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Was Dracula Story inspired by Abhartach, the Bloodsucking Chieftain of Ireland?

Tales of vampires and other similar blood-sucking creatures have been told in various societies across the world. The most famous of these tales is the story of Dracula, written by Bram Stoker, and published in 1897. This Gothic horror novel tells of Count Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England in order to seek new blood and spread the undead curse. Hoping to prevent the Count from succeeding in his quest is a small group of men and women led by Dracula’s archenemy, Professor Abraham van Helsing. It has been popularly speculated that the character of Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler, the 15 th century Prince of Wallachia. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that it was Irish folklore, rather than Romanian history that inspired Stoker’s Dracula.

It is popularly believed that Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula came from the life of Vlad the Impaler. The Ambras Castle Portrait of Vlad III.

It is popularly believed that Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula came from the life of Vlad the Impaler. The Ambras Castle Portrait of Vlad III. Photo source: Wikimedia.

Stoker’s famous novel was not originally entitled Dracula. In fact, Stoker’s original manuscript was simply entitled as The Un-dead , in which the blood-sucking count was named “Count Wampyr”. Stoker, incidentally, worked as a civil servant in Dublin, and the first novel he wrote was called Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland , a satirical account of the bureaucratic lifestyle he longed to escape from. Additionally, he had never travelled further east than Vienna, and is said to have never actually visited Romania. In 1998, professor Elizabeth Miller published an essay in which she maintained that Stoker’s research notes for Dracula do not indicate that he had detailed biographical knowledge of Vlad III.

Some historians therefore suggested that Stoker did not receive his inspiration for his dark and twisted tale from the brutal life of Vlad the Impaler, but rather developed his ideas from Irish folklore.

Much academic debate surrounds the true inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Portrait of Bram Stoker, 1906

Much academic debate surrounds the true inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Portrait of Bram Stoker, 1906 ( Wikimedia Commons )

Just over a decade ago, Bob Curran, a lecturer in Celtic History and Folklore at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal History Ireland , in which he hypothesized that Stoker based his novel on the legendary story of Abhartach, a 5 th century chieftain known for his bloodsucking habits. 

The Legend of Abhartach

In the early 17 th century, Dr Geoffrey Keating published the first written record of Abhartach in his work Foras Feasa ar Eireann (‘A General History of Ireland’). Although today viewed as a folk legend, Keating referred to Abhartach as a real historical figure.

According to his account,  Abhartach was a brutal 5 th century warlord, who ruled over a small kingdom in an area bordered by what is now the town of Garvagh in Ireland. Abhartach was greatly feared by his people, who believed he had dark and magical powers.  The townsfolk wanted to rid themselves of this troublesome king so they called upon a chieftain from a neighboring kingdom, named Cathain, to kill him. 

Cathain succeeded in killing Abhartach and buried him standing up, as befitted a Celtic chieftain.  However, the story goes that Abhartach rose from the grave and demanded a bowl of blood from the wrists of his subjects to sustain his energy. Cathain returned to kill Abhartach a second time, but again he rose from the dead, demanding the blood of the living.

Illustration from ‘The Natural History of Two Species of Irish Vampire’

Illustration from ‘The Natural History of Two Species of Irish Vampire’ (public domain)

Cathain sought the advice of a Christian saint, who informed him that Abhartach was a marbh bheo (walking dead) and must be killed with a sword made of yew wood, before being buried upside down with a great stone placed upon his body to weigh him down, preventing him from rising again. Cathain followed this advice and today, in the town of Slaghtaverty, a capstone can be seen at the site where Abhartach was supposedly buried.

The story of Abhartach was retold centuries later in Patrick Weston Joyce’s The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places , 12 years before Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel Dracula.  Interestingly, the Celtic word ‘dreach-fhuola’ means tainted blood, and some maintain that it was this word from which Stoker developed the name of his central character. 

We may never know for certain whether Stoker’s Dracula is based on the Wallachian Vlad or Irish mythology. Still, old habits die hard, and while Transylvania in Romania will continue to be regarded as the haunting grounds of Count Dracula, the tale of Abhartach may well have played a central role in developing the vampire we know today.

Featured image: Adapted image of a screenshot from the trailer for Dracula (1958)

References

Haggerty, B., 2011. A Tribute to Bram Stoker. [Online]
Available at: http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/AWriters/BramStoker.html

irelandofthewelcomes.com, 2013. The Irish Dracula. [Online]
Available at: http://irelandofthewelcomes.com/home/the-irish-dracula/

McIntyre, D., 2015. Was Dracula an irishman??. [Online]
Available at: http://www.insideireland.com/sample13.htm

Quirke, A., 2012. How Irish was Bram Stoker's Dracula?. [Online]
Available here.

www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk, 2009. Belfast writer who dug up Dracula’s Irish roots. [Online]
Available here.

www.ireland.com, 2015. Dracula in Dublin. [Online]
Available here.

By Ḏḥwty

Comments

More xtian propaganda to demonize the Celt people.

Not even slightly. Given that distinctly “Celtic” Christianity was exported from Ireland, it's clear that the only propaganda element is the specific fact that the saint knew how to exorcise the now demonic chieftain. There is not even the faintest hint that this is about denigrating the very widely diverse European cultural grouping known as celts. Unless, that is, you are insisting celts MUST be pagan, which is somewhat ill informed.

 

I have to agree with the other person who responded to your comment.
Where in anything of the article above can you find something that could be classed as "Christian propaganda". You make is seem as Christianity and Celtic Legend/History were not compatable - when in deed they were sufficiently interlinked to have what was known as the Celtic Christianity.

The Abhartach legend involved a christian monk coming up with the solution to the scourge.

How are the "celt" or celtic people being demonised? This is not the most scientifically rigerous site (nor is it supposed to be) but we should stop short of subjective unsubstantiated statements which turn out to be incorrect.

I have always thought that the legend of the vampire began with the displaced Roman Jews from the days of Trajan, who made their way to Romania where isolated groups of them became known as "Gypsies." These brought with them a bias against Christianity, whom they considered as a cult of blood drinkers, whose leader lived on after being put to death by a "wooden stake," and promised eternal life to his followers through "drinking his blood and eating his flesh." His dread of the cross is a dead give away. And that the term "Dracula" derives from the phrase "Dragon" or "Serpent's" seed (the antagonist of the widely known Edenic promise). Dracula is an old Jewish moral tale, malicious gossip really, intended to besmirch Jesus Christ. Now, I could be wrong, but I still think that it is just as good a theory as this one.

Sometimes "Gypsies" are said to be "Egyptians" but with the stereotypes of wandering and merchant, I favor "Jacobite" as the derivation. Besides, in my opinion I would trace both terms, "Egypt" and "Copt" back to the name "Jacob" ( See https://www.academia.edu/4112686/The_Hebrew_Danites_as_the_Greek_Danaans ).

Romani language and DNA point to India, not Palestine or Egypt.

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