Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dracula was Irish

Count Dracula as portrayed by
Bela Lugosi in the classic 1931 film
"Dracula" Photo Wikimedia Commons
And Universal Studios 

By Adrian McGrath

    The scene is set near the Carpathian Mountains in the Balkans in southeast Europe near present-day Romania. There in a remote region known as Transylvania (which means "across the forest") lived Count Dracula. It is an ancient land of peasants and nobles ... and superstition, folklore, and ... vampires.

A market in Transylvania circa 1818
Photo from Wikimedia.

    We are familiar with the famous 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian actor who spoke perfect English, as a refined aristocrat should, but with a slight Hungarian accent. Dracula too is a product of this ancient land. 

Vlad Tepes dines as he has his enemies impaled.
This is from a woodcut from 1499 by Markus
Ayrer, from Nuremberg, Germany.
Photo from Wikimedia.

Some say Dracula (whose name means "the devil") is a fictional character based on a real-life warrior noble named Vlad Dracul. He had other names -- Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracula, and notoriously, Vlad the Impaler. He acquired this title by executing the enemies of his homeland in the Balkans by sticking them on long, sharp poles and raising them up to die, as gravity pulled their bodies down on the deadly stakes. 

Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler
It is said that Count Dracula is
based on this real life leader.
Photo from Wikimedia

In Christendom in the Balkans, Vlad is seen as a hero who freed his homeland from the invading Ottoman Turks. Vlad may have been a hero to some, but he was ruthless with his enemies. And his legend became somehow mixed with a preexisting superstition of vampirism.

Vampires were mythological creatures who supposedly lived by drinking the blood of the living. They were the undead. To ignorant, non-scientific people, a belief in vampires provided an explanation for many ills in their society. For example, if somebody died mysteriously -- perhaps by a disease which ignorant people did not understand -- the people simply explained the death as due to vampire attack.

Many people in Europe and indeed worldwide believed in vampires in one form or another. In fact, Lilith was a sort of vampire as mentioned in the Holy Bible. She was believed to be the first wife of Adam. Belief in vampirism, in one form or another, dates way back to the days of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians.

So now we all know where Dracula came from.  He, of course, came from ... Dublin, Ireland.


Yes, Count Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, came from Ireland. Or to be more precise, Dracula was created in Ireland.

Bram Stoker

Dracula came from Ireland because he was invented in 1897 by an Irish writer from Dublin, Ireland. The writer was named Bram Stoker. (Bram is short for Abraham.) Stoker created this monster but set his homeland as Transylvania.

Bram Stoker, 1906
He was born in Dublin and wrote the
legendary novel Dracula
Photo from Wikimedia

Stoker lived from 1847 to 1912. Most people do not realize the significance of 1847, but the Irish --or people who study Irish history -- do. The year was called "Black 47." This was the worst year of the five year horror in Ireland known as The Great Famine or An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger. (See my article on The Great Hunger and Coffin Ships.)

Yes, the potato crop rotted; but the Irish people starved not because of a lack of potatoes. There was plenty of other food in Ireland, but the British, who then controlled Ireland with British laws and a British police force and a British army, denied other food stuffs to the starving Irish people. In fact the British exported food stuffs to England and overseas to sell for profit while the Irish people died. 

Irish people starving to death during
An Gorta Mor, Skibbereen, Ireland, 1847.
This was the year called "Black 47"
when Bram Stoker was born in Dublin,
Ireland. Photo from Wikimedia.

Bram would have been too young to remember this first hand, but he certainly would have been aware of it as he grew up and became educated. This atmosphere of mass death would have been a profound part of his life.

Bram was born in Clontarf, a neighborhood near Dublin. (A very famous battle between the Irish and the Vikings happened there in 1014 AD, by the way. More death and violence for Bram to absorb into his consciousness.) Bram's father, a civil servant, was from Dublin; and his mother was from County Sligo, Ireland. The family was not Catholic, but Protestant, Church of Ireland.

Bram was very sickly in his youth but recovered. He spent much of his time, while other boys played outside or did sports, by thinking and daydreaming and creating ideas -- a solid basis for eventual writing. He went to Trinity College in Dublin and acquired a BA (bachelor's degree) and an MA (master's degree). He was especially interested in history and philosophy.
Stoker developed an interest in the theater while studying at Trinity. 

After college Bram worked in the government in civil service, as his father did. Later, Bram combined his theater interest with his writing skills and became a journalist and theater critic, writing for a newspaper. He also wrote a few books when he could.

Stoker married a lady named Florence Balcombe, who was once romantically involved with non-other-than the famous Oscar Wilde. Bram knew Wilde from their days at college. To his credit Bram still remained friends with Wilde even after Oscar fell from grace, was arrested and jailed. Oscar Wilde was unjustly persecuted just for being gay, which was a crime in those days.

Stoker's real claim-to-fame in his lifetime was his work as assistant and manager for the then famous Shakespearean actor Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theater in London. Irving more or less controlled the Lyceum, and he became so well regarded that he was knighted by the British Crown.

Henry Irving, the famous actor,
for whom Bram Stoker worked
Photo from Wikimedia

Stoker held Irving in great esteem. In many ways Irving was Stoker's tutor and idol. Stoker admired Irving, but he also feared his power. There are historians who believe that Bram based the character of Count Dracula on the commanding personality of Henry Irving. 

It was not because Irving was evil in any way, as was Dracula; but it was because Irving was overwhelmingly persuasive, commanding, and powerful as was Dracula, that a connection between the two is seen.

Dracula wanted more than to rule Transylvania by night. He sought to travel to England, then the most powerful country on Earth, and find more blood to drink. There Dracula could acquire even more power.

Bram Stoker wrote the book Dracula as a sideline. Archibald Constable and Company first published the book in 1897 in London, England. 

A copy of the first edition of the
novel by Bram Stoker called
Photo from Wikimedia

Despite the impact the concept of Dracula has had on everything from movies to breakfast cereal (Count Chocula), the book did not make Bram Stoker rich. In fact it did not really sell much at all. He got a few good book reviews in the newspapers, comparing him to Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. But that was about it.

Arthur Conan Doyle, another Irish writer and creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, praised Stoker for his Dracula and even wrote him a complimentary letter.

A silent German film was made in 1922 called Nosferatu. There was a lawsuit over the legal rights to the idea of the vampire character. This legal dispute and its publicity created a new interest in the book.

Then there was a stage drama based on the book. It was popular in Britain and later in the USA.

But it was the 1931 Universal film called Dracula starring Bela Lugosi which made Dracula a household name until this very day.

Dracula has become an essential figure for Halloween, even though Halloween actually, originally had nothing to do with vampires. (See my article on Halloween and the Irish.)

Today most people think of Count Dracula as a creature of the night roaming the spiderweb-filled halls of Castle Dracula in remote Transylvania or perhaps attempting to seduce privileged English ladies at their estates near London and drink their blood.

But really ... Dracula was Irish.