Speak Irish: Oíche Shamhna

Speak Irish: Oíche Shamhna
by Bob Carney

Oíche Shamhna (ee-ha how-na) or Samhain Eve (sow-in), Halloween as most of us know it, was the principal holiday for the ancient celts. A celebration of the celtic new year on the first of November (Samhain), it marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter.

Much more than just a feast day, every member of the community was obligated to attend, all of the social, political, economic and religous matters of the community were discussed. Of course there was also great feasting on pork and wine flowed freely. The meat of the pig was believed to give immortality and the wine allowed a person to transcend reality and gain access to the supernatural on the day when the community of the dead met with the community of the living.

All Saints Day, the Christian legacy of Samhain, has retained that aspect with the Communion of Saints. How this pagan festival evolved into what we call Halloween in America has been covered before in the Ohio Irish American News. What I’d like to share are some of the words and phrases in Irish related to Samhain.

There’s a rumour that the name Dracula comes from the Irish, droch fola (drawhk-foe-la), evil blood. A cool story I want to believe, but Bram Stoker kept meticulous notes and there is no record of him using these Irish words, so it’s probably just a story.

To wish someone Happy Halloween, you would say, Oíche Shamhna shona duit! (ee-ha how-na hun-ah gwit) or Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh! (yeev) if you are wishing it to more than one person.

Oíche shamhna shona daoibh go léir (guh lare) is the equivalent of Have a Happy Halloween y’all.

Black cats are considered lucky in Ireland. The Irish for cat is cat, but pronounced dog. I’m kidding, it’s pronounced kaht.

Cailleach (kayell- ach) witch or hag

Scuab chaillí (skoo-ab hall-ee) witch’s broom

Cailderu (call-de-roo) cauldron

Nothing! Dada! (da-da) tastes better with pumpkin spice!

Púca (poo-ka) is a hobgoblin

“An rud a scríobhann an puca léann sé féin é” (ahn rud skree-vahn ahn poo-ka layn shay fayne ay)

“What the pooka writes the pooka can read” used when coming across indecipherable writing or a statement that makes no sense. Something tells me we will get a lot of use out of this one in the next year!

Spiorad (spyr-ud) is a spirit

Creatlach (krat-luhk) is a skeleton

Asarlaí (ass-ur-lee) is a wizard or sorcerer


(nah hosk-el ahn bayrt egg ahn mord)

Is éard atá ann do Nimbus nua Dhá Mhíle,

(iss ayrd ah-taw ahn duh nimbus noo-ah gah vee-la)

Ach b’fhearr liom nach mbeadh a fhios ag na daoine

(ach barr lum nach may a ees egg na dee-na)

Go bhfuil scuab eitilte agat nó beidh ceann ó gach duine.

(guh will skoo-ab eh-tilt-eh ah-gut no bay kyann oh gahch dih-na)

Buailfidh Oliver Wood leat anocht

(bool-fih Oliver Wood lyat ah-nohkt)

Ar an bpáirc Quidditch ar a seacht a chlog

(ar ahn bark quidditch ar a shohkt a clog)

Don chéad seisiún traenála.

(don kayd sehshoon tray-nul-ah)                          
An tÓllamh M.McGonagall”


It contains your new Nimbus Two Thousand,

but I don’t want everybody knowing you’ve got a

broomstick or they’ll all want one. Oliver Wood will

meet you tonight on the Quidditch field at seven o’clock

for your first training session.

                                Professor M. McGonagall”

                  From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Is breá liom beith ag éisteacht leis na scéalta taibhsí um Shamhain.

(iss bra lum veh egg aysh-chocht lesh nah shkale-ta tiv-shee um how-inn)

I like to hear ghost stories on Halloween.

Ní fhaca mé púca nó taibhse riamh. Tú féin?

(nee ahk-ah may poo-ka no tiv-sheh ree-uv. Too fayne?)

I’ve never seen a goblin or ghost. Have you?

You could put a sheet over your head and tell everyone, “Is taibhse mé!” (iss tiv-sheh may)

I’m a ghost!

Tabhair féirin dom, nó buailfidh mé bob ort. (toh-er fayr-een dom no bool-fih may bub ort)

Give me a gift or I’ll play a trick on you.

“Trick or Treat!”

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh!

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @Pj McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hound Morrighan and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at ca**************@gm***.com

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