The Abhartach

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There’s a possibility that Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his gothic masterpiece, Dracula, might stem from Irish folklore and not Romanian history. Vlad the Impaler was thought to be the original vampire but it may have been a fifth century chieftain in Derry, known as Abhartach that sparked Stoker’s idea for the Count.

Back at the time when Abartach had a seat of power, Ireland would have been a patchwork of small kingdoms ruled over by kings who were continuously fighting small scale battles. The people that were ruled over by Abhartach were terrified of him, not only because of his violence and cruelty, but also because he was thought to possess dark magical powers. While the people wanted to get rid of him, they hadn’t the courage nor the means to do so and turned to another chieftain to kill the warlord.

As with most of these stories, things start to vary here depending on the account. Some say the chieftain to slay Abhartach was Fionn MacCumhail others say it was Caithain, just to avoid confusion I’ll say Fionn made three attempts to slay Abhartach and keep him in the ground. It seemed a simple enough task to begin with, the warlord was cut down and buried standing up as acknowledgement for his position as a chieftain, despite how the locals saw him they decided burying him this way was the right and honourable thing to do. Abhartach is said to have returned from the grave stronger than before and now back ruling over his former kingdom, demanded a blood tribute from his people to sustain himself.

The hired chieftain returned to slay Abhartach once more but the same thing happened again, he simply returned from the grave to spread terror among the locals. Fionn MacCumhail engaged him in combat a second time and again achieved the same result with Abhartach spending only a short time in what should have been a final resting place. After he returned this time, Fionn consulted a druid for guidance in how to be rid of this undead monster once and for all. As the creature was between worlds the only way to stop him was to slay him using a sword made of yew wood (which sounds reminiscent of the stake-through-the-heart theory often seen in popular culture), to then take the body and bury it upside down to subdue the ability to use magic, once the grave was filled in the site was to be covered with a large stone and thorns. Having followed these steps Abhartach’s reign of horror finally came to an end.

There is much speculation that Bram Stoker heard of the legend while studying in Ireland and that it likely was much of the inspiration for his story. While it is hard to say for certain where all of Bram Stoker’s ideas originated from, the legend was fairly popular in Ireland at the time, so it seems like a safe bet that his Irish friends would have told him of the legend. There’s some similarities between this and most popular vampire stories such as the yew wood and a stake through the heart, it meanders a little bit with the burial requirements. Others point out that while Transylvania is usually given as the origin of the Dracula legend, Stoker himself had never even been to that part of the world. The only place in which he had lived around actual vampire legends was the Emerald Isle.

As for Abhartach, his grave is located in the middle of a field in the townland of Slaughtaverty, the area is known locally as ‘The Giant’s Grave’, on the site lies a large stone over which, grows a thorn bush.

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