For generations there has been a fascination with the vampire, creature of the night and blood sucking demon. The origins of such a demonic entity stretch back to ancient civilisations and trail across countries and oceans – from Ancient Greeks writing of blood drinking revenants to current sightings of the South American Chupacabra.
Modern folklore and popular culture have ultimately taken tales and accounts from 18th Century Europe and created a distinctive, deadly and dark evil force that has spawned countless best-selling books, TV shows and films. Transylvania in Romania is recognised as the number one hotspot for discovering the legend of the Vampire, however unknown to many, Ireland has an historic and altogether dark Vampiric trail of its own dating back to the 5th Century at least!
ABHARTACH – VAMPIRE CLAN CHIEF
During the 5th Century in what is now known as Derry, the area was in a constant state of battle between rival clans seeking power and dominion over one another. The leader of one of these clans was the cruel and twisted Chieftain Abhartach. His name roughly translates as dwarf and he was believed to either be such or had several deformities.
Regardless of either Abhartach was a formidable opponent and vicious warrior. He was the definition of pure evil and such was the clan chief’s passion for darkness and depravity he was feared as a powerful and sadistic sorcerer.
So much so in fact, that his own clan cowered in his presence and plotted his demise. They hired the services of a rival Chieftain who slew Abhartach and buried him in a solitary grave standing upright, as was the tradition for warriors of that time.
Celebrations were short-lived however, as a somewhat disgruntled Abhartach returned from the grave the following night, demanding fresh blood from his clan to sustain his life. Clan Chief Cathan was both perplexed and furious that his efforts had failed and knew his reputation was at stake. Once again he killed the dwarf and buried him exactly as before.
In scenes reminiscent of the accounts of Rasputin, it would appear Abhartach was immortal as he returned to his village once again to seek vengeance and drink the blood of his people.
Convinced that Abhartach was indeed wielding some black magic influence, Cathan sought the advice of a Druid Priest and finally cut down the wicked creature with a sword carved from the Yew tree, possibly the most powerful mystical reference for Druids.
Abhartach was interred for the final time head first, never to resurface – or so we are led to believe. In the current area of Derry known as Glenullin, there is a location known as the Giant’s Grave which is itself is interesting when one thinks of the dwarf Chieftain. It is also known as Abhartach’s Sepulchure, or Leacht Abhartach. Upon the grave lies a weighty boulder and through it grows a thorn bush, the thorn being another important Druid symbol. If the Vampire Chieftain does indeed lie within, one most hope he does not rise again.
DEARG DUE AND VAMPIRIC RETRIBUTION
Arranged marriages have always been prevalent in Irish culture, particularly to increase power and wealth between families. The story of the Dearg Due is no exception. A girl in Waterford with exceptional beauty was born into such a family.
As fate had it, she was humble and content and sought love in the arms of a local farm hand. They made plans to wed and have a family of their own. Her cruel father however, was fuelled by avarice and prosperity, regardless of the cost to his own kin. He gave his daughter to a notorious vicious and nasty clan Chief in exchange for land and riches.
With the marriage set and the young woman condemned to a life of cruelty, the wedding day she had dreamed of had become a horrific nightmare. On the day of the wedding the reluctant bride was a vision of blinding beauty, dressed in red and gold. As all the guests revelled long into the night, the girl sat alone, angry and bitter – damning her father to hell and vowing to seek revenge on those who had cost her love and life.
The Chieftain turned out to be far more abusive and controlling then his new wife could ever have imagined. To him the poor girl was nothing but a trophy to be locked away for his pleasure only, savouring the knowledge she was his and his alone. With a complete absence of hope and only darkness ahead, she simply existed – no longer eating or drinking, her life gone long before her body gave in.
Her burial was poorly attended and without ceremony. Her wicked husband had taken another wife before she was even cold and her family were too engrossed in their wealth and greed to give her a second thought. Only one man grieved for the tragic young woman, her lost love. He visited her grave every single day telling her of his undying love and praying for her return.
Unfortunately, his love was not the driving force for her resurrection – revenge was the force that pulled her from her grave on the first anniversary of her death. Consumed with hatred and the need for retribution she burst from her coffin and headed home. As her father lay sleeping she touched her lips to his and sucked the worthless, selfish life straight out of him.
Revenge not yet sated, she called upon her callous husband finding him surrounded by women, fulfilling his lustful desires, oblivious to the dead bride in the room. In a furious rage she launched on the Chieftain sending the women screaming. His former wife was so full of fury and fire that she not only drew every breath, but drained every ounce of blood from his twisted and cruel body.
The scarlet liquid surging through her, leaving her more alive than she had ever been and she had a hunger for blood that could not be sated.
The corpse bride used her beauty to prey on young men, luring them to their demise with seduction, the promise of her body their reward. Instead she sank her teeth into their exposed necks and drank their blood to quench her thirst and desire, but it was never enough. The warm elixir gave her strength and immortality and drove her to her next quarry. That is until the terrified locals restrained her and buried her in a mystical place known as Strongbow’s Tree.
The Femme Fatale’s lustful yearning can only be satisfied on the day she died, so on the eve of her anniversary locals would gather and place stones upon her grave so that she would not rise and fulfill her blood-lust. Sometimes though the rocks are dislodged, forgotten or her insatiable desire is stronger than any boulder could ever be. That is when she can walk into the night, ill-fated men falling victim to the beauty and bloodthirstiness of the Dearg Due.
DEVIANTS – THE RISING OF THE DEAD
The Kilteasheen Archaeological Project was a joint effort between Sligo Institute of Technology and Saint Louis University. They were tasked with searching for a Medieval Bishop’s Palace in use until abandonment following the arrival of the Plague in the middle of the 14th century. They began their excavation beneath flagstones in quiet fields in Kilteasheen, County Roscommon in 2005.
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 containing upwards of to 3000 corpses.
It was further discovered that on the perimeter of the graveyard were two further burial plots. Once excavations began it became clear that these were no ordinary interments. The deceased had been buried in a manner conducive to what is historically known as a deviant burial. Once the skeletons were revealed, the violent, horrific nature of their post-mortem treatment became clear.
The men had been buried during different time periods. There were no genetic similarities and their ages varied by some twenty or so years, however they were connected in a most disturbing manner. Each body was subjected to the breakage of arms, legs, hands and feet. These limbs were then folded inwards and bound around a large boulder. Both men had a rock wedged so firmly into his mouth that his jaws were close to snapping apart.
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 an object such as a stone into 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 plague was spread by vampires and the violent nature of the burials was consistent with those thought to be involved in vampirism.
Bone dating however, showed that the corrupt corpses had gone through the most gruesome of rituals centuries before the Black Death took hold. So 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 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 never rise again.
THE DUBLIN MAN AND THE ULTIMATE VAMPIRE
In 1897, a fifty-year-old Dublin man by the name of Bram Stoker published a book with a simple cover and a simple title. That book was Dracula. From humble beginnings, the gothic horror novel was initially met with lukewarm public interest but to great critical acclaim. Like many writers, Stoker was forced to maintain a day job and published his most recognised work during his time as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London.
The book itself was set between the seaside town of Whitby in England where Stoker had holidayed and Eastern Europe, which the writer had never visited. So where did his inspiration come from? After making acquaintance with a Hungarian writer, he became fascinated by the folklore tales from the regions of Eastern Europe and took it upon himself to conduct detailed research into the tales of vampirism from those very localities.
Interestingly however, Stoker was said to have visited Killarney in County Kerry and in particular the ruins of 15th century Muckross Abbey and graveyard. The ruins of the church, cloister and graveyard are well preserved and stand in the shadow of ancient Yew trees.
The site contains a graveyard and was the burial place of local chieftains. Three of Ireland’s great poets of the 17th and 18th century are entombed here which could well be reason behind the famous Irish writer’s visit. There are two local accounts that Stoker may well have heard that may have been catalysts for ‘Dracula’ as Stoker was in Killarney prior to the creation of the world’s most famous vampire.
The first account is of a religious hermit named John Drake lived in the deserted Friary for more than a decade in the 18th century. He had no worldly goods and slept only in a coffin left in the grounds. The second is the legend of the Brown Man, a newly wed whose bride came looking for him one night, to find her husband knelt over a recently dug up corpse, feasting on its flesh.
With so much in the way of centuries old Irish folklore and legend pertaining to the vampire, together with anecdotes and tales Bram Stoker picked up on his Irish travels, it would not be a far stretch to surmise that this in part contributed to the spark of creation that became ‘Dracula.’