The oldest known recorded vampire story in Western Europe comes from ancient Celtic lore and took place in the rural parish of Glenullin, in the town of Slaughtaverty, Ireland (see ALNWICK CASTLE). It is the tale of the merciless tyrant and powerful sorcerer, Abhartach. Traditionally, he is described as being a short man, a dwarf in many tellings, and having a physical deformity.
The story goes that one night Abhartach, a jealous and suspicious man, convinced himself that his wife was being unfaithful to him. Unwilling to confront her directly and wanting to catch her in the act of adultery, he climbed out of a window and crept along the ledge toward his wife’s bedroom. Before he could clear the distance and have a peek into his wife’s room, he slipped and fell to his death. Abhartach’s body was discovered in the morning and the people of the town buried him as if he were a king, standing upright in his grave.
The day after his funeral, Abhartach returned to Slaughtaverty demanding that each person cut their wrist and bleed into his bowl daily in order to sustain his life. His people complied—they were too terrified of Abhartach to oppose his will while he was alive, so they certainly did not want to do anything that would further upset him now that he was dead. However, it did not take them long to decide that they were unwilling to live under the tyranny of such an obvious REVENANT, so the citizenry hired an assassin to kill him. Although the attempt was initially successful, Abhartach returned, demanding his daily allotment of blood. Undeterred, another assassin was hired, but with the same results. After several more failed assassination attempts, a druid came for-ward and promised that he could free them from the creature, Abhartach, once and for all. The druid explained that because of the nature of the magic that was used to return the tyrant combined with the type of creature that he became, a murbhheo (ancient Gaelic for vampire), their evil ruler could not be permanently destroyed, only trapped. The druid, using a sword made of yew wood, ran Abhartach through and while he was in a weakened state, he was buried upside down in a grave that was then covered with ash branches, thorns, and a large boulder.
In the town of Slaughtaverty (the name means “Abhartach’s Grave”) to this day Abhartach will attack anyone who comes too near his grave site, as he is unable to fully escape it. Next to the boulder that helps imprison him, a large thorn tree now grows out of the burial site, pinning him to the earth.
- Borlase, The Dolmens of Ireland, 825
- Cork Historical Society, Journal of the Cork Historical, 350
- Harris, Folklore and the Fantastic, 135
- Hayward, In Praise of Ulster, 263
- Mac Killop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 1
- Russo, Vampire Nation, 38