Count Dracula might be Transylvanian, but did you know he’s got Irish roots?
The world sees Ireland as a cheerful place full of friendly people who love to laugh. But at this time of year, another side of Ireland comes to the fore. This is the birthplace of Halloween, which can trace its roots back to Samhain, the Celtic New Year when the veil between this world and the spirit world is thin and porous. The creepiest creature of the season is Irish – the banshee heralding deaths to come. This is where people first carved scary faces into vegetables to frighten away malicious spirits. And this is also the birthplace of the most enduring horror novel of all – Dracula.
Although it is not always acknowledged outside of Ireland, Dracula author Bram Stoker was Irish. He was born on November 8th, 1847 in Clontarf in north Dublin and educated at Trinity College Dublin. Bram is short for Abraham. As a young child, Bram was bed-ridden with illness for years, and his mother nurtured his imagination with folk tales from her native Sligo. He must have particularly loved her stories of spooky, supernatural scares. His illness was never diagnosed, and he made an amazing recovery as he grew into an athletic young man.
At Trinity, Stoker fell in love with theatre. He worked for a time as a civil servant, but moonlighted as a theatre critic. He socialized in literary circles and counted Oscar Wilde among his friends, even visiting Wilde after he was released from prison.
Stoker met the popular actor Henry Irving after giving one of his performances a glowing review, and eventually Irving hired Stoker to manage a theatre he owned in London – the famous Lyceum Theatre. Stoker also acted as Irving’s manager and travelled extensively with him.
The two visited the White House twice and met two American presidents – William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Stoker also met the poet Walt Whitman, one of his heroes, on his travels in the United States.
Celebrating Stoker’s Spooky Side
Stoker’s place in Irish literary history is being celebrated in a festival that runs from October 23rd through the 26th in Dublin. The Bram Stoker Festival celebrates the creepy and the creative day and night. Events include a large scale art installation, a talk on Bram Stoker’s life and work, spoken word performances, film screenings and a children’s scary trail.
While his mother’s tales of the supernatural in Sligo no doubt had an influence on young Stoker, growing up in a city full of haunted places and harrowing history must have had an impact on him as well. Just up the road a bit from Clontarf is Malahide Castle, said to be haunted by the damned soul of one of Cromwell’s cronies who occupied the castle, desecrated a nearby chapel and was eventually hung, drawn and quartered.
Stoker moved south of the River Liffey when he attended Trinity College Dublin and later lived on St. Stephen’s Green, which put him in close proximity to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Two of his brothers studied graduated from the College of Physicians on nearby Kildare Street. Medical schools have not always acquired cadavers for their students by people agreeing during their life that their remains should be donated. Long ago, cadavers were gotten through less transparent methods – including digging up graves and simply stealing the bodies. No wonder Stoker’s literary focus was horror stories and mysteries!