Was Bram Stoker's "Dracula" Inspired by an Irish Legend?

Updated on July 15, 2016
Dracula inspired many films - the vampire count is the most filmed character in the world after Sherlock Holmes.
Dracula inspired many films - the vampire count is the most filmed character in the world after Sherlock Holmes.

How Did Bram Stoker Come Up With Dracula?

Did an early Irish vampire legend influence the creation of Count Dracula? There are a group of people in the north of Ireland who are sure Bram Stoker was influenced by an old story from their area.

When the Irish writer Bram Stoker published his novel 'Dracula' in 1897, it quickly grew into a worldwide publishing sensation. To this day it is Bram Stoker who has done most to shape the modern conception of vampires which we see in movies and fiction - from Lost Boys to the Twilight series.

There has been a lot of speculation about where Bram Stoker got the idea for the character of Dracula, and the unique characteristics he gave this fearsome vampire. Much has been made of the connection to Eastern-European vampire myths, and the medieval prince known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Tepes.

However there is also lesser-known but fascinating local Irish myth of an evil magician who could not be killed and came back from the grave three times, This is a highly unusual myth for Ireland, where there is little tradition of 'undead' stories. Thus it was a legend likely to attract the attention of an Irish writer such as Bram Stoker who was very interested in folklore.

The people who live near the final resting place of this Irish undead, have told me that the legend was the original inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Not only that, but they tell me that this burial site continues to be associated with strange and disturbing events to this day.

The Story of Abhartach—the Original Irish Vampire

In County Derry in Northern Ireland, there is a small townland named 'Slaghtaverty' which in Irish means ' Abhartach's Tomb'. When I was working in this rural area recently on a community history project, the locals told me the story of how the townland got it's name, how the legend inspired Bram Stoker to create 'Dracula' and how strange events continue to happen in the vicinity of the large stone tomb that stands there.

Abhartach (pronounced Av-ar-chack), so the story goes, was an evil ruler in the area, a stunted man but a powerful magician. He terrorized all the people for miles around, until they wished him dead. But as none of his subjects had the courage to kill the magical man themselves they got a warrior from a neighbouring area to do it. This warrior, called Cathain, duly killed Abhartach and buried him upright as was traditional for a Celtic chief at this time.

However, the next day Abhartach appeared once more among his people, this time demanding a sacrifice of blood from the wrists of his subjects. He had become one of, what was called in Irish, the marbh beo - the living dead. Three times Cathain killed and buried Abhartach and three times he rose from his grave seeking blood from his people. Until the people, in their desperation, turned to a Christian saint who lived in the area and asked him how they could be rid of this evil undead creature forever.

Cathain was instructed by the saint to kill Abhartach once more but this time to do it with a sword made of yew wood, to bury him upside down, with a large stone on top and then to plant thorn trees around the grave. This Cathain did and Avartach has never been seen again, though his grave still stands in a field in the townland of Slaghtaverty, covered in an enormous stone slab, a lonely thorn tree growing beside it.

Other Influences

Of course Bram Stoker would not have taken his inspiration for Count Dracula from a single source. Stoker was well aware of Eastern European folklore, as well as earlier Gothic vampire stories such as Politori's 'Vampyre' and Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.

Vlad the Impaler of Romania, a cruel Medieval prince, has often been sighted as inspiration for Dracula. While he may have lent Dracula his nickname (Dracul - son of the devil) he doesn't share many characteristics with the blood-sucking Count; Vlad the Impaler was a cruel leader but he is never recorded as having drunk blood, or as having lived beyond the grave.

Abraham 'Bram' Stoker: Author of Dracula.
Abraham 'Bram' Stoker: Author of Dracula.

Did Abhartach Influence Stoker's Count Dracula?

The parallels between Abhartach and Bram Stoker's Dracula are extremely interesting. The idea of an evil man who has a magical way to overcome death and rise from the grave, is familiar to anyone who has read Dracula or who has seen the film adaptations. Further similarities include the demands blood sacrifice from his subjects - the image of taking blood from weaker people ispowerfully interwoven with the vampire myth as we know it today. As is the idea that there is a special way to kill the undead - we are all very familiar today with the idea that vampires must be killed by a wooden stake, or buried upside down, just like the saint said Abhartach could be killed over a thousand years ago.

Although today few but the locals who live near the grave have heard of Abhartach, it was once a well-reported story in Ireland. The story is said to date from the 5th or 6th century BC - making it one of the world's earliest vampire legends. It was treated as true history and published in the book A General History of Ireland by Dr Geoffrey Keating in 1631. It was later collected and printed as an interesting local legend included in the Ordnance Survery of County Londonderry in 1835 and the story of Avartach was further reprinted by Patrick Weston Joyce in A History of Ireland in 1880.

It is quite probable that Bram Stoker knew of this story and it may have influenced his decision to write a vampire novel. What is particularly interesting is that two of the earliest and most influential vampire novels were written by Irishmen - Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Although they were surely influenced by European legends and Gothic literature as well, there is definitely a case for the argument that they were also inspired by the local Irish legend of Abhartach.

A textile depiction of 'Dracula's Grave'. The thorn tree still grows there today.
A textile depiction of 'Dracula's Grave'. The thorn tree still grows there today.

Strange Events at "Dracula's Grave"

Whatever the case for Stoker's connection with Avartach's grave, the tomb has a reputation for strange and unsettling events which continues into living memory of the local residents. In fact people in the area refer to the tomb as 'Dracula's Grave'. They rarely visit the site - and never after dark!

Not so many years ago the owner of the land where the tomb sits decided that it was time to get rid of the grave and the tree and to take full possession of his field. A group of men gathered together to do the work of moving the stones and a chainsaw was brought to cut down the tree. But when they tried to start the chainsaw to cut down the thorn tree the saw stalled and would not work. So a second chainsaw was brought down to the field and it too would not start which was too much of a co-incidence. The men began to feel distinctly unsettled.

But the final straw came when the tractor they had brought along to pull away the tombstone started of its own accord and drove itself to the other side of the field, crushing one of the chainsaws into the mud as it did so. The men fled. And no attempt to remove the tomb or the thorn tree has been made since.

Questions & Answers

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      • Marie McKeown profile image
        Author

        Marie McKeown 2 years ago from Ireland

        Interesting thoughts!

      • profile image

        Mr. Renfield 2 years ago

        I like both movies, the one from 1931, and the one from 1992.

        The story was written in 1897? Gee I don't know, but it seems it was written a little too "late". As George Herman Ruth (Babe Ruth) was born in 1895, or so. The first Harley-Davidson 'Motorcycle' would be born just 5 years later, in 1903.

        Along with that, in the 1931 version, there's a part where car/bus engines can be heard, clearly out of place. I think there's even horns honking. This is when the scene migrates back to Carfax Abbey, in England.

        This story was too 'modern', even for being written after the Civil War.

        It seems it would have been better placed around 1846, the time of the Donner Pass situation.

        Anyway. . . . . . .

      • Marie McKeown profile image
        Author

        Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

        Thanks for your detailed comment.

      • profile image

        Jonathan Mohr 5 years ago

        Sorry to nitpick but two points I wish to bring up. Dracula means "Son of the Dragon." Not devil, also Dracul, minus the "a" means "Dragon"

        Secondly, in Bram Stoker's tale while Dracula is killed in a special way. He is beheaded and then a knife is thrust into his heart, not a wooden stake. I feel the standardized mythological connection between the two is lost here.

      • Marie McKeown profile image
        Author

        Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

        Glad you enjoyed the article!

      • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

        LastRoseofSummer2 5 years ago from Arizona

        This is fabulous! I am absolutely crazy about Dracula and have read and watched innumerable things about it's origins. But I had never heard of this! Thank you for a great hub!

      • Marie McKeown profile image
        Author

        Marie McKeown 5 years ago from Ireland

        I am sure Bram Stoker had many influences from Eastern Europe and beyond. This Irish legend is just one possible inspiration!

      • Zane Stockbridge profile image

        Zane Stockbridge 5 years ago from Colorado

        I don't have a problem when someone writes a tale that twists well-known legends a little, but there is a point to where the only relation is the name. Vampires are evil. Joss Whedon's Angel is the one good telling of a non-evil vampire I've seen. But this was really good. I would never have thought the Irish may have been where vampire lore was founded. Thanks for opening my mind a little.

      • Marie McKeown profile image
        Author

        Marie McKeown 6 years ago from Ireland

        It is an unusual story but I thought it was a good one! I agree it is strange how popular vampire stories are today... and you are welcome to keep with Vlad Tepes - he is probably the most historical vampire!

      • profile image

        Night killer 6 years ago

        ok I never heard that story before,its very interesting

        and I agree to..vampire stories are greatly exaggerated today..I mean good vampires??hello!..old stories seem more credible..and in relation to this Article,I keep my version with Vlad Tepes

      • Marie McKeown profile image
        Author

        Marie McKeown 7 years ago from Ireland

        I agree - the old legends are far more interesting than the modern-day craze!

      • xxmissamandaxx profile image

        xxmissamandaxx 7 years ago

        Loved it, I've always been a big vampire buff, before this silly Twilight craze... And the old stories and wives tales such as these really interested me. I'm voting you up!

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