I’ve been getting into the spirit of the spooky season lately, brushing up on my Gothic Horror with the usual suspects, Stoker, Le Fanu and Shelley. I’ve even begun watching the old Hammer Horror classics like Horror of Dracula, The Mummy and The Hound of the Baskervilles. I know they are all a bit of old tat, but they portray a certain atmosphere which I find quite appealing. I wrote about the creator of the infamous vampire Dracula last year. Bram Stoker is considered by many to be the father of the Vampire genre, but he was not the first Irish writer to do so. In fact early transcripts of the novel are said to have been heavily influenced by another Irish Vampire novel, Carmilla, which was written by Sheridan Le Fanu. So in reality, Le Fanu was the creator of the Vampire novel. If you haven’t read Carmilla already I would highly recommend it. Not to detract from Dracula but I personally enjoyed it more so than Stokers masterpiece.
The name Dracula is believed by many to be based on the15th century Romanian ruler of Transylvania Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia. Now I am not going to dispute the fact that the Count from Stokers novel was not influenced by Vlad, but I do believe that Stoker also drew on many Irish influences. As a child Stokers mother would recount many of the ancient tales of lore from her native Sligo. One such source was the Leacht Abhartach whom rises from his grave to drink the blood of the living. Abhartach is one of the Neamh-Mairbh, or Walking Dead. The legend tells that he can only be restrained by killing him with a sword made of yew wood, burying him upside down, surrounding his grave with thorns, and placing a large stone on top of the grave. Sounds familiar eh? Abhartach’s grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen in Derry, and is locally referred to as “The Giant’s Grave”. It comprises a large rock and two smaller rocks through which a hawthorn has grown over the centuries.
Another Irish connection is the Gaelic term, Dreach-Fhoula Pronounced droc’ola and means ‘bad’ or ‘tainted blood’. Whilst it commonly refers to ‘blood feuds’ between persons or clans in ancient Ireland. It may also be the influence for the name Dracula which sounds quite similar. Stoker had planned to name his villain as simply Count Wampyr. On a similar note there is also a site in Kerry known as Dun Dreach-Fhoula or the Castle of Blood. It was said to have been a fortress in the Magillycuddy Reeks which was inhabited by a bunch of alleged blood drinking, shape shifting Faerie? How true this is or what happened to this fortress is anybody’s guess, but it would make a rather interesting Ruin hunt for any of you whom might be brave enough to join me on an expedition to locate it.
The modern Vampire whilst not always fitting the description of the afore mentioned Victorian era novels, have in fact existed in almost every ancient culture around the globe. So it is fitting that Ireland has its own version of the creature. The most well-known of these concerns the tragic tale of the Dearg-Due. The Red Blood Sucker is a Vampire which dates back to Celtic Ireland. During my research I have found some interesting leads which link this creature to a certain Celtic deity, however as this link appears to be a demonization of an old god by the Christian Church which I now believe to be absolute rubbish. So I will instead tell the story of the most commonly known account of our Ancient Vampire, The Dearg-Due, is a tale worthy of comparison to the best Shakespearian tragedy.
Our story tells of a girl of legendary beauty, with blood-red lips and pale blonde hair. Whose name seems to have been lost in the sands of time? She was being forced into an arranged marriage against her will by her father, but as it happens she was in love with another, a local peasant boy. Unfortunately her cruel father whom was only interested in the wealth he would acquire from the union, forbade the pair from seeing each other and the arranged marriage went ahead. The husband whom was many years older than the girl was a cruel bastard whom treated her badly. After some months of enduring her terrible life she eventually gave up all hope that her true love might find some way to rescue her. Now some say that her husband beat her to death, some say that she died of a broken heart but others say that she committed suicide as she could no longer cope with her abusive husband and the miserable life she was forced into. She is said to have been buried in a small lonely grave, near “Strongbow’s Tree,” in County Waterford. Legend says that with her last breath she vowed a terrible vengeance.
Her husband was said to have taken another wife, while her body was still warm in her death bed. Her cruel father and family were so busy with their new wealth lives to care about her demise. The only person who mourned her passing was the young peasant boy. He visited her grave many times where he spoke of his desire to see her again and prayed for her to come back to him. As the story goes, she arose from her grave the following year on the very date she died. Overcome with anger and vengeance, she firstly visited her father’s house. Finding him asleep in his bed, she leaned over him and placing her lips over his where she sucked the life breathe from him till there was no more. She then visited her husband. He was said to have been engaged marital exploits with his new wife and never noticed her enter the room. Overcome with a furious rage she went into a frenzied attack on the couple, this time her attack was so ferocious that she not only drained the pair of their life breath but also their blood. The surge of fresh blood through her dead body made her feel alive again. She uses her beauty to prey on lustful young men. Luring them away to a quiet place only to sink her teeth into their throats and deprive them of their blood. Her hunger for blood became all that she knew. So eager to quench her thirst, she forgot all about her young love and never saw him again. Each night she rises from the earth to feast like a wild beast returning to her grave a bloody corpse and thus the Dearg-Due was born. She is said to rise from her grave at will and uses her beauty to lure unsuspecting men to their death. It is said that the only way to stop the Dearg-Due is to pile stones on her grave and in doing so prevent her from rising and taking her fill of life blood from her potential victims. Locals are said to have done this for many years, but… sometimes they forget…