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Halloween: Did it descend from a Roscommon cave?

By Barra Best 3-3 minutes 10/31/2022

Oweynagat cave

Image caption,

Looking down the mouth of Halloween?

Nestled away in a field full of sheep in County Roscommon is what some some people believe is the origin of Halloween - a cave known as Ireland's Gate to Hell.

Also known as the Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), it is believed this is the birth place of the Irish pre-Christian festival of Samhain, known today as Halloween.

It is located near Rathcrogan, the ancient capital of Connacht and a major archaeological area, home to 240 sites dating back 5,500 years.

RathcroganImage source, Rathcrogan Visitor Centre

Image caption,

Rathcrogan is the ancient capital of Connacht and a major archaeological area

The damp and murky cave, stretching 37m (121ft) below ground, is where ancient Celts believed there was a doorway to the other world.

"At least as long as 2,000 years ago locals believed that the gate between the worlds opened on 31 October," said local archaeologist and historian, Daniel Curley.

3D model of the caveImage source, The Discovery Programme

Image caption,

A 3D model of the cave

This was to allow for the transition of seasons between autumn and winter.

"Monsters and manifestations would emerge, led by the goddess Morríghan, to create a world ready for winter, including birds with foul breath that would strip leaves from trees," added Dr Curley, who has a masters in medieval studies and a doctorate in archaeology.

"Locals would stay indoors in fear of being dragged into the other world when the ghouls had finished ravaging the land.

"If you had to go outside you wore a costume and mask to look hideous.

"That way you would be left alone and not dragged into the otherworld."

The types of costumes and masks may have changed but the tradition lives on.

Now it has to be said that Roscommon is not the only place in Ireland to lay claim to being the source of Halloween.

TlachtgaImage source, Rathcrogan Visitor Centre

Image caption,

Could this be where Halloween began?

In the 17th Century, historian Geoffrey Keating wrote of the feast of Samhain and the fierce fire on a hill in Meath.

In 2014, archaeologists digging at Tlachtga - the Hill of Ward - found evidence of intense burning at the site dating back to 500 AD.

The Celtic feast of Samhain began at sunset on 31 October and ran until sunset on 1 November.

Tradition has it that on Samhain Eve all fires were extinguished across Ireland.

A huge bonfire was lit on Tlachtga - the name of an ancient druidess - and all the people had to come and light their fires from this central fire.

The plot thickens on where Halloween began but the stories are definitely worth telling.

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