Northern Ireland

Never mind Transylvania, Dracula was Irish

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNever mind Transylvania, 'Dracula was Irish'

The BBC's latest adaptation of Dracula became one of the highlights of the holiday season when it appeared on TV over the New Year.

The image of the bloodsucking Transylvanian aristocrat has become a cultural icon, inspiring everything from the nine Hammer horror movies to the Twilight series of young adult novels, and TV series ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Count Duckula.

Bram Stoker, whose gothic novel was published in 1897, was an Irishman and Dracula fans have long sought connections to the vampire in the author's homeland.

Image copyright BBC/Hartswood Films
Image caption Danish actor Claes Bang plays Bram Stoker's Transylvanian vampire in the recent BBC adaptation

One possible connection is in St Patrick's Church of Ireland Church in Monaghan town.

Lucy Westenra - Dracula's beautiful teenage victim - is one of the central characters in the novel.

Westenra is certainly an unusual name. It's also the name of the local Ascendancy landowning family, also known as the Rossmores.

Image caption Did this dramatic tableau in a Monaghan church inspire the character of Lucy Westenra?

And in the church, there's a memorial sculpture portraying the deathbed of a young woman.

It's a dramatic scene, known as The Parting Glance, in which the woman's distraught husband has to be restrained by a friend.

The sculpture was dedicated to Mary Ann Westenra by her grieving husband, Lord Warner William Westenra.

Bram Stoker was an Inspector of Petty Sessions before he became a novelist and it is thought he would have visited Monaghan in the course of his work.

The theory goes that Stoker saw the sculpture and used the image of the young woman and the Westenra name to conjure up the character of Lucy.

"It's possibly as simple as he was on his lunch break and happened to walk into the church," said local historian, Sinead O'Reilly.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption Bram Stoker, the Irish-born Dracula author, travelled the country as an inspector of petty sessions courts

The Dracula connection was great for Monaghan tourism, she added.

"I've been searching and searching but I've never been able to find a connection between Stoker and the Westenras," admitted Ms O'Reilly.

Monaghan-based actor Martin Markey recalled appearing in a local production of Dracula in the Westenra Arms Hotel in Monaghan in the 1980s.

"At one stage I was pointing at the church with a bat on my hand and little did I know," he said.

Mr Markey thinks there is potential to make more of the Dracula connection.

"I hope some day we can establish a Bram Stoker festival here in Monaghan," he said.


Vampirology - some interesting stuff about all things bloodsucking

Image copyright Movie Poster Image Art
Image caption Christopher Lee built a career around his portrayal of the Transylvanian aristo
  • The last of the British Hammer Horror Dracula films, 1974's The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, saw a gang of Chinese vampires pitted against a band of kung-fu fighting students
  • According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, some people believe that babies born with teeth are predisposed to becoming vampires
  • Orava Castle in northern Slovakia, the location used for Castle Dracula in the recent BBC production, was also used in 1922 for the first successful vampire film, Nosferatu
  • Bram Stoker's great-uncle, George Blake, was executed for his part in the 1798 Rebellion against British rule. He is said to have requested that the executioner's rope be soaped to ensure a quick death

Bob Curran is a retired lecturer from Ulster University. He has a unique perspective on the Dracula story that combines the ancient and the contemporary.

"Dracula is Irish," he said , with not a trace of doubt in his voice.

He should know, having written books such as Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Stalk the Night, the Werewolf Handbook and the Truth about the Leprechaun.

Image caption Bob Curran says Dracula was based on a blood-drinking chieftain from County Derry

According to Mr Curran, Stoker had an interest in Irish folklore and the character of Dracula was based on a Celtic chieftain called Abhartach, who is buried in the townland of Slaughtaverty between Garvagh and Dungiven in County Londonderry.

The story goes that Abhartach was a tyrant, who terrorised the local peasantry. Attempts to kill him failed and he kept reappearing demanding a bowl of blood each time.

Image caption The alleged grave of Abhartach, the Irish vampire said to have been run through with a sword made of yew wood

He was one of "the night walking dead," Mr Curran explained. In the end, the tyrant was run through with a sword of yew wood and buried upside down, which seemed to put an end to his after-life appearances.

The legend was, according to Mr Curran, well-known in Irish literary circles.

"Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde's mother, certainly knew about it and Stoker was a regular visitor to the Wilde's house in Dublin," he said.

The academic's other theory is that Dracula is a social commentary on conditions in Ireland in the late 19th century. Dracula is a wealthy landlord, whose power is resented by the local peasantry.

"All the elements of Ireland are there and you're not looking at a horror novel but at a novel of contemporary issues and about contemporary Ireland," he explained.

Dracula is available on BBC iPlayer until the end of January 2020. Catch up here.

More on this story