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Irish Vampire Myths relating to the O’Neill clan

For a truly superstitious and supernatural country like Ireland it is quite the surprise that most dont think it has any vampire-type myths in its folklore compared with those of other cultures, never mind myths that relate to the Oneill clan in this regard. But there are a few prominent instances where this is not the case and vampires do appear. One of the most frequent is that of the Dearg-due, or Red Blood Sucker, whose most famous alleged, is buried near Strong bow’s Tower in Co. Waterford. She was purportedly a female of indescribable beauty who died in mysterious circumstances but rose from her grave a few times a year to wreck havoc on the men of surrounding villages. She seduced her victims by dancing until the men were stupefied then she would feed on their blood.

The above was no Irish myth however it was the creation of someone’s imagination and was mentioned by Dudley Wright, in Vampires and Vampirism, She supposedly resided in the graveyard at Waterford near Strongbow's Tower. Mr. Summers a prominent paranormal researcher conducted one of his rare personal investigations only to discover that there was no Strongbow's Tower near Waterford. He suggested that Wright made a mistaken reference to another structure, Reginald's Tower, but upon checking with authorities on Irish lore, was told that no vampire legends were known about Reginald's Tower. As a final explanation, summers suggested that Wright's story was a confused version of a story told of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Waterford after which a frog (not native to Ireland) was found and interred in Reginald's Tower.

Dreach-Fhoula (possibly also seen as Dreach-Shoula, Droch-Fhoula): Pronounced droc'ola and means 'bad' or 'tainted blood' and whilst it is now taken to refer to 'blood feuds' between persons or families, it may have a far older connotation. During a lecture in 1961, the Registrar of the National Folklore Commission, Sea'n O' Suilleabha'in, mentioned a site which he called Du'n Dreach-Fhoula (pronounced droc'ola) or Castle of the Blood Visage. This was supposedly a fortress guarding a lonely pass in the Magillycuddy Reeks in Kerry, and inhabited by blood-drinking shape-shifting fairies.

He did not give its exact location for the castle, and cultural historians have spent years rifling thru archives for more specific information with as of yet no results. But it should be noted that this fortress might well have been the inspiration for the name Dracula rather than Vlad Dracul. Bram Stoker, after all, never visited Eastern Europe and relied entirely on travelers' accounts.

It should also be noted that Ireland also gave birth to not one, but two of the most famous vampire authors, Sheridan Le Fanu who wrote the novella, "Carmilla" and Bram Stoker the author of Dracula, Le Fanu drew on his Irish homeland for his early stories. Many historians have noted that Carmilla is the first true Vampire novel ever created and was probably read by Bram Stoker and used as inspiration for his master piece.

The vampire rarely appears in Irish literature. One appearance that attained a relative level of fame occurred in James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), which used vampire imagery. The vampire first appeared early in the novel when Stephen, the main character, spoke of the moon kissing the ocean: "He the moon comes, pale vampire, through storm her eyes, has bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth."

He makes later reference to the "... potency of vampires mouth to mouth." Joyce injected the vampire into his very complex ruminations on divinity, creativity, and sexuality. In another reference, Stephen spoke of the vampire man's involvement with chic women. Finally, Stephen identified God as the "Black panther vampire." Joyce seemed to be settling on an image of the creative Father god as a vampire who preyed upon his victims-virgin women. The insertion of the virgin assisted Joyce in making the point that creation was also inherently a destructive process. In any case, the several brief references to the vampire supplied Joyce's literary critics with the substance for a lively debate.

But the most famous of all Irish vampire stories or myths revolves around an Irish Chieftain and member of the O’Kane Clan in the hills of Ulster and within the county of Derry no less. For all those young men and women of mid Ulster that spent their weekends going to Glenuilin GAA disco they will know this place and area very well.

For those young people going to Glenuilin on a Saturday night was somewhat of a rite of passage and development into adulthood; however I am sure none would have been so keen after reading the following story.  The O’Kanes of course are descended from, Niall of the Nine Hostages therefore they share a common ancestry with the O’Neill clan but they also they were the primary sept under the O’Neill clan, holding the privilege of inaugurating the Chief of the O'Neill by tossing a shoe over the new Chief's head in acceptance of his rule.Now our story concerns a battle between Cathrain our Irish Chieftain (Catháin" is one of the forbearer of the O'Kane family Ó Catháin being "the family of Catháin)and hero and Leacht Abhartach an evil Dwarf,wizard and Vampire.

Abhartach (also avartagh, Irish for dwarf) is an early Irish legend, which was first collected in Patrick Weston’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 Stokers Dracula. Some of the older locals of the Glenuilin area have often stated that Bram actually visited the site about to be mentioned below.This story has been past down in the area for generations and may well be true. Bram as mentioned before did not travel to Europe but would have been able to make the journey to the North of ireland.

Bram's mother was also noted as quite the story teller and had been living during the great Famine. She was reputed to have given Bram vivid descriptions of the faces of those men and women of the Irish famine period she had seen as a young girl. Pale, gaunt, and skeletal ,faces of an almost living and walking dead. 

She was also credited for telling him about some of the major horror stories concerning the famine not just the significance of Death and the great loss of life to the Irish people. But she also told him stories concerning cannibalism within many unfortunate families in particular, between young Children and dead Parents. 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 perpetuate this misunderstanding.

The Legend

There is a place in the parish of Glenuilin in Derry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach [avartagh] or dwarf. 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. 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 O’kane 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

An Alternate version states the following

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 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 as mentioned previously in regard to a fortress guarding the Magillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry. 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.

The historical significance of this wonderful Derry myth and the story to Irish folklore and the Ó Catháin clan can never really be measured. However to the locals in the area 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 tree. 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 laborers, and ominously, allowing blood to soak into the ground. Therefore remember the legend of Abhartach’s the next time you walking on a lonely moonlit night in the hills of Glenuilin between Dungiven and Garvagh, because it may just be that the sound behind or above you, may be Abhartach trying to find his next victim.

On behalf of the Association of O’Neill clans Happy Halloween