Dracula - the Derry vampire connection

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Did Derry provide the inspiration for one of the world’s best known literary characters, Dracula?

According to many leading scholars who have studied the famous vampire novel, written by Irish man, Bram Stoker, the idea for the famous tale may have come from an old legend from County Derry.

Calls have been made this week for a museum to be established in Ireland to celebrate Bram Stoker’s most famous novel and, given its association with Derry, the city has been suggested as a possible venue.

Derry’s connection with the gothic masterpiece centres around the legend of Abhartach, a magical dwarf from south Derry, who rose from the dead, demanding blood from terrified villagers.

Abhartach the dwarf was a tyrant who terrorised the people of south Derry until he was killed by a local chieftain, possibly named Cathrain - believed to be a corruption of O Cathain or O’Kane, still a common name in the county - and buried standing upright.

The following day Abhartach rose from his grave and continued his tyrannical rule of his people. The chief killed him a second time and again buried him standing up but still Abhartach rose again.

The chieftain then consulted with a druid before killing him again and this time buried him in a different way, upside down with hazel rods driven through his body. This time he did not return.

The legend was recorded by Patrick Weston Joyce in his ‘The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places’ which was published in 1875.

In his book, Joyce said the legend centred around a place called Slaghtaverty, a corruption of ‘leacht abhartach’ or ‘stone of abhartach.’

It is close to the Glenullin area and a stone still stands in the area and is known as o Cathain’s Dolmen.

His account of what happened read: “This dwarf was a magician and a dreadful tyrant, and after having perpetrated great cruelties on the people he was at last vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain.

“He was buried in a standing posture, but the very next day he appeared in his old haunts, more cruel and vigorous than ever.

“And the chief slew him a second time and buried him as before, but again he escaped from the grave and spread terror through the whole country.

“The chief then consulted a druid and, according to his directions, he slew the dwarf a third time, and buried him in the same place, with his head downwards, which subdued his magical power, so that he never again appeared on earth.”

Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula,’ was published two years later and it is known the Clontarf-born writer - like many literary figures of the Gaelic revival period - had an interest in Irish folklore and legends.

Mr Stoker was also friends with Oscar Wilde’s parents, both collectors of folklore, who may have passed the story onto him.

Other historians also point to the similarity of the name ‘Dracula’ to the Irish phrase ‘droch fhola’ which translates as ‘bad blood.’