Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dracula, Irish? Who’d a Thought?

A story that has sold more books than anything else except the Bible and has brought us endless movies and childhood nightmares, Bram Stoker’s Dracula may have actually been more Irish than Transylvanian.

Very few people realize that Bram Stoker was, in fact, an Irishman and that his famous story may well have been a metaphor for “bloodsucking” English landlords preying on their 19th century Irish tenant farmers.

It is widely believed that Bram Stoker’s Dracula tells the story of the 15th century bloodthirsty Romanian Prince Vlad Dracula, better known as Vlad the Impaler. The Transylvanian prince got this name because he liked to impale his enemies on sharpened poles and watch them die slowly. This, according to Dennis McIntyre, the Director of Bram Stoker’s Dracula Organization, except for the setting, is very much an Irish story.

Dennis points out that Dracula comes from the Irish word “Droch Ola”, which means “bad blood”. Bram’s mother lived through the cholera epidemic of 1837 where she saw piles of dead bodies being pushed into mass graves using long wooden poles to shove the bodies. Many of the people were not yet quite dead and were buried alive. It was also common folklore in 1840’s Ireland that if you committed suicide you would turn into a vampire unless you were buried with a wooden stake in your heart to hold you in the grave.

Having been born in 1847 in Dublin during the very height of the Great Famine where hundreds of thousands of people died or were forced to emigrate to the United States in former slave ships (known at the time as “coffin ships”), many believe Bram’s story was inspired by the behavior of the rich English landlords sucking the very life out of the Irish people.

Bram Stoker was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and worked as a civil servant in Dublin Castle for 10 years. He was 31 before moving to England. Because he was living in England when his book was first published most people think that he was English, or even Romanian, but he was and remained very much an Irishman.

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