Monday 16 April 2012

Dracula was Irish – the genealogical evidence

Dracula's creator: Bram Stoker
Count Dracula, the Transylvanian nobleman, the daddy of all vampires and the cause of more childhood nightmares than I care to remember, was Irish. This is the finding of FindMyPast Ireland, the dedicated Irish genealogy database provider, whose researchers have uncovered previously unknown facts about the family history of the author Bram Stoker.

The new findings are the fruit of months of research by director Fiona Fitzsimons who last year identified Barack Obama's closest living Irish relatives.

"We have discovered that Bram Stoker could trace his own direct family line back almost 1,000 years," says Fitzsimons. "His direct ancestor, Manus 'the Magnificent' O'Donnell, once ruled much of Ireland and led a rebellion against King Henry VIII. Stoker knew of this ancestry, but the wider world did not."

And this lineage turns out to have been remarkably similar to Dracula's. "I myself am of an old family..." Dracula tells Jonathan Harker, one of the novel's narrators. He continues with expressions of pride in his noble lineage, rooted in a lost age of feudal warriors, valour and heroism.

The Landed Estate Court details that led
to the discovery. See larger image here.
Although Bram Stoker's paternal family was of humble stock, his mother, Charlotte, was descended from the Blakes, a landed Irish family. This much was already public knowledge but, using land records that are available on FindMyPast Ireland, Fitzsimons was able to trace Stoker's descent back 12 generations to Manus, who died in 1563.

"We can then trace this direct lineage back to the 11th century, because the O'Donnell lords from whom Stoker is descended have one of the oldest recorded lineages in Ireland."

Remarkably, the story goes back further because from 561AD, the O'Donnell lords were the hereditary keepers of the psalter (holy book) of St Columba, Ireland's patron saint of poets.

The psalter survives to this day. The shrine that the O'Donnells commissioned to house it is on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

These objects remained in the O'Donnell family's keeping until 1843 when they were donated to the Royal Irish Academy. Their donation received widespread press coverage. Bram Stoker’s mother knew that her own grandmother was Eliza O’Donnell of the illustrious O’Donnell family. She remained in contact with the family and cannot have failed to understand the significance of the rediscovery of the manuscript book and shrine.

“Bram himself wrote that his mother told him stories about his family history and ancestors," says Fitzsimons. But even the few literary scholars who knew this would not have understood its significance.

Young Bram was a sickly child, bed-ridden until the age of seven. “He was at home, listening to all these tales from his mother,” says Fitzsimons. “These were tales not just about Irish history but of his own ancestry. They gave him a direct link to the very pulse of Irish history. Can you imagine the impact that they would have had on a young, sickly, imaginative child?”

Indeed, Stoker himself has written of this period, "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years."

Check out the FindMyPast Ireland website for more information about Bram Stoker's family and the genealogical research that uncovered it.

This week marks the centenary of Bram Stoker's death. See previous post for events in Dublin.