Cover art by Iren Horrors
“On Samain Eve, the night before the 1st of November, or, as it is now called, All Hallows Night, or Hallowe’en, all the fairy hills were thrown wide open; for the Fe-fiada was taken off … for on [the eve of] that day it was impossible to keep them in concealment and we read in the story of ” Echtra Nerai”:—”They [the fairy host] will come on Samain next; for the shees of Erin are always open at Samain.” … No sooner was the Fe-fiada taken off, and the doors thrown open, than the inmates issued forth, and roamed where they pleased all over the country : so that, as we are told in the story of Echtra Nerai, people usually kept within doors, naturally enough afraid to go forth ; for “demons would always appear on that night. From the cave of Cruachan or Croghan in Connaught, issued probably the most terrific of all those spectre hosts; for immediately that darkness had closed in on Samain Eve, a crowd of horrible goblins rushed out, and among them a flock of copper-red birds, led by one monstrous three- headed vulture : and their poisonous breath withered up everything it touched : so that this cave came to be called the “Hell-gate of Ireland.”‘P.W. Joyce, A Social History of Ireland Vol. 1, 1903
One of the most famous stories in the Irish mythical tales relating to Samhain is called Echtrae Nerai within the Táin Bó Aingene, the Cattle Raid of Aingene. This takes place at the royal feasting hall of King Aillil and Queen Medbh in Cruachan or Rathcroghan. In the middle of the feast of Samhain, the king declared that anyone brave enough to tie a twig around the foot of a recently deceased prisoner at the gallows would receive any treasure of Aillil’s he desired.
This would have been an incredibly brave feat as in the story it was told that the darkness and horror of the night was great and demons were frequently appearing. A few tried unsuccessfully before Nera put on his armor and went out himself. Nera tried twice to tie the twig but it kept coming loose. The corpse came to life and told him how to appropriately tie it in order to stay, which it did on the third try. The corpse then asked as a favor to be carried to a nearby house for a drink and Nera, being thankful for his help, obliged.
However, when they came upon the first house, the corpse was unable to enter due to the house being correctly banked down. They tried a second house that the corpse was also unable to enter due to the waste water being properly disposed. Finally, they tried a third house and the corpse was able to enter because the water used for washing feet had been left inside which was unlucky. The corpse drank a mouthful of water and then spit the remainder on the sleeping occupants of house, killing them. Nera then promptly returns to the feast returning the corpse to the gallows and sees the entire stronghold on fire as well as heaps of the heads of his slain countrymen.
He was then invited into a sídhe mound (Oweyngat) where he would spend a year, married the sídhe woman and they would go on to have a son together. After the year, she tells him to go home and show his people the fruits of summer (wild garlic, primrose, golden fern) to prove he has been to the Otherworld so that they might believe his word of his premonition for the future. After this, he immediately returned to the present moment and learns that only minutes had passed. He warns his King and Queen Medbh of future dangers of which they begin to prepare for. In the very end, Nera stayed behind with his wife in the sídhe mound and was said to never return.