Oiche Shamhna Essay

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The fallen leaves of late October in Ireland. Oíche Shamhna – Halloween – must be on its way.

Last Saturday we shared with you some interesting information on the origins of Halloween (in Irish, Oíche Shamhna, pronounced roughly EE-hyeh HOW-nuh) in Oíche Shamhna (Halloween) – Part 1.

In this post, we’ll teach you a few words and phrases in Irish that you can use tonight, if you like, to celebrate the holiday’s Irish origins.


As you know if you read Saturday’s article, the name of the feast from which Halloween originated (and also the Irish word for the month of November) is Samhain. I see this word misphoneticized in so many fantasy books, I just have to clear the pronunciation up here and now.

Samhain is pronounced SOW-in, with the first syllable rhyming with “cow” (or, if you prefer, with “sow” as in a female pig). It isn’t “SAM-hayn” or “SAW-wayn” or any of the other phonetic renderings you may have encountered.

(The Scottish Gaelic form is pronounced “SAH-ven,” but it’s also spelled differently:  Samhainn).

It literally means “Summer’s End,” and Irish speakers and learners will recognize that it has the same root as “Samhradh” (SOW-roo or SOW-ruh, depending on dialect) which means “Summer.”

Whew! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s move on to…

Oíche Shamhna

The night we call “Halloween” in English is Oíche Shamhna (EE-hyeh HOW-nuh): literally “Samhain Eve” (“Samhna” is the genitive of “Samhain.” For more on the genitive case, see The Genitive in Irish Grammar). Bitesize subscribers may also want to check out our lessons on the genitive case, such as:

Happy Halloween!

To wish someone a happy Halloween, you can say:

Oíche Shamhna Shona Duit (EE-hyeh HOW-nuh HUN-uh ditch*)

If you’re talking to more than one person, you would say:

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh (EE-hyeh HOW-nuh HUN-uh DEE-iv)

* In some dialects, this is pronounced more like “gwitch.”

Oh, those costumes!

You never know what you’re going to see running around your neighborhood on Halloween night, but here are a few possibilities:

Taibhse (TIVE-sheh): A ghost

Cailleach (KAL-yukh): A witch*

Damhan Alla (DOW-on ALL-uh): A spider

Sciathán Leathar (SHKEE-uh-hahn LYA-hur): A bat

Creatlach (KRAT-lukh): A skeleton

Puimcín (PUM-keen): A pumpkin

* This is more the old hag type of witch. If your little goblin is more of a Hermione Granger type of witch, “asarlaí” (ASS-ur-lee), which means “wizard/sorceror” might be more appropriate.

Teach the kids how to say “I’m a ____” in Irish

When someone asks what your child’s costume is, wouldn’t it be fun if he or she could answer in Irish?  It’s really easy:

Is ______ mé (iss ____ may)

So, for example, if you want to say “I’m a ghost,” you’d say:

Is taibhse mé (iss TIVE-sheh may)

And, of course, trick or treat!

As we mentioned in Saturday’s article, originally “trick or treating” meant that the child would actually “do a trick” (sing a song, perhaps, or show a card trick) in order to get a treat. Nowadays, Irish children often do things the American way.

Tabhair féirín dom, nó buailfidh mé bob ort! (TOH-ir FAYR-een dum, noh BOOL-hee may bub ort!): Give me a gift, or I’ll play a prank on you!

Don’t forget the goodies!

Let’s not forget some of the holiday treats you may find in your children’s Halloween bags:

Milseáin (MIL-shyn): Candy/sweets

Or, if you’re lucky (but don’t count on it!):

Úlla (OO-luh): Apples

Oráistí (OR-ahss-chee): Oranges

Cnónna (KROH-nuh): Nuts

Regardless, they’re sure to come home full of:

Siúcra (SHOO-kruh): Sugar!

Regardless of how you’ll observe the holiday tonight, all of us here at Bitesize Irish Gaelic wish you all a safe and happy Halloween!

Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh go léir!

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