When most people hear the name Dracula they think of Transylvania and the castle of the 15th Century Transylvanian ruler Vlad Țepeș, Prince of Wallachia, also known as Vlad Drăculea or Vlad Dracula. This theory was brought to the public’s attention in the 1950’s in a book called “In Search of Dracula”. However, Dracula’s author Bram Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847 and had no experience of Eastern Europe, he had never traveled further east than Vienna, and is said to have never actually visited Romania. He relied heavily on tourist accounts of the region and his own research. In his published research notes Bram Stoker makes no mention of using Vlad Tepes as a central figure and had no detailed biographical knowledge of him.
Some historians, therefore, suggested that Stoker did not receive his inspiration for his dark and twisted tale of the brutal life of Vlad the Impaler, but rather developed his ideas from Irish folklore and particularly the story of Abhartach. Some say that Bram Stoker’s word Dracula comes from the Irish droch-fhola, pronounced droc‘ola, meaning “bad blood“.
Abhartach, Ireland’s Vampire Chieftain
Abhartach was a brutal 5th-century chieftain who ruled the town of Slaughtaverty in what is now north Co. Derry. Descriptions of him vary, some say that he was a dwarf, others that he was deformed in some way, but most agree that he was a powerful wizard and was extremely evil. The people he ruled over were so terrified of him that they wanted to kill him but were too afraid to do this themselves so they asked the neighboring chieftain Cathán, to help them. Cathán killed Abhartach and he was buried in a standing position in an isolated area.
The next day Abhartach rose from his grave and returned to the town to demand a bowl of blood from the veins of the townspeople in order to sustain him. Once again Cathán killed Abhartach burying the corpse as before but he returned the next day demanding more blood. Cathán on hearing this consulted the local druid as to why Abhartach could not be killed. The druid told Cathán that Abhartach was now one of the “un-dead” and a dearg-diúlaí, a drinker of human blood. He could not be killed but he could be restrained in his grave if he was killed with a sword made of yew wood, buried upside down, thorns & ash twigs sprinkled around him and a heavy stone laid on top of the grave. Abhartach's grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen, and is locally referred to as "The Giant’s Grave". It comprises a large rock and two smaller rocks under a hawthorn.
In 1997 attempts were made to clear the land where the grave was located and to cut down the hawthorn tree. The brand new chainsaw malfunctioned three times without reason; when they tried to lift the great stone from the grave the steel chain broke badly cutting the hand of one of the workmen, and his blood soaked the ground around the grave. They decided not to continue clearing that area and over the years the land has acquired a sinister reputation. Few locals will approach the grave, especially after dark.
We will never know for sure where Bram Stoker’s inspiration came from but it seems more likely that it was from his own country and not Romania. Bram’s mother was from Co. Sligo and loved to entertain him with ghost stories and Irish legends. The Stoker family had a colorful family history which included the legendary sheriff of Galway, who hanged his own son and Manus the Magnificent (Manus O’Donnell) who once ruled much of Ireland. Some of his friends included Oscar Wilde (who asked Bram’s wife to marry him before Bram did), William Butler Yeats and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Between Ireland, his family history and his many famous friends Stoker had many places to take his inspiration from.
Further Reading & Sources:
History Ireland: http://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/was-dracula-an-irishman/