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Column A proper Halloween Festival in Ireland could have astounding economic benefits

Ireland is missing out on a key cultural and tourism opportunity by not fostering and encouraging a much larger and more evolved international cultural festival centred around Irish history and mythology, writes TD Catherine Murphy.

LAST YEAR, BESTSELLING crime author Patricia Cornwell spoke at an event as part of the Dublin Bram Stoker Festival. Throughout her contribution she made reference to how lucky she felt to be here in Ireland, at Halloween.

She referred to Ireland as the ‘place where Halloween began’ and of her feeling of being immersed in the historical significance of the ancient pagan festival by virtue of her presence here in Ireland at that particular time of year. She told the crowd that we needed to ‘claim ownership’ of this worldwide festival as Ireland was truly where it all began.

It got me thinking and I decided to undertake some research into the cultural and economic implications for Ireland of making a far more concerted effort to embrace ‘our’ festival and make it synonymous with Ireland.

It is evident that Ireland is missing out on a key cultural and tourism opportunity by not fostering and encouraging a much larger and more evolved international cultural festival centred around Irish history and mythology.

Samhain, as most people understand, was one of the four great seasonal events celebrated by the Celtic and pre-Christian inhabitants of this island (along with Imbolc, Lughnasagh and Bealtaine).

Historically, Samhain marked the beginning of dark winter months and the end to harvest time, and the evidence suggests that the festival was also a time to celebrate and remember the dead.

There are frequent references to Samhain in Old Irish Literature – in the Macgnímartha Finn, Táin Bó Cúailnge, The Annals of the 4 Masters and The Tochmarc Eimire to list a few.

Economic benefits

The mix of ancient Celtic and mediaeval Christian traditions has merged to shape the holiday we recognise today as Halloween. To trace the international spread of the festival we know now as Halloween, we can look directly to the mass emigration from this island and Scotland to the four corners of the world.

The festivities and customs we observe today at Halloweeen – trick or treating, costumes etc. – began to spread and were gradually adopted and celebrated by those of all faiths and none.

From an economic point of view, the benefits that can be reaped from a Halloween festival could be astounding.

The day is increasingly more visibly marked – houses are decorated, Halloween themed parties are held for young and old alike and we’re seeing the creation of many Halloween themed festivals.

Spending on Halloween has ballooned in recent years and the National Retail association of America estimated that consumer spending on Halloween in the US has risen by 55 per cent since 2005 – to almost $8 billion.

Similar figures are evident in the United Kingdom and even a casual observer would bear testimony to the enhanced level of external decorations on houses and Halloween themed events here in Ireland.

The possibility of creating an International festival similar to St Patrick’s Day seems to stand out as having enormous potential by simply expanding upon the popularity of the festival whilst asserting and promoting the original Irish origins of Halloween, essentially making Ireland the spiritual home for Halloween enthusiasts from around the globe.

Ideal framework

The framework for such a festival seems almost ideal. The 31 October date falls seven months after St. Patrick’s Day and seven weeks before Christmas. There is already a national holiday day associated, though not officially linked, with Halloween (the Bank Holiday Monday is the last Monday of October).

Observance of the festival is already very high and some local authorities already officially mark the occasion and the Halloween holiday can be considered universal in that it can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

Perhaps most appealing of all, it is now firmly a secular event, transcending religious and ethnic lines and thus making it appropriate as a celebration that can be shared by all.

If we use the St. Patrick’s Day model as the central planning umbrella then we can develop that to apply to new and existing events around Halloween – by sourcing funding from Fáilte Ireland and a range of private sponsors.

We could also use new funds generated to tackle some of the more anti-social elements that occur at Halloween. By legitimising unofficial celebrations we can bring an element of control and hopefully relieve the pressure on our emergency services on the night. We can also reduce the cost of cleanup to our local authorities.

We have the organisational and administrative capacity to undertake and manage such an annual event given our success in running the St Patrick’s Day festival annually – an event that is shared in by millions around the world.

Read Catherine Murphy’s document: The case for establishing a nationwide Halloween Festival in Ireland >

Read: Meet the reverend who participated in the 1949 exorcism that inspired The Exorcist

Read: There are some people who are really scared on Halloween – here’s why

Column: Can we just give Halloween a miss this year?

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