Easter in Ireland

One of the most important dates on the Irish calendar, Easter in Ireland is second only to the celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day. A heavily Catholic country, Easter observance begins on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and continues for 40 days until Easter Sunday.


As in most Christian countries, Lent in Ireland is considered to be a period of self-reflection. The 40 days leading up to Easter are traditionally a time for Irish families to spend time together. No meat is eaten on Fridays during Lent, with meals of fish and vegetables, usually cooked in soups or stews, served on those days. Some Irish may also give up something they’re fond of during Lent, such as candy or coffee, as a form of sacrifice.

Holy Week, the last week of Lent beginning with Palm Sunday, is the most significant for the Irish people. Good Friday is particularly important. Many Irish believe that no work should be done outdoors on Good Friday. The day is used by many to clean their houses from top to bottom (what is commonly known as “spring cleaning”) in preparation for Easter Sunday. Some people in Ireland remain silent on Good Friday from noon to three p.m. (the time that Jesus is thought to have hung on the cross), and still others use the day to visit graveyards or go to church while observing a day of fasting.

Eggs are traditionally not eaten during Lent in Ireland. A few days before Easter Sunday eggs are gathered and decorated to be presented as gifts on Easter.

Easter Sunday

One of the most unusual Easter morning traditions in Ireland is the mock herring funeral—probably evolving from people being sick and tired of eating fish during Lent. Commonly led by a butcher (whose business had been terribly slow for the past 40 days) who carries the dead herring, a funeral procession will wind through the streets to the church where the people will gather for Easter Mass.

Customarily, Irish people buy new clothes for Easter Sunday, representing the renewal and rebirth the holiday. After attending church people return home for Easter dinner. The biggest and most extravagant meal of the year after Christmas, Easter dinner in Ireland usually includes lamb or turkey, potatoes and spring vegetables. Children are given chocolate eggs for dessert.

After Easter dinner it is customary in many places in Ireland to light bonfires. Festive “cake dances” are also sometimes held, during which the winner of the dance contest gets a cake.


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