Bob Curran

I have been reading Jason Colavito’s book Faking History recently. I have enjoyed it greatly, though I do have some criticisms. The book is full of minor errors (fare spelled as fair, words missing, indefinite articles used with plurals, Otto of Freising written as Otto of Friesling, Pantagruel written as Pantagreul etc.) and could have done with a good proofreader. There is also a lot of repetition.

Having said that, the content itself is erudite, clever and well worth reading. In a series of short essays, Colavito tackles a variety of absurd claims made in pseudo-archaeology and fringe history books. The overall theme of the essays seems to be the way that error is created and replicated in the world of junk scholarship. In many cases, claims which have no basis in fact are copied from book to book, and nobody ever checks the original source. There are some truly amazing pieces of pseudo-history. For example, the famous medieval story of the Green Children from Suffolk was transposed to Catalonia in the 19th century. The story about how the Christian world hated forks because of their pagan and demonic associations was also fascinating. However, I was also very interested to see that he criticises Bob Curran, author of a number of lurid and badly-written tomes on folklore, who has also been criticised on this blog. He describes how Curran helped to spread a claim as genuine information when in reality it is derived from the fictional writings of H.P. Lovecraft!

This is interesting, because Curran does exactly the same thing with a couple of Irish terms, supposedly ancient Irish names for vampires, the neamh-mhairbh and the dearg-diúlaí [sic].

In an incredibly sloppy article called Was Dracula An Irishman? published in History Ireland magazine in the year 2000, Curran claims that Stoker was influenced by Irish vampire lore and especially by the story of a character called Abhartach. Curran writes: “But it was the historian and folklorist Patrick Weston Joyce who actually made connections between Abhartach and the Irish vampire tradition. Joyce enthusiastically recounted the legend in his own book A History of Ireland (Dublin 1880).” I have looked through an online copy of this book and can find no reference to Abhartach, vampires or anything else related to this story. In another book by Joyce (The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places) it says that a dwarf (abhartach, or abhac in modern Irish) returned from the dead but doesn’t mention blood-drinking:

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.

Curran also writes in his History Ireland article:

… and the tradition of the blood-drinking dead was also recorded in Geoffrey Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The History of Ireland) written between 1629 and 1631. In chapter ten Keating made much of the neamh-mhairbh.

As I have said before, there is no reference to vampirism in the Foras Feasa and the reanimated dead are not referred to as neamh-mhairbh (neamh-mharbh is the nominative singular, neamh-mhairbh the nominative plural; neamh-marbh and neamh-mairbh are misspellings) or anything resembling that word.

In recounting his version of the story of the abhartach, Curran has a chieftain called Cathán speak to a druid, who tells him: ‘Abhartach is not really alive’, he told the astonished Cathán. ‘Through his devilish arts he has become one of the neamh-mhairbh [the undead]. Moreover, he is a dearg-diúlaí, a drinker of human blood. He cannot actually be slain—but he can be restrained.’

Again, the trail for this conversation leads back to Curran, and as far as I can see, it goes no further, though some sources mention Peter Haining, Peter Tremayne and Cathal Ó Sándair as the originators of some of this nonsense. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any independent evidence for Curran’s version. There is no evidence that the term neamh-mhairbh existed in the Irish language before it was used as the Irish version of ‘undead’ in the Irish translation of Dracula which was published by An Gúm in 1933.

Curran claims that the term derrick-dally was used of apparitions in folk-tales but the assumption that this comes from dearg-diúlaí is hard to accept. There’s no evidence for this term existing. The noun dearg is not used as a term for blood. Diúlaí doesn’t sound like dally, and we can’t rule out terms like diabhal (devil) or deargadaol (a beetle associated with bad luck) as the source of derrick-dally. (I think we can safely assume that Derrick Dalley, Newfoundland politician, is not a revenant and has no connection with 19th century vampires.)

In other words, as in the case cited by Jason Colavito, Curran has taken fake information and treated it as real. Does it matter? Well, it matters to me. People all over the world are repeating the amazing fact that Bram Stoker was influenced by a sizeable body of vampire lore from Ireland, and moreover, that he took the term undead from the Irish neamh-mharbh, when in reality, it is the other way round. Of course, if this were really true, nobody would be doing more to spread it than me. But it isn’t true, and I want people to get to know the real Irish language and the culture associated with it, not some fake version manufactured by dilettantes like Cassidy and Curran.


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