The Dead RiseFor centuries there has been a morbid fear of the Walking Dead. Since the 12th century folk tales have swept across Western Europe, leaving terror and panic in their wake. The Church spoke of Hell and damnation for the evil, souls to suffer eternal torment in purgatory for their crimes and atrocities. But what if those souls escaped, to return to their bodies and once again walk the Earth? What if these Revenants walked in Ireland?
Ireland has always been a place of mystery, fairies and magic and a pre-Christian dark history. What doesn’t immediately spring to mind however, is the Irish Vampire –that is until a seemingly straightforward archaeological training exercise in the West of Ireland in 2005 took a chilling turn.
A joint team from Sligo and St Louis were tasked with searching for a Medieval Bishop’s Palace in use until abandonment following the arrival of the Plaque in the middle of the 14th century. They began their excavation beneath flagstones in quiet fields in Kilteasheen, County Roscommon.
The first shock discovery was that directly under the stones were the crushed skeletons of many humans, piled several deep in shallow graves. The shallowness, together with the positioning of the flagstones indicated that the builders knew they were building directly on top of a graveyard – on top of up to 3000 corpses.
It was then noticed that on the perimeter of the graveyard were two further burial plots. Once digging began it became clear that these were no ordinary interments. The deceased had been buried in an unchristian fashion, not in the traditional east to west. Once the skeletons were uncovered, the violent, horrific nature of their post-mortem handling became clear.
The men had been buried at different times, one in middle age, one in his twenties, however they were connected in a most disturbing manner. Each had his arms and legs, hands and feet broken and they were folded and bound around a large boulder. Each had a rock wedged so firmly into his mouth that the jaws were close to snapping apart.
It was evident that these were deviant burials. These men were not being laid to rest, they were being grotesquely violated and weighted down to ensure they would not return from the dead. The other interesting observation was that the men had not died of natural causes. Blade marks were clearly visible upon the bones.
In medieval times it was believed that the mouth was the portal to the soul. By placing such an object in the mouth of the deceased, the corrupt soul that had departed could no longer return. By breaking and binding the flesh and bones, the deviant could not walk among the living again.
The extent of mutilation together with the stone in the mouth of the dead pointed to one possibility. That the people who carried out these actions believed they were in the presence of vampires. It was believed at first that the archaeological team were on a Black Death site, as it was thought plaque was spread by vampires and the violent nature of the burials was consistent with those thought to be involved in vampirism.
It was a jolt to find out after bone dating, that the corrupt corpses had gone through the most gruesome of rituals between 600 and 800 A.D. Long before Vampires were written into folklore, before they were romanticised and turned into best-selling stories, the undead were believed to be walking among the Irish, bringing sickness and death to animals and people alike. In the 8th century, in a small village in the West of Ireland, locals were using every ritual and method they had to make sure it didn’t happen to them. In Kilteasheen the Deviants would not walk, the Vampires would remain buried forever, at least until now.



  1. E.P.D. Gaffney. says:

    I’d really love to talk to you about what you appear to specialise in, this folkloric traditional Irish horror stuff. I’m doing some horror myself (one novel and one game at the moment, though I may find myself doing more than one of either). Is there some way to contact you?
    The most pressing question for me at the moment (which I’ve posted elsewhere on one of your publications), is the original Gaeilge word(s) for undead creatures, especially the ones you’ve referenced here. thanks very much.

    • annoregan says:

      Hi there! I’ve read your note on ‘A Bite of Superstition’ too. Historically there hasn’t been a word for zombie in Ireland and in latter centuries revenant and deviant have been recognised even though they are not Irish words. Returning dead is written as ‘ar ais marbh’ pronounced or-ash-marav but is not used in general. The word for vampire is quite literal – ‘Dearg Dur’ or ‘Dearg Due’ translating as red bloodsucker. For my own published Zombie story and others I have used the word ‘Deviant’ and ‘Revenant’. It’s all well and good worrying about the correct words, but unless the whole project is to be in Irish you have to think of your audience and what they will understand. You also of course have to think of search engines and your demographic so you don’t want anything too obscure unless you are going for a niche market. Of course as it is fiction you could always create your own name from the Irish in anglicised format such as Orashmarav. You can reach me at where I would be more than happy to talk through any concerns or advice you need. Both projects sound exciting and I very much look forward to seeing them! Regards, Ann.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s