The Royal County – Where Halloween Began

County Meath is known as the Royal County for good reason. The seat of`the High King of Ireland is located at the center of the County and at one time the kingdom was powerful enough to rival the other four provinces of Ireland as the fifth province of Mide. The county has a richness of archaeological treasures the envy of the rest of Ireland.  Along the banks of the River Boyne, worshiped as a goddess in Celtic times, can be found the Norman Castle at Trim, The Royal Hill of Tara, and the spectacular 5,000-year-old burial Mounds at Bru Na Boinne. To the north of the county are the sacred  hills of Loughcrew, Ward, and Uisneach.

Ancient Ramparts on The Hill of Ward

The Pagan Celtic Calendar

Many of the traditional pre-Christian days of the Celtic calendar were celebrated at sacred spots throughout the county. The winter solstice is marked in spectacular fashion at Newgrange when the sunken chamber of the burial mound is lit up by the rays of the rising winter sun.  Bealtaine, the first dawn of May, is celebrated at The Hill of Uisneadh, Meanwhile, the summer solstice was celebrated on The Hill of Tara. Lughnasa, marking the end of Summer was held at Teltown, on the banks of the River Boyne. The September equinox is celebrated at Loughrew, followed by Samhain at the Hill of Ward.

Torchlit Procession to Tlachtga

Celtic Druids and Sacred Bonfires

Samhain is the ancient Celtic Festival that we now call Halloween, is a Celtic festival whose traditions go back more than 3,000 years. The festival has its home at the top of the Hill of Tlachtga, now called The Hill of Ward, situated just outside the picturesque village of Athboy.

Samhain marks the end of the old Celtic year and the beginning of the new year. The Celts believed that this was a time of transition when the veil between our world and the next came down and the spirits of people who had died since the Oiche Samhna (Night of Samhain) moved on to the next life. One of the main spiritual centers of the ancient Celts was located on the top of the hill of Tlachtga, now called The Hill of Ward,  The druids felt that this world and the other world were closest at Tlachtga and it was here on the festival of Samhain that the sacred fire was kindled and Halloween began.

It was the custom of the druids to assemble on Tlachtga on the eve of Samhain where a bonfire was lit and offerings made. From this sacred fire, torches were carried to seven other sacred hills in County Meath, including Tara and Loughcrew and then on to light up the countryside.