Dracula from Dungiven?

COULD Dracula be from Dungiven? That's the question being asked by a local historian who has highlighted a possible link between a Co Londonderry vampire legend and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Dr Bob Curran from Portrush, a historian and prolific folklore author, has visited the Glenullin area between Garvagh and Dungiven, where a vampire is said to be buried, and has studied the writings of Geoffrey Keating, who back in the 1800s, transcribed blood-soaked local stories as historical fact.

Those writings could have been passed by Lady Wilde - mother of Oscar - to her friend Stoker.

Dr Curran reports that in the middle of a field in the remote townland of Slaughtaverty, is an area known locally as the 'Giant's Grave', also known as Leacht Abhartach - Abhartach's sepulchre.

Beneath a thorn bush and a heavy stone, the remnants of an old monument that has given the townland its name, lies an intriguing story, and, it is rumoured, the body of a demonic former chieftain.

Some say Abhartach was a dwarf, others that he was deformed in some way, or that he was a wizard.

Another chieftain, Cathn, was persuaded by terrified locals to kill the evil Abhartach, who was buried standing up in an isolated grave.

However, it is said that the following day Abhartach returned, evil as ever and demanded a bowl of blood, drawn from the veins of his subjects, in order to sustain his vile corpse.

In great terror, the people asked Cathn to slay him once more. This Cathn did, burying the corpse as before. But the following day, Abhartach returned again, demanding the same gory tribute from his people.

Cathn was puzzled and, depending upon the variant of the folktale, turned to an early Christian saint, a saint known as Eoghan or John who is credited with founding a place of Christian worship in the area.

His name further appears in several local placenames including Magilligan.

The saint is said to have told Cathn that Abhartach had become one of the the undead and was a drinker of human blood.

He then proceeded to give Cathn instructions as to how to 'suspend' the vampiric creature.

Cathn returned to Glenullin and did what the holy man told him. Abhartach was slain with a wooden sword and was buried upside down with thorns placed all around the gravesite. On top of the actual grave, Cathn built a great leacht or sepulchre which could be seen for miles around. This has now vanished but the stone remains and a tree, which grew from the scattered thorns, rises above it.

Dr Curran said that local superstition still surrounds the area. He says that building work in the late 1990s was halted after a number of accidents and mechanical failures - and he himself has personal experience of the strange atmosphere at the site.

"I have had a severe fall at the site and recently, when filming for a news programme, there were a few problems," he revealed.

"My face kept turning green on the screen and the camera moved when no one was near it. Local people are still wary about it and won't go up there after dark."

And what of the intriguing links to Bram Stoker's famous tome?

Manuscript copies of Geoffrey Keating's History of Ireland were placed on public display in the National Museum in Dublin in the 1880s and were also available to read at Trinity College Library.

Although Stoker himself could not read Irish, he had many friends and acquaintances who did and he may have received at least part of the work in translation - including Oscar Wilde's mother and father, who were avid collectors of folklore at the time.

Said Dr Curran: "There is a high possibility that the Wildes may have passed these tales on to Stoker.

"Keating wrote these legends as historical fact and must have made amazing reading. Who knows if this local legend may have inspired one of the most famous books of all time?"

Indeed, it is well-known that the name 'Dracula' could derive from the Irish for 'bad blood'.

Dr Curran added: "Stoker's mother was from Sligo and he had a maid from Kerry, where there were also tales of blood-drinking fairies in the mountains of Macgillycuddy Reeks, so it may have indeed come from somewhere in Ireland, if not Co Derry."