The Devil is in the detail

Continuing his countdown to City of Culture 2013, GARBHAN DOWNEY wonders about Dracula’s Derry roots

Derry’s reputation as the World Capital of Hallowe’en is a little baffling to outsiders who don’t appreciate the endless depths of our cultural heritage.

Like the rest of Ireland, we revel in the fact that our pagan ancestors invented ‘Samhain’ as an autumn harvest festival with a ghoulish twist thousands of years ago.

But we in the northwest can also assert, with some degree of authority, that we gave the world Hallowe’en’s scariest ever character: Count Dracula.

Scholars from University of Ulster have suggested that Bram Stoker based his famous novel on the life of a notorious North Derry magician, Abhartach, who drank the blood of his enemies.

This theory is given legs by folk histories which record that Abhartach was killed and buried twice but then came back from the undead to wreak further murder across the parish of Errigal near Slaghtaverty. He only stayed dead after he was slain – possibly using a yew sword – by Fionn MacCumhaill.

If these similarities with the Dracula legend aren’t enough, it’s also a matter of record that Bram Stoker’s mother was from Donegal, and that the writer travelled in the Northwest before he wrote his most famous book.

But there is also, we must point out, an alternate version of events that argue the novelist based the story on a variety of European and Transylvanian folk tales.

And now, a new film biography of the author, ‘Bram Stoker agus Count Dracula’, produced by two Derry companies, Dearcan Media and Westway Films, will add further spice to the mix, when it is aired on TG4 next week.

The film, which features contributions from Dick MacGabhann, Brian Mullen, Dave Duggan and Ronan Carr, sets out to assess how Stoker’s Irish background contributed to the creation of one of the most recognisable characters in world literature.

Co-producer Sarah Mahon explained: “Our findings would suggest that Dracula certainly has some degree of Irish heritage.

“There is evidence in folklore that there were vampire-type characters in Ireland dating back centuries and that these stories could certainly have influenced Bram Stoker.

We’re not claiming that there aren’t vampire legends elsewhere such as Eastern Europe, but people don’t tend to think of Dracula as an Irish character – and we’re now challenging that preconception.”

‘Bram Stoker agus Dracula’, produced by Deaglan O’Mochain and directed by Keith O’Grady, will be screened on TG4 next Wednesday, November 2 at 10.30pm.

Also, just to confirm that Dave Duggan’s new radio play, mentioned here last week, will be broadcast on RTE1 on Sunday, November 6. ‘Riders to the Road’, which is a modern day take on the Synge classic ‘Riders to the Sea’, will star Eleanor Methven (Charabanc) and Laura Jane Laughlin from South Derry, who has previously appeared in ‘The Tudors’ and ‘Murphy’s Law’.