Abhartach: Ireland’s Own Vampire

Everyone has heard of Bram Stoker and Dracula. When people think of vampires, they don’t think of Ireland having vampires in their mythology.
    
Abhartach, also known as Avartagh, was Ireland’s own Dracula and many scholars believe that the story was the original inspiration for Bram Stoker to write his famous novel about the Transylvania prince, Vlad the Impaler.
     
AbhartachAbhartach was an evil magician who had very strong dark powers and treated his subjects very cruelly. In some tales it is said that he was a dwarf and others state that he was just badly deformed. Avartagh, which he also known as, is Gaelic for dwarf.  In the Dark Ages, he ruled a small kingdom in Derry. This was a time when Ireland was broken up into many small kingdoms and was ruled by chieftains who usually fought with each other. Abhartach’s subjects hated and feared him so much that they called upon a neighboring chieftain named Cathrain also known as Cathan to kill their evil ruler.
    
Cathrain took on the challenge and killed Abhartach, then buried him standing upright because he was so evil and didn’t deserve a descent burial. The grave didn’t keep him for long. He soon returned and treated his subjects worse by demanding a bowl of blood drained from their veins for food and tribute. Cathrain returned and killed him again. For a second time, Abhartach returned and asked more tributes from his subjects.
    
In aggravation and desperation, Cathrain sought the advice of a Druid and in later tales it was an early saint that gave him advice. In this version, Cathrain’s name is changed to Cathan. He visited a saint who live in Gortnamoyagh Forest on the very edge of Glenallin. It was said that a lone saint known as Eoghan or John lived here. According to local folklore, there exists a formation of a ‘footprint’ in stone and is said to be where John flew up into to the sky to go say Mass.
    
Rather it came from a saint or a druid, Cathrain was given the advice that Abhartach was of the undead and could not be killed. Abhartach was one of the creatures known as neamh-mairbh meaning the walking dead and also a dearg-dililat, a drinker of human blood. Abhartach couldn’t be killed but he could be restrained. This task could be done by ‘killing’ him with a sword made from yew, then piercing his heart with a yew stake. He then must be buried upside down with thorns and ash twigs scattered around him and then a giant stone must be placed on top of his grave to keep him in.  Also holy thorn bushes must be planted around his grave. Of course, Cathrain did this and there in his grave, Abhartach remains until this day.
    
In 1997, there were attempts to clear the land where the grave exists. Workers were attempting to cut down the thorn tree that arches over the grave until their chainsaw malfunctioned three times.  Also while attempting to lift the great stone off the grave, a steel chain broke, cutting the hand off one of the workmen and his blood soaked the ground around the grave. Needless to say, they got the point and left the grave alone. Abhartach’s grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen and in local folklore it is known as The Giant’s Grave. The grave is also known as Leacht Abhartach ( Abharach’s Sepulchre ).
    
The tale of Abhartach or Avartagh was first collected into written form in Patrick Weston Joyce’s The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places in 1875. Many scholars believe that this story of Ireland’s vampire is the original inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula.  This isn’t hard to believe, considering that Bram Stoker lived in Ireland for a time. Also, his mother was born in Sligo and his maids were from Kerry so it’s not hard to believe that he heard about the dreadful being. Even the name Dracula has an Irish connection. Dracula in Irish was droch-fhoula pronounced droc’ola meaning bad or tainted blood.

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