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Irish Language Phrases for Oíche Shamhna (Halloween)

Halloween leaves in Ireland

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In Origins of Oíche Shamhna (Halloween), we shared with you some interesting information on the origins of Halloween (in Irish, Oíche Shamhna, pronounced roughly EE-hyeh HOW-nuh).

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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.

Samhain

As you know if you have read its origins, 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.” The genitive case is a form of the noun which often indicates possession, or in this case, “the night of Samhain“. You can learn more about the genitive case in a special course on different forms of the noun in the Aistear Reference Pack, which is available to Explore and Grow members of Bitesize Irish.

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*

Damhán alla (DOW-on ALL-uh): A spider

Sciathán leathair (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/sorcerer” 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 the previous part, 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 (KNOH-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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Would you like to learn some Irish for Samhain?

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Warning: avoid if you spook too easily.

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14 thoughts on “Irish Language Phrases for Oíche Shamhna (Halloween)”

  1. Beautiful article! I do only have one critique per my research via articles, blogs, videos etc. from Irish speakers and residents of Ireland. Although a lot of people think Samhain means “Summer’s End” it actually translates to “November”, which does indeed make more sense when you consider “Samhain Eve” is celebrated from sundown on October 31st into the 1st day of November, hence the Eve of November. It is not common knowledge outside the isle it seems, and I had to really go digging, even in sources that were not in English, to get the full scope. Oíche Shamhna translates to the Eve of November, what we know as Halloween in the States. I’ve been trying to celebrate the season more authentically myself, and have adopted these changes as I realized my mistake. Hopefully this doesn’t strike you poorly, I considered myself quite knowledgeable until reading from a native Irishman and he made a point to mention the mistake so many make. For all I know since this is from 2017, you probably know this already!

  2. When I was a child we called to the houses and said Any apples or nuts. It was America that introduced the trick or treat.

    1. Hi Garry,

      Thank you for your message.

      The word “gwitch” is the Connacht and Ulster pronunciation of “dhuit” though no transliteration can really convey the pronunciation properly. The Munster pronunciation is more on the lines of “gwit.” “Duit” is pronounced similar to “ditch” in Connacht and Ulster and “dit” in Munster. You can hear the many different ways it’s said in this example: https://forvo.com/phrase/dia_dhuit/

      Le meas,
      Siobhán

        1. Hi Orláith,

          Thank you for your comment.

          That’s the wonder of Irish, so much variation! No matter the dialect, though, you’ll hear a difference between “duit” and “dhuit,” “samhain” and “shamhain.”

          Le meas,
          Siobhán

      1. Arthur Garry King

        Thanks for that Siobhán! What does the “go léir” mean in Oíche shamhna shona daoibh go léir?
        Thanks Garry

        1. Hi Arthur,

          Go léir means ‘everyone’ or ‘you all’. So ‘oíche Shamhna shona daoibh go léir’ means happy Halloween to you all/everyone.

          Le beannacht,
          Aisling

    2. This is typical Americanused destruction of another Old custom. We never ate goodies, we ate the fruits of the harvest ie nuts, and fruit. That’s why the Bàirin brauc was made, money in your dinner, my grandchildren still get this, the old games played at home. Only children dressed up, Not adults so called. We asked for A penny for the poor souls. Remembered and prayed for our dead loved ones, the term a
      All Hallows Eve means it is Holy,, the eve of all Saints.
      Thanks Yanks for destroying and commercialising this lovely innocent fun filled childrens time, like they destroyed our traditional Irish dancing.

  3. fantastic…wish I could say that in Gaelic….and I love you….to my kids and to my friends….this wes so informative..I loved it…see…how do I say that? You do a gr8 job making this understandable and learnable…go raibh maith agat! sla’n agat le meas, lottie

    1. Apparently you didn’t read the entire paragraph:

      “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.”

      Here’s the referenced “Saturday’s article” which, among other things, describes how trick or treating changed when the practice came to America:

      http://www.bitesizeirishgaelic.com/blog/oiche-shamhna-halloween-on/