Abhartach (also avartagh, Irish Gaelic for dwarf) is an early Irish legend, which was first collected in Patrick Weston Joyce's The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places (1875), which has led some to suggest that it may have been the prototype for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Abhartach should not be confused with the similarly-named Abartach, a figure associated with Fionn mac Cumhaill.
It is often incorrectly claimed that the Abhartach legend first appeared in Geoffrey Keating's 17th century Forus Feasa Air Éirinn (History of Ireland); this is based on a misreading of The Undead: The Legend of Bram Stoker and Dracula by Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne (1997) Haining and Tremayne state on page 71 that Patrick Weston Joyce translated Keating's work, while on page 74 they point out that Joyce and several other 19th century antiquarians recorded the Abhartach folktale. Many popular books perpeptuate this misunderstanding.
There is a place in the parish of Errigal in Derry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach [avartagh] or dwarf (see p. 61, supra). This dwarf was a magician, and a dreadful tyrant, and after having perpetrated great cruelties on the people he was at last vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain; some say by Fionn Mac Cumhail. He was buried in a standing posture, but the very next day he appeared in his old haunts, more cruel and vigorous than ever. And the chief slew him a second time and buried him as before, but again he escaped from the grave, and spread terror through the whole country. The chief then consulted a druid, and according to his directions, he slew the dwarf a third time, and buried him in the same place, with his head downwards; which subdued his magical power, so that he never again appeared on earth. The laght raised over the dwarf is still there, and you may hear the legend with much detail from the natives of the place, one of whom told it to me. Joyce , The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places
In some versions Abhartach rises from his grave to drink the blood of his subjects, while the chieftain who slays the revenant is named as Cathrain. The hero variously consults an early Christian saint instead of a druid, and is told that Abhartach is one of the neamh-mairbh, or walking dead, and that he can only be restrained by killing him with a sword made of yew wood, burying him upside down, surrounding his grave with thorns, and placing a large stone on top of the grave.
The name "Cathrain", or "Catháin" is one of the forebearer of the O'Kane family, a name synonymous with the north Derry area, Ó Catháin being "the family of Catháin". "The man of bad blood" in Irish Gaelic would be Fear na droch fhola; droch fhola would be pronounced Drockola, which might add some weight to the Bram Stoker theory.
It has always been assumed that the original Dracula story, written by the Irishman Abraham (Bram) Stoker in 1897, was based on the Transylvanian folk hero Vlad III Tepesh Dracula, known as "the impaler" because of his favourite method of punishment.
However, an alternative inspiration for Stoker's story was put forward by Bob Curran, lecturer in Celtic History and Folklore at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, in the Summer 2000 edition of History Ireland, a peer-reviewed journal edited by historians, where he suggested that Stoker may have derived his inspiration from the legend of Abhartach. Curran is also the author of Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Stalk the Night (2005), which recounts a more detailed version of the legend than that collected by Weston.
Abhartach's grave is now known as Slaghtaverty Dolmen, and is locally referred to as "The Giant's Grave". It comprises a large rock and two smaller rocks under a hawthorn.
In 1997, attempts were made to clear the land; in conformity with folklore, workmen who attempted to cut down the thorn tree arching across Abhartach’s grave allegedly had their chain saw malfunction three times. While attempting to lift the great stone, a steel chain snapped, cutting the hand of one of the labourers, and ominously, allowing blood to soak into the ground. Mr Curran himself suffered "a severe and inexplicable fall" after visiting the site.
Published Date: January 30, 2010
copyright Artist: DevBurmak