Easter in Ireland is largely a Christian holiday and the most important holiday on the Church calendar.
Celebrating Easter in Ireland
Beginning Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the ‘Easter Season’ lasts 40 days, until Easter Sunday. The period of Lent is a time for self-reflection and families traditionally spend time together.
Lent is also a time of sacrifice, with many people giving up their favorite things, like chocolate, coffee, or sweets.
The week before Easter is known as Holy Week and includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. Many churches hold special services through the week.
Easter Sunday draws crowds to Mass which is often followed by a large family dinner. Spring lamb will likely be on the menu, as will simnel cakes and hot cross buns – both imported traditions from England.
Old Irish Easter Traditions
- Clean the house thoroughly
- Get new clothes for Easter Sunday
- Cut your hair to prevent headaches
- Visit holy wells and graveyards. Water collected from holy wells has curative properties on Good Friday.
- Plant seed to bless your crops.
- Mark all chickens' eggs laid on Good Friday with a cross; each family member eats one on Easter Sunday.
- Have holy water blessed. Drink 3 sips for good luck and sprinkle everything to spread the luck around.
- Bring cinders from the fire to be blessed.
- View the sunrise from a hilltop. This is a Catholic tradition akin to the Savior rising from his grave.
- Celebrate by coloring or giving eggs as a signifier of life.
- In some rural areas families had egg races, rolling hard boiled eggs down a hill to determine a winner.
- In villages people would dress in brightly colored rags and go from house to house dancing and singing, demanding the eggs of Easter.
- Have an Easter feat with your family.
No Egg Hiding Bunnies
My friend Susan, a US expat, says the biggest thing she’s noticed is that the Easter Bunny really isn’t a big part of the holiday.
But that is slowly changing says Felicity Hayes-McCoy, author of The House on an Irish Hillside, “The eggs, the bunny, and so on, have pre-Christian roots and, from the Early Middle Ages, the church here was in the business of eradicating those and the Pagan spring festivals they belonged to… hence they've only returned via commercialization from the UK and US.”
Though you won’t often find it in private homes, the Easter Hunt may be found in some communities as fundraisers for local GAA leagues or historic sites.
A Time for Home and Family
Garden centers begin to do brisk business around Easter as people look at flowers to brighten their lawns as well as tools for ‘spring cleaning’. It’s also a great way to keep the kids busy, since schools in Ireland close for two weeks during Lent and through Easter.
Miriam Barry, proprietor of The Old Bank in Bruff, says families will often use the ‘spring break’ for a quick getaway with the kids – preferably someplace sunny, though many will travel across Ireland to visit grandparents and cousins.
Foods for Your Traditional Irish Easter Menu
An Irish Easter feast often includes roast lamb or large ham, new potatoes, and spring vegetables like carrots and asparagus.
Hot Cross Buns, once reserved solely for Good Friday, are filled with symbolism. It is said that a 12th century monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross in honor of Good Friday. By 1592 Queen Elizabeth 1 decreed that the buns could only be eaten on Good Friday, Christmas, or for burials.
Superstitions about the buns also grew with their popularity. It is said that a bun hung in your kitchen on Good Friday will remain fresh throughout the year. Due to the cross on top the buns are said to protect a kitchen from evil spirits and fires, or offer protection from shipwreck, if you are a sailor.
If you want to create a friendship that lasts a lifetime this little rhyme and a hot cross bun is said to do the trick – Half for you, half for me, between us two good luck shall be.
The Simnel Cake is a fruitcake decorated with 11 marzipan ‘eggs' to represent the Apostles (minus Judas). Traditionally eaten on the fourth Sunday in Lent, known as Simnel Sunday or Refreshment Sunday, when the fasting of Lent was relaxed.
Simnel cakes were traditionally reserved for the foutrh Sunday in Let but are now eaten through the 40 day period, and even on Easter Sunday.
Travel Advice for Easter in Ireland
Good Friday – some pubs and off-license may be closed, though it is not required. This is a bank holiday – banks, schools, and many businesses closed.
Easter Sunday – some restaurants and attractions may have altered hours or be closed. Confirm availability times.
Easter Monday is a public holiday so be sure to confirm activities and attractions are open.
1916 Easter Uprising
The 1916 Easter Uprising was a rebellion against British rule and led to the establishment of the Irish Free State. The 1916 Easter Rising is commemorated every year in Ireland with ceremonies and events.
The most significant event is the Easter Sunday Commemoration, which takes place in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance. The ceremony includes a reading of the Proclamation of Independence, which was read out during the Easter Rising.
References if You Wish to Know More
Old Irish Customs that Survive in Modern Ireland podcast with author Felicity Hayes-McCoy (podcast)
Happy Easter! (to one person) Beannachtaí na Cásca ort
(pronounced Byan-okht-ee nah Kaw-skah ort)
Happy Easter! (to more than one person) Beannachtaí na Cásca oraibh
(Pronounced Byan-okht-ee nah Kaw-skah or-ee)