After Irish writer Bram Stoker produced his novel “Dracula” in 1897, the world came to associate the vampire legend with the Romanian province of Transylvania. Likewise, it is supposed by many that the anti-hero of the book, Dracula, an aristocrat who became one of the undead, was based upon Vlad lll Dracul (dragon), also known as Vlad the Impaler. As his titles suggest, he was rather fond of bringing his many victims to a gory end.
However, Mr Stoker may have received his inspiration from closer to home. Like most countries in Europe, Ireland also has its tales of the undead, or as they are known in Irish, na Neamh-Mhairbh. One such story, well known throughout Ireland at that time, was based in the County Derry parish of Errigal/Glenullin in the townland of Slaghtaverty (see ALNWICK CASTLE).
The oldest known recorded vampire story in Western Europe comes from ancient Celtic lore. It is the tale of the merciless tyrant and powerful sorcerer, Abhartach. Traditionally, he is described as being a short man, described as a dwarf in many tales, and as having a physical deformity. One night Abhartach, being a jealous and suspicious man, convinced himself that his wife was being unfaithful to him. Unwilling to confront her directly and wanting to catch her in the act of adultery, he climbed out of a window and crept along the ledge toward his wife’s bedroom. Before he could clear the distance and have a peek into his wife’s room, he slipped and fell to his death. Abhartach’s body was discovered in the morning and the people of the town buried him as if he were a king, standing upright in his grave.
The day after his funeral, Abhartach returned to Slaughtaverty demanding that each person cut their wrist and bleed into his bowl daily in order to sustain his life. His people complied as they were too terrified of Abhartach to oppose his will while he was alive, so they certainly did not want to do anything that would further upset him now that he was back from the dead walking and talking. However, it did not take them long to decide that they were unwilling to live under the tyranny of such an obvious Revenant, so the citizens decided to hired an assassin to kill him. Although the attempt was initially successful, Abhartach returned, demanding his daily allotment of blood. Undeterred, another assassin was hired, but with the same results.
After several more failed assassination attempts, a druid came forward and promised that he could free them from the creature, Abhartach, once and for all. The druid explained that because of the nature of the magic that was used to return the tyrant, combined with the type of creature that he became, a murbhheo (ancient Gaelic for vampire), their evil ruler could not be permanently destroyed, only trapped. The druid, using a sword made of yew wood, stabbed Abhartach through and while he was in a weakened state, he was buried upside down in a grave that was then covered with ash branches, thorns, and a large boulder.
The story doesn’t end there, oh no it doesn’t…In the town of Slaughtaverty (the name means “Abhartach’s Grave”) to this day Abhartach will attack anyone who comes too near his grave site, as he is unable to fully escape it. Next to the boulder that helps imprison him, a large thorn tree now grows out of the burial site, pinning him to the earth. To the locals in the area, Abhartach’s grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen, it is a large rock with two smaller rocks under a hawthorn tree. Back in 1997, attempts were made to clear the land, but workmen who tried to cut down the thorn tree arching across Abhartach’s grave, allegedly had their chainsaw malfunction three times and while attempting to lift the great stone, a steel chain snapped, cutting the hand of one of the laborers, and ominously, allowing blood to soak into the ground.
So was Abhartach possibly truly the first Dracula…