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How Irish was Bram Stoker's Dracula?

An entertaining case for a green-isled monster.

Was Dracula Irish?
Radio 4

A great programme about the possible origins of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (8 October, 4pm) had the presenter and novelist Patrick McCabe revelling in the evidence that the Dublin-born Stoker was decisively influenced by Irish folklore. He amassed a mountain of evidence against the idea that the count could have been from anywhere but Sligo.

McCabe talked dramatically about a deformed fifth-century Irish chieftain who rose from the dead several times only to demand the blood of his people, until he was eventually buried upside down under a heavy stone after being pierced with a sword made of yew. “Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace, and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told,” murmured McCabe, before hurrying to interview an expert in the grounds of Dublin Castle where
Stoker worked for years as a civil servant and where, we were told, the heads of unfortunates had been impaled on spikes in the 15th century.

In the grounds of a church nearby, the Stoker family had a vault full of skeletons going back 800 years, a place where Bram would play as a child (here members of the public could be heard giggling delightedly as they were exhorted to ignore any protruding bony fingers). “Is Dracula English? Is he Irish? Or is he the greatest and most puzzling internationalist of all time?” McCabe wondered.

We didn’t really get to the bottom of any of it – this was the definition of the kind of “who knows?” doc, so beloved of Radio 4 – but, endearingly, McCabe asked questions continually. “Where did it come from?”; “Who was he?”; “Could this be true?” And each question was voiced as though he, like the poor Jonathan Harker himself, were sweating in the back of a mountain-bound carriage, the pelts slung across the seats giving off a sour odour as he considered various omens, arguments and vast horrors.

This was presenting at its keenest, but it fell on the right side of play-acting. “I find myself quite mesmerised by my literary quest,” Mc- Cabe said at one point, the emphasis on “-ised”, like Bob Dylan recalling, with an agonised thrill, some abiding adolescent passion.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, India special