ON THE TRAIL OF THE IRISH VAMPIRE

Vampyre

“The last I saw of Count Dracula was his kissing his hand to me, with a red light of triumph in his eyes, and with a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of.” 
― Bram Stoker
Dracula

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

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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

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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

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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

Bram Stoker

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.

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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.’ 

 

 

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THE DEADLY LURE OF THE SUPERNATURAL IRISH FEMME FATALE

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For centuries there have been tales of supernatural women, enticing and killing mortal men, demon, vampire, witch and siren to name a few.  Read my article for Spooky Isles to find out more…The Deadly Lure of the Irish Femme Fatale

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: IRELAND AND THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

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Every film and TV nightmare has a real beginning and Ireland is the place to find them. Here are the most well-known horror movie monsters brought to life!

WEREWOLF

Werewolves were often used as the weapons of the Ancient Celtic Warriors, sent out in battle to tear apart the enemy, their blood-curdling howls sending the cowards running. It is unusual therefore to find that The Vatican have documented a case from 1182, telling of a peaceful Christian Werewolf!

A priest was travelling to the South of Ireland who was sat by his campfire when a great hulking shape emerged from the still of the night, matted fur, dripping from its jowls, sharp pointed teeth glistening in the light of the fire.

The clan of this wolf man had been cursed by an Abbot some years earlier and every seven years two of his family would turn into werewolves and be banished into the forest.  The werewolf’s wife was dying and the priest delivered the last rites.  As his wife died she reverted back to her human form.  Despite his best efforts the priest was unable to ever again find the werewolf or his clan.

VAMPIRE

We have already heard about the female vampire, the Dearg Due, however long before that was the Chieftain Vampire, Abhartach from Derry. A cruel and sadistic warrior, he was finally slain by a rival clan and buried standing up as was the tradition.  The next night however, he was back inflicting more torment on the village than ever before.

Once again he was killed and buried, only to rise once more, draining the blood of his servants before terrorising the locals again.  Finally the rival Chief consulted a druid and took down Abhartach with a sword made of Yew, burying him for the last time head first, never to rise again, or so we are lead to believe.

WITCH

Petticoat Loose was a hideous beast of a woman from Tipperary. She was large, angular and over six feet tall with a strength to match her stature.

Her name came from her raucous behaviour while drinking and dancing and only one man would wed her.  She was named as a witch as the milk from her herd was said to turn blue when put in tea.  She was also accused of murdering her husband and died during a drinking game and so was buried without priest or ceremony.

Years later she would be seen at the roadside terrorising travellers by jumping on their carts.  One refused and she climbed on, stating she was weighted on every limb by magic.  The cart sagged and the horse dropped dead. A priest banished her to the mountain lake to empty it with a thimble, yet she still escapes now in the form of a half-human, half-horse.

EVIL LEPRECHAUN

Leprechauns don’t always wish you ‘Top of the Morning’ and willingly give up their gold. Some of them can be downright nasty, like the Red Man.

Dressed head to foot in red with a nasty yellow complexion, this magical being delights in evil mockery and torment, imparting evil waking nightmares on unwilling victims, making them believe they are carrying corpses and being forced to dine on old hags.

The only way to try and protect yourself is to cry out that you will not be mocked, however the Red Man’s magic is strong and this may not be enough.

HEADLESS HORSEMAN

The Dullahan is one of the Sidhe, or fairy beings. It is a headless horseman, with a steed of pure black, carrying its head beneath one arm.  When out on business, the Dullahan adorns his horse and wagon with funeral apparel and brandishes a whip made from a human spine. The wheels are made from the bones of men and he lights his way with candle filled skulls, the light illuminating the dark, beady eyes and rictus grin on his dismembered head.

Stay well away from this horrific sight, for if he stops in front of you, the gaping mouth says your name and you are dead.

ZOMBIE

In Roscommon in the eighth century, deviant burials took place outside of the cemetery walls. The bodies of several locals were unearthed with their limbs broken and folded in over their torsos, appearing to clutch a large rock embedded in their stomachs.

A pebble was wedged firmly in each jaw and they were buried in the opposite direction to the consecrated burials.  The reason?  These individuals were believed to be zombies, rising up to walk the earth, spreading fear and disease.

The pebble was to prevent the spirit returning, the mouth being the portal for an evil spirit to return.  The bones were smashed and body weighted with rock to ensure their feet never touched solid ground again.

HELLHOUND

Shucks, or Devil Dogs have long been written about in Irish history. They are black as the night, large, with glowing red eyes, some with cloven hooves instead of paws.

Primarily they are raised to protect treasure such as the one that breathes fire at Castle Biggs in Tipperary, others simply to forewarn of death.

BANSHEE

Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, however there have been sightings of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.

This evil being has the appearance of a wretched old hag, dress shredded, matted grey hair, pointed rotting teeth and long, yellow fingernails. If she sets her mind to have you as her prey, she will stalk you, forcing you to listen to her soul wrenching scream of despair until you go insane and your own soul is lost in the depths of her evil cry.

Of course of you are lucky, you will have a quick death by looking into her blood red eyes, filled with enough loathing and agony to kill you instantly.  For those who have been strong enough not to succumb to either? She will rip you to death with her bare hands.

So if you find yourself in Ireland, curled up by the fire watching the latest horror, remember – it could be happening for real just outside your window.

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DEARG DUR – VOWS, VENGEANCE AND VAMPIRIC RETRIBUTION

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There are many stories of vampirism in Ireland and I will cover them all eventually. For now I want to tell you a tragic tale of love lost and a female vampire…….

Arranged marriages have never been uncommon in Ireland and this story is no exception. A young girl with beauty so astounding that men were besotted with her and women wanted to be her was happily living day to day and had the love of a farm labourer. They were besotted with one another and made plans to marry and have children of their own.

Her father however was not a kind man and cared nothing for love and innocence. Avarice and prosperity were his masters and his unfortunate daughter his servant. He promised her hand to a wealthy and notoriously atrocious clan Chieftain in exchange for riches and lands for himself and his remaining offspring.

The marriage was arranged and the date for the wedding was set – all the begging in the world from our poor bride to be was not enough to move the cold, empty heart of her father or her betrothed. On the day of the wedding everyone dressed in their finery and the bride was a vision of blinding beauty, dressed in red and gold. As all the guests partied through the night, one person sat away from them all damning her father 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. She was so depressed, so lonely and with a complete absence of hope, that she simply wasted away – not eating or drinking, just existing, her life gone long before her body gave in.

Her burial was a modest affair. Her 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. One man grieved though, her lost labourer love. He visited her grave every single day telling her of his undying love and praying for her return to his arms.

Sadly 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 anger and the need for retribution she climbed from her coffin and headed straight to her childhood home. As her father lay sleeping she touched her lips to his and sucked the life 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.

Scarlet liquid surging through her, she felt more alive than she had ever been and she had a hunger for blood that could not be sated. So eager to satisfy the impossible, the love who had wished her back to life was forgotten and such was his good fortune for he would have been another victim of her bloodlust.

Our 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, red elixir of life gave her strength and immortality and she hungered for her next quarry.

The remains of the Dearg Dur are buried in Waterford in a place known as Strongbow’s Tree. Her lustful yearning can only be satisfied on the day she died, so on the eve of her anniversary locals gather and position rocks upon her grave so that she will not rise and take the blood of the innocent. Sometimes though the rocks are displaced, forgotten or her insatiable desire is stronger than any stone could ever be and she walks into the night, ill-fated men falling victim to the beauty and bloodlust of the Dearg Dur.