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Abhartach: Irelands Bloody Tyrant

I am writing this article on Abhartach, a tyrannical 5th century warlord who is believed to be the real inspiration, or at least a good amount of the inspiration behind Bram Stoker's Dracula.

In Northern Ireland between Garvagh and Dungiven is a town named Slaughtaverty. Located in a field is a monument known as "Leacht Abhartach" (abhartach's sepulchre). Abhartach was a petty king or chieftain, with an evil reputation as a tyrannical warlord. Legend has it that his subjects prevailed to Cathrain (or Catha'n) to overthrow their evil ruler.

Abhartach was slain by Cathrain and he was buried standing up in his grave. Legend has it that two days later he emerged from his grave scouring the area to drink the blood of his former subjects. Cathrain again killed Abhartach and buried him, but again after only two days he re-emerged from his grave demanding blood.

Cathrain consulted a local religious man, it varies from story to story either being a Druid or a Christian Saint, and was informed that Abhartach had become a neamh-mhairbh (the undead) and a dearg-diu'lai' (a drinker of human blood). Because of such he could not be killed only restrained by running him through with a sword made of yew wood, buried upside down, his burial spot surrounded by thorns and ash twigs, then the grave had to be surmounted by a large stone.

Cathrain followed these instructions and was able to free the people from being unwilling blood donors to a tyrannical warlord.

There are more modern accounts of odd happenings at the grave site and have only fueled this myth. Supposedly in 1997, attempts were made to clear the land, when a chain saw was taken to the thorn tree arching across Abhartach's Sepulchre, allegedly the chainsaw malfunctioned three times. Also allegedly while lifting the large stone a steel chain snapped dropping the stone and cutting the hand of a laborer and allowing blood to seep into the ground.

Whether these accounts are true, the book this was originally published in, "History of Ireland" by Geoffrey Keating, written in 1626-31, shows that Abhartach is only one of many blood drinking nobles that populate Irish Folklore. And Stoker may well have read another book titled "History of Ireland", by Patrick Weston Joyce, and published in 1880. He could have very well used Abhartach as the basis for his Dracula character, since he never visited Europe and received all information when writing his book from other books and the accounts of travelers.


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