The Abhartach: The Terrifying Tale Of The Irish Vampire

The Abhartach
Photo by Wilqkuku (Shutterstock)

When I was a kid, there were two tales from Irish folklore that terrified me: the one about the Banshee and the story of the Abhartach.

Now, if you’ve never heard of the Abhartach, it’s the Irish Vampire.

Ireland, like many countries, is home to various tales and legends of terrifying creatures and spirits. None scared me as much when I was growing up as the one about the Abhartach.

Below, you’ll find our everything you need to know about the Irish Vampire, including the link to Bram Stoker and much more.

The Origin of the Abhartach

Over the years, I’ve heard many different stories about the Abhartach. Each story tends to vary a little but the majority follow a very similar tale.

It all began with an Irish historian by the name of Patrick Weston Joyce. Joyce was born in Ballyorgan in the mighty Ballyhoura Mountains, which straddle the borders of Limerick and Cork.

One of the many books penned by Joyce was published in 1869 and was titled ‘The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places.’ It was inside the pages of this book that the world was first introduced to the Abhartach.

Legend 1: The Evil Dwarf from Derry

In the book, Joyce tells of a parish in Derry called Slaughtaverty, that should really be called Laghtaverty. It’s in this parish that there stands a monument of the Abhartach.

In the book, Joyce states that ‘Abhartach’ is another word for dwarf: ‘ 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 or dwarf.’

He explains the dwarf was a cruel creature and that it possessed a powerful type of magic. Those who were terrorised by the Abhartach soon had their prayers answered.

The battle begins

A local chieftain (some believe that this was the legendary Fionn Mac Cumhail) killed the Abhartach and buried him upwards nearby.

The locals thought their luck had changed. However, the very next day, the dwarf was back, and he was twice as evil than he had been.

The chieftain returned and killed the Abhartach for a second time and proceeded to bury him the same as before. Surely this was the end?! Alas, the dwarf escaped his grave and spread his terror across the whole of Ireland.

Killing the Abhartach for good

The chieftain was baffled. He had slain the Abhartach twice now and it managed to return to Ireland again and again. Deciding that he couldn’t risk the dwarf returning three times, he consulted a local Druid.

The Druid advised that he slay the Abhartach again but this time when it came to burying it, he must bury the creature upside down.

The Druid believed that this should quench the dwarf’s magic. This worked and the Abhartach never returned.

Legend 2: The modern-day Vampire

There’s another version of the legend that’s much more closely linked to the modern-day Vampire. In this version of the tale, the Abhartach is killed and buried.

However, when it escapes its grave it does so to find fresh blood to drink. In this version, the chieftain goes by the name of Cathain and he consults a Christian Saint, instead of a Druid.

The story goes that the Saint told Cathain that the only way to kill the Vampire was to find a sword made from yew wood.

The Saint advised Cathain that, once the Abhartach was killed, he would need to bury him upside down and that he would need to find a great stone to lock it in for good.

Cathain is said to have killed the Abhartach with ease. After burying it nearby, he then had to lift the great stone and place it over the newly dug grave.

Legend 3: Demanding a Bowl of Blood

The final legend is one that was told to many by a man named Bob Curran. Curran was a lecturer in Celtic history and folklore at the University of Ulster.

According to Curran, the real ‘Castle Dracula’ can be found between the towns of Garvagh and Dungiven, where a small hill now stands.

He says that it was here that the fortress of a 5th or 6th-century chieftain with magical powers called the Abhartach once resided.

Curran’s story goes that the Abhartach was a great tyrant and that the people living near him wanted him gone. They were scared of his magical powers, so they coaxed another chieftain to kill him.

The chieftain succeeded in killing and burying the Abhartach, but he escaped his grave and demanded a bowl of blood from the local villagers.

He was killed for the second time, but he returned again. It wasn’t until the chieftain was advised by a druid to use a sword made from yew that the Abhartach was finally conquered.

Legend 4: Dearg Due

The Legend of Dearg Due is another that you’ll hear told by certain people in Ireland. The ancient tale revolves around a young woman from Waterford who is married away to a cruel chieftain.

He neglects her and she’s left to die a lonely death. Soon after, she rises from her grave as the walking dead and goes on a quest for revenge.

This is intensified when she gets a taste for blood. Read more about this legend in our guide to Dearg Due.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The celebrated author Abraham “Bram” Stoker was born in Clontarf in North Dublin in 1847. He is best known for his novel ‘Dracula’ that was published in 1897.

It was in this book that the world was first introduced to Count Dracula – the original Vampire. In a nutshell, Dracula tells the story of the Vampire’s quest to move from Transylvania in Romania to England.

Why did he want to move? To find new blood to drink and to spread the undead curse, of course… Now, although Bram Stoker was from Ireland, it’s believed that he drew the inspiration for the book from elsewhere.

It’s believed that much of the inspiration for the novel was spurred on from a visit Stoker made to the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890.

However, many believe that Bram Stoker’s Dracula drew inspiration from many of the tales of the undead that can be found in Irish folklore. Other historians believe that Dracula is inspired by Vlad the Impaler.

If you enjoyed this story you’ll enjoy the many other tales and legends in our guide to the most popular myths from Irish mythology.

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