Is Ireland’s “Cave of the Cats” Where Halloween Was Born?
by Trisha Leigh
Halloween is one of those things that could have begun in many different places, and as all of them are slightly spooky, any (or all) will do.
Cats (especially black ones) have long been objects of suspicion themselves, probably because old and/or single women love cats – and are also the first to be suspected of witchcraft.
These things combined are probably why some people point to Ireland’s “Cave of the Cats” as the genesis of Halloween.
The cave – officially Oweynagat cave – is located in County Roscommon. For around 2000 years, locals believed that the cave would open a gate to hell every year on the 31st of October.
Archaeologist and historian Dr. Daniel Curley told the BBC that the transitional period between autumn and winter has long brought out spooky and otherworldly legends.
“Monsters and manifestations would emerge, led by the goddess Morrighan, to create a world ready for winter, including birds with foul breath that would strip leaves from trees. Local 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.”
Samhain, which predates Christianity, was held in the same spot where the Cave of the Cats is found. The Ancient Capital of Connacht is the largest unexcavated Royal Site in Europe. It contains more than 240 sites – some of which are key burial sites – and spans over 5000 years of history.
The Cave of the Cats is a notable site with unique archaeology.
“It was regarded a malevolent hell-like places full of terrifying mythical creatures and supernatural beings. In the metrical Dindshenchas the cave is described as the residence of the Morrighan, the pre-Christian goddess of war. Other early texts associate it with sinister and savage pigs, birds, cats, and female werewolves. It is a place to be feared, particularly on the even of Samhain when the hosts of ‘hell’ are said to emerge from the cave.”
Samhain traveled to the United States in the 1800s, along with the bulk of the Irish immigrants.
Word has it that ladies with cats aren’t witches, though.