Tag Archives: Abhartach

Beware of Fakelore!

This is an old blog post I have decided to republish for Halloween.

We are getting ready for Hallowe’en here. It is one of my favourite festivals of the year. To our Celtic ancestors, it was Samhain, the end of summer, the Celtic New Year. (Pronounced sow-inn, with the sow part as in female pig, not Sam-hain as in the way Donald Pleasance mangles it in the film.) Because the Celts believed in the importance of liminality, of the edges between realities, they believed that this festival night between one year and the next was somehow outside of ordinary time. It was therefore a gateway which allowed worlds to bleed into each other. On this night alone, the dead were able to return to the places they loved in this world.

I love folklore and tradition. I have no problem with traditions that grow and change (ever tried carving a turnip? – believe me, pumpkins are a lot easier and the result is much better!)

Vampires and monsters are fun, and the Irish have given many such stories to the world. Le Fanu and Stoker virtually created the modern vampire tradition, Le Fanu was a major influence on MR James, the greatest ghost-story writer of all time. Even Frankenstein has a brief incident set on the Irish coast.

However, while we should cherish our folklore, we should avoid fakelore. For example, Cassidy himself claimed that the Hoodoo comes from a distinctively Irish supernatural being called the uath dubh. The only problem is that the uath dubh does not exist in Irish folklore. There is no such thing.

Likewise, people like Bob Curran and Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne are responsible for a lot of sloppy research which makes untenable claims about Irish tradition. There is now a sizeable body of material floating around on the internet about the Irish origins of vampire folklore. But when we examine these claims, we find that there is no evidence for any of the paradigm-changing material.

For example, it is claimed that the villain of a County Derry story, Ábhartach, drank blood when he returned from the dead and that he was a described as a neamh-mharbh and as a dearg-diúlaí. Patrick Weston Joyce tells the story in his book but he doesn’t mention blood-drinking or the spurious Irish terms above.

There is also the claim that a book was displayed in Trinity College when Stoker was there containing references to Irish vampirism. In Brian Earls’s sensible and restrained article in the Dublin Review of Books (http://www.drb.ie/essays/blood-relations), this is stated to have been a copy of Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, which has an account of revenants in book one, chapter ten, but the revenants don’t drink blood and are referred to as ‘the dead’ (na mairbh) or ‘bodies’ (coirp). Other accounts claim that the book gives an account of the legend of Ábhartach (which it doesn’t) or that it uses words like neamh-mharbh and dearg-diúlaí (which it doesn’t). The most bizarre version is in an article in Ireland of the Welcomes: “Owen Harding says there was a manuscript published about this legend from an anonymous writer. It was entitled The Abhartach, Dreach-Fhoula. This document was exhibited up till 1868 in none other than Trinity College which Stoker attended. So is it likely that Stoker used this story to base his novel on? Harding believes it is.”

Another weird piece of fakelore is the Dearg-Due, or Dearg-Dul, or Derrick-Dally, or Dearg-Diúlaí (sic). According to some sources, this is an ancient Irish vampire. However, the evidence for any of this is very, very weak. The earliest reference I can find to a dearg-dul is a 1928 book on vampires, Vampires, Their Kith and Kin (later republished as The Vampire in Europe) by a bizarre character called Montague Summers. He certainly mentions the dearg-dul. He says, simply, “In Ancient Ireland the Vampire was known simply as dearg-dul, “red blood sucker”, and his ravages were universally feared.” Another account of this creature is said (by Haining and Tremayne) to be found in the Irish Monthly Review of 1874, but none of those who quote this source has ever actually found the reference or provided any account of what the article says, or even if it exists. It seems to me that this is probably derived from the Irish deargadaol (Devil’s coach-horse), originally known as a darbdael or darb-dóel. In the former spelling, it occurs as early as the Book of Ballymote of 1391. The deargadaol is not red and is not a vampire. In fact, it is black. The word is formed from the two words doirb (a water beetle) and daol (a beetle), and this was later corrupted to Dearg-Daol or Deargadaol. Pádraig Pearse wrote a short story (published in 1916) called An Dearg-Daol, which concerns a woman who has been cursed from the pulpit by a priest for some unknown sin, and who is known as the Dearg-Daol because it is one of the three cursed creatures (the other two are the viper and the wren, presumably because of its propensity for marine pollution ….) I suspect that dearg-due arose from poor handwriting – many people write an l like an e and they are easy to confuse. It also seems to me that forms like Dearg-Diúlaí are attempts to explain this word by people with little or no Irish. They are very improbable. Dearg doesn’t mean blood, and why wouldn’t it be dearg-dhiúlaí (jarrig-yoolee) anyway?

Another problem is the absurd claim that Dracula derives from various ‘Irish’ phrases like Droch-fhoula or Droch-fhola or Dreach-fhola. Droch-fhoula obviously isn’t Irish, because there is no ‘ou’ in Irish orthography. Drochfhola is Irish for ‘of bad blood’ but words in the genitive can’t stand on their own in Irish, so it doesn’t really make sense. The Dreach-fhola is another strange one. Dreach is a masculine noun so it should be Dreach Fola (It is I, Count Draffola??!!) However, this is supposed to be from a lecture delivered by a man called Ó Súilleabháin, the head of the Irish Folklore Commission, who supposedly mentioned a castle called Dún Dreach-Fhola in Magillicuddy’s Reeks inhabited by blood-drinking fairies. But there is no written record of this, not in his writings or anyone else’s. And there is no doubt about the link between Dracula and Transylvania in Bram Stoker’s book.

Please note here that I am not criticising ordinary bloggers or commentators who have repeated these claims in good faith (though I do think people like Bob Curran, Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne deserve to be criticised). There is a difference between Cassidy’s supporters and these people. Cassidy’s supporters are championing a hoax which arose because of one man’s arrogance and dishonesty. It was discredited as soon as it came out, and those who support Cassidy have chosen to ignore the facts because of egoism and stupidity. The mess we find in relation to vampirism and Irish folklore comes from lots of different sources. Arguably nobody has deliberately lied about this stuff (with the possible exception of Owen Harding and Bob Curran.) These errors have arisen largely as a result of bad referencing, bad research, bad copying, accuracy slip and certainty creep, extreme gullibility, Chinese whispers and even bad handwriting.

Beware of Fakelore!

We are getting ready for Hallowe’en here. It is one of my favourite festivals of the year. To our Celtic ancestors, it was Samhain, the end of summer, the Celtic New Year. Because the Celts believed in the importance of liminality, of the edges between realities, they believed that this festival night between one year and the next was somehow outside of ordinary time. It was therefore a gateway which allowed worlds to bleed into each other. On this night alone, the dead were able to return to the places they loved in this world.

I love folklore and tradition. I have no problem with traditions that grow and change (ever tried carving a turnip? – believe me, pumpkins are a lot easier and the result is much better!)

Vampires and monsters are fun, and the Irish have given many such stories to the world. Le Fanu and Stoker virtually created the modern vampire tradition, Le Fanu was a major influence on MR James, the greatest ghost-story writer of all time. Even Frankenstein has a brief incident set on the Irish coast.

However, while we should cherish our folklore, we should avoid fakelore. For example, Cassidy himself claimed that the Hoodoo comes from a distinctively Irish supernatural being called the uath dubh. The only problem is that the uath dubh does not exist in Irish folklore. There is no such thing.

Likewise, people like Bob Curran and Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne are responsible for a lot of sloppy research which makes untenable claims about Irish tradition. There is now a sizeable body of material floating around on the internet about the Irish origins of vampire folklore. But when we examine these claims, we find that there is no evidence for any of the paradigm-changing material.

For example, it is claimed that the villain of a County Derry story, Ábhartach, drank blood when he returned from the dead and that he was a described as a neamh-mharbh and as a dearg-diúlaí. Patrick Weston Joyce tells the story in his book but he doesn’t mention blood-drinking or the spurious Irish terms above.

There is also the claim that a book was displayed in Trinity College when Stoker was there containing references to Irish vampirism. In Brian Earls’s sensible and restrained article in the Dublin Review of Books (http://www.drb.ie/essays/blood-relations), this is stated to have been a copy of Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, which has an account of revenants in book one, chapter ten, but the revenants don’t drink blood and are referred to as ‘the dead’ (na mairbh) or ‘bodies’ (coirp). Other accounts claim that the book gives an account of the legend of Ábhartach (which it doesn’t) or that it uses words like neamh-mharbh and dearg-diúlaí (which it doesn’t). The most bizarre version is in an article in Ireland of the Welcomes: “Owen Harding says there was a manuscript published about this legend from an anonymous writer. It was entitled The Abhartach, Dreach-Fhoula. This document was exhibited up till 1868 in none other than Trinity College which Stoker attended. So is it likely that Stoker used this story to base his novel on? Harding believes it is.”

Another weird piece of fakelore is the Dearg-Due, or Dearg-Dul, or Derrick-Dally, or Dearg-Diúlaí (sic). According to some sources, this is an ancient Irish vampire. However, the evidence for any of this is very, very weak. The earliest reference I can find to a dearg-dul is a 1928 book on vampires, Vampires, Their Kith and Kin (later republished as The Vampire in Europe) by a bizarre character called Montague Summers. He certainly mentions the dearg-dul. He says, simply, “In Ancient Ireland the Vampire was known simply as dearg-dul, “red blood sucker”, and his ravages were universally feared.” Another account of this creature is said (by Haining and Tremayne) to be found in the Irish Monthly Review of 1874, but none of those who quote this source has ever actually found the reference or provided any account of what the article says, or even if it exists. It seems to me that this is probably derived from the Irish deargadaol (Devil’s coach-horse), originally known as a darbdael or darb-dóel. In the former spelling, it occurs as early as the Book of Ballymote of 1391. The deargadaol is not red and is not a vampire. In fact, it is black. The word is formed from the two words doirb (a water beetle) and daol (a beetle), and this was later corrupted to Dearg-Daol or Deargadaol. Pádraig Pearse wrote a short story (published in 1916) called An Dearg-Daol, which concerns a woman who has been cursed from the pulpit by a priest for some unknown sin, and who is known as the Dearg-Daol because it is one of the three cursed creatures (the other two are the viper and the wren, presumably because of its propensity for marine pollution ….) I suspect that dearg-due arose from poor handwriting – many people write an l like an e and they are easy to confuse. It also seems to me that forms like Dearg-Diúlaí are attempts to explain this word by people with little or no Irish. They are very improbable. Dearg doesn’t mean blood, and why wouldn’t it be dearg-dhiúlaí (jarrig-yoolee) anyway?

Another problem is the absurd claim that Dracula derives from various ‘Irish’ phrases like Droch-fhoula or Droch-fhola or Dreach-fhola. Droch-fhoula obviously isn’t Irish, because there is no ‘ou’ in Irish orthography. Drochfhola is Irish for ‘of bad blood’ but words in the genitive can’t stand on their own in Irish, so it doesn’t really make sense. The Dreach-fhola is another strange one. Dreach is a masculine noun so it should be Dreach Fola (It is I, Count Draffola??!!) However, this is supposed to be from a lecture delivered by a man called Ó Súilleabháin, the head of the Irish Folklore Commission, who supposedly mentioned a castle called Dún Dreach-Fhola in Magillicuddy’s Reeks inhabited by blood-drinking fairies. But there is no written record of this, not in his writings or anyone else’s. And there is no doubt about the link between Dracula and Transylvania in Bram Stoker’s book.

Please note here that I am not criticising ordinary bloggers or commentators who have repeated these claims in good faith (though I do think people like Bob Curran, Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne deserve to be criticised). There is a difference between Cassidy’s supporters and these people. Cassidy’s supporters are championing a hoax which arose because of one man’s arrogance and dishonesty. It was discredited as soon as it came out, and those who support Cassidy have chosen to ignore the facts because of egoism and stupidity. The mess we find in relation to vampirism and Irish folklore comes from lots of different sources. Arguably nobody has deliberately lied about this stuff (with the possible exception of Owen Harding and Bob Curran.) These errors have arisen largely as a result of bad referencing, bad research, bad copying, accuracy slip and certainty creep, extreme gullibility, Chinese whispers and even bad handwriting.

Bob Curran

I have been reading Jason Colavito’s book Faking History recently (https://www.amazon.com/Faking-History-Jason-Colavito-ebook/dp/B00BYIZEY4). I have enjoyed it greatly, though I do have some minor criticisms. The book is full of trivial 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.

Some Other Oirish Bullshitters

Daniel Cassidy was certainly King of the Irish-American Liars. However, the Irish and people of Irish descent are not averse to making odd claims about the Irish origin of obscure items of vocabulary in English and Cassidy was not alone in this kind of Goropian nonsense. (I’ll explain this reference some other time!)

One of the most bizarre of these claims hit the news in 2006 when headlines appeared in the international press about the Irish origin of the word didgeridoo, which according to a researcher at Flinders University in Australia, Dymphna Lonergan, derives from a phrase meaning ‘black moaner’ – dúdaire dubh. (This is the way it’s defined in some of the online descriptions. Ó Dónaill defines dúdaire as ‘long-necked person, hummer, crooner’).

There is no evidence for this claim, of course and you would have to say that there are plenty of other words or phrases which would be more likely to be used to describe the didgeridoo or the sound it makes. This claim is really quite bizarre, especially as it came from someone who has since become a serious academic (at the time, she was a doctoral candidate). I wonder how she feels about this claim and the publicity it received now?

Then there is the claim made by Gearóid Mac an Bhainisteora, that the word spondulicks comes from the Irish phrase sponc-diúlach, spunk-chap. Like Cassidy’s work this is definitely etymology by sound (which is not sound etymology) and it is hard to see that even in the seedier backstreets of Galway city there would ever have been an automatic semantic link between guys, spunk and money. The mind boggles … However, I should point out that with the exception of this little lapse, Mac an Bhainisteora’s books are actually useful little guides to Irish usage and should be on every Irish learner’s shelves.

And then there is that astonishing claim made by some ‘experts’ that Dracula has no connection with Vlad Dracul but is really from the Irish droch fhoula meaning bad blood. Bram Stoker was from Dublin of course, so that proves it!! (I’m being ironic again.) Of course, droch fhoula doesn’t mean bad blood. ‘Bad blood’ is drochfhuil. Droch fhoula is based on a genitive of drochfhuil, drochfhola. And Dracul is a matter of historical record and Stoker set the origins of his count in the Carpathian Mountains, not Conamara.

Thank God! Can you imagine what Hammer films would have been like had Stoker emphasised an Irish connection? Instead of pubs full of rustics in leather trousers with yokel English accents, it would be red-haired beardy men in Aran sweaters bejabering away as though God were telling them to …

“Oh bejasus, Pat, sure an’ you’re not going out when it’s da full moon, begorrah, and all o’ dem vorgins have been goin’ a-missin’ of late, so dey have …”