The October bank holiday is Ireland’s only Autumn holiday and falls on the last Monday of the month. It is also unofficially referred to as the halloween or Samhain bank holiday since the long weekend regularly falls on or adjacent to these festivals.
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The October bank holiday was first marked in 1977 after the Irish government determined that the holiday would be welcomed to break up the long stretch of time between Summer and Christmas.
The Minister of Labour of the time, Mr Michael O’Leary, was also responding to the need to bring Ireland more into line with the number of annual public holidays provided to workers in the European Economic Community (EEC, later to become the EU), which Ireland joined in 1973. According to a newspaper report at the time,
“The Minister feels that there ought to be a public holiday between August and Christmas giving a long weekend. He also recognises the desirability of working people in Ireland being brought nearer the EEC norm as regards public holidays entitlements.” – Mayo News, 9 July 1977
The October bank holiday falls on or very near the Celtic festival of Samhain (31 October – 1 November) as well as the traditional Christian feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (1-2 November) each year. In fact, the last Monday in October falls exactly on the 31st day of the month every five, six or 10 years.
The October long weekend has been unofficially connected to the themes of these festivals since its inception in 1977. Additionally, the secular holiday of Halloween falls every 31 October and also borrows themes from Samhain, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. A journalist for the Irish Examiner wrote:
“Halloween with the introduction of a new bank holiday on Monday next has become a special time not only for youngsters but also for adults. In fact with the extra day, it enables families to get together and to enjoy themselves.” – Irish Examiner, 28 October 1977.
The October bank holiday was not welcomed by all, with some segments of society questioning the wisdom of reducing Irelands economic output by a full day per year as the country struggled through recession and inflation. An editorial in the Cord Examiner opined,
“It is not at all in the sense of being niggardly that we suggest that the latest public holiday granted by the Ministry of Labour, that on the Hallowe’en weekend, is ill advised […] Everybody rightly welcomes a little respite from the daily grind, but thinking people will realise what such a luxury is likely to cost, especially at the time of economic stringency, when efforts are being made to boost rather than curtail production.” – The Cork Examiner, 28 June 1977
The October bank holiday is the second most recent holiday to be created in Ireland, the most recent being May Day, which was first officially marked in 1994.