the kids around Hallowe’en. I wanted it to be spooky and magical, something they’d remember, something that tied the festival to their cultural roots. I was thrilled when a flyer for the Spirit of Meath Hallowe’en festival came through my door. One event in particular stood out to me.
Traditional Torchlit Procession To the Hill of Ward, Tlachtga, just outside Athboy, Co. Meath. This is the place where Halloween began. One of the main spiritual centres of the ancient Celts was located at the top of the Hill of Tlachtga, now called the Hill of Ward, Athboy. The druids felt that this world and the otherworld were closest at Tlachtga and it was here that the festival of Samhain or Halloween was started. The old year’s fires were extinguished and after sunset, the ceremonial new year Samhain fire was lit here. Torches were lit from this sacred fire and carried to seven other hills around the county including Tara and Loughcrew, and then on to light up the whole countryside.
Today the old celtic ceremony at Tlachtga has been revived and a torchlit procession from the Fair Green in Athboy, Co. Meath to the Hill of Tlachtga takes place on October 31st every year at 7pm. Admission free.
Not wanting the kids to feel they’d missed out on anything, we flew around the street trick or treating as soon as it got dark, then flew up the M3 to Athboy. It took about 30 mins from Dublin. We were handed hi-vis vests and bands which I was glad of later on the descent and in the middle of the green were told a little tale about the history of Samhain and the procession. We were taught a few chants and off we went chanting and singing by torchlight, truly following in the footsteps of our ancestors up to the top of the Hill of Ward. Locals handed treats out to the kids as we passed their houses. We made our way over a stile and through a final pathway of flaming torches where we came upon a bonfire surrounded by cloaked druids and pagans. They reanacted the story of The Goddess Tlachtga accompanied by drumming and chanting and performed the traditional torchlighting ceremony. The atmosphere was powerful, electrifying and emotional. After, mulled cider and snacks were served while the ashes of some deceased pagans from around the world were scattered on the fire as per their wishes. Being part of such a ceremony was the first time in a long time I felt so connected to my Celtic roots. It felt grounding and magical as I forgot about plastic pumpkins and tat and watched the occasional fireworks and chinese lanterns rise up from the city in the distance while we celebrated the Celtic New Year. We are so going again this year.
The Spirit of Meath Hallowe’en Festival runs from October 21st to November 6th with over 35 events around the county where Hallowe’en began. Fun by day, frights by night is the theme this year with craft workshops, storytelling, ghost walks and houses of terror to name just a few. The complete listings can be downloaded here. I thoroughly recommend taking a trip up to the royal county and joining in with some spooky fun this midterm.