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The Irish cave known as the entrance into hell — and the birthplace of Halloween

Exploring Ireland for Halloween's origins
Exploring Ireland for Halloween's origins 02:39

Oweynagat, Ireland — Ireland has long been the land of fairies and fairy tales. It's also the home of Halloween. 

There is something spooky hidden among these hills. It's green and lush — almost heavenly — but buried here is a portal to another world, another dimension. Some call it a gate to hell.

"They christened it in one medieval text as Ireland's door or entrance onto hell," said Mike McCarthy, a tour guide and author. 

It's also the birthplace of Halloween, or as the Irish call it, Samhain.

"Samhain is that night that borders summer and winter, that's the night when traditionally the borders between this world and the other world are completely open," McCarthy said. "So it's not a place you have to die in order to access."

So down we all go into the bowels of the Earth, with steady feet and a brave heart. Wet slime covers the walls while mud greases the path — and has a sulfur-like smell.

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For thousands of years, legend has it, this cave has been home to Ireland's fairy folk — but not of the Disney variety. And woe to anyone caught by one unprepared.

"You weren't supposed to be out on Samhain night but if you did have to go out, you'd use to dress to disguise yourself as one of the beasts, or demons or monsters so you wouldn't be recognized and you wouldn't be taken down through the cave and into the otherworld," McCarthy said.

And that's the reason we wear costumes on Halloween, a tradition brought to America by the Irish in the 19th century.

Bill and Vicky from Colorado, who you might say are obsessed with the ancient holiday, visited Oweynagat.

Vicky laughingly described herself as the "queen of darkness," coming to "reign darkness on everyone." She joked that it "felt like home" going into the cave.

In all seriousness, the cave "just reminded me of Irish history and trying to be a part of it." 

And while that history now has an American spin with the trick-or-treating, jack-o-laterns, and of course the classic Halloween movies, the echoes of the past still stay with us. 

"Customs in the States helped to preserve, spread and keep alive the idea of Halloween and Samhain as well," McCarthy said. 

And if you find yourself traveling through this landscape past the gates of hell, remember one thing, bring a spare disguise — the mud is hard to get off. 

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