Wednesday 21 November 2018

Dracula's Dublin: 10 terrifying tips for Bram Stoker's city

Pól Ó Conghaile sinks his teeth into Bram Stoker's Dublin with a macabre map of the city

The Bram Stoker festival kicked off last night
The Bram Stoker festival kicked off last night
Bram Stoker (1845 - 1912) wrote the classic horror story 'Dracula' in 1897. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Get spooked at the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin Castle
Dublin Ghostbus Tour
The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin (Photo: Fáilte Ireland)
Dublin's Westin Hotel does a 'digital detox' package
Marsh's Library, Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Dublin Castle. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
The Famine memorial sculpture near the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Bray & Greystones Cliff Walk. Photo: Fáílte Ireland
Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Did you know Dracula's author grew up Dublin? Or that he lived here for most of his young life? It's the perfect excuse for a Halloween-themed hop around the city...

Bram Stoker Festival

This year's Bram Stoker Festival takes place from October 26-29, celebrating the life and legacy of the horror novelist and his masterpiece, 'Dracula'.

Highlights? ‘Creature Features’ sees Arachnaphobia, Little Shop of Horrors and Invasion of the Body Snatchers screening at the National Botanic Gardens, for example, while Victorian theme park ‘Stokerland’ returns to St Patrick’s Park, and a Macnas Parade leaves Moore Street at 7pm on October 28.

It's a perfectly horrid precursor to Halloween, albeit one suitable for all ages, interests and scare levels.

Details: bramstokerfestival.com.

More: Halloween Hotlist 2018: Six spook-tacular things to do in Ireland

15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf

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Bram Stoker (1845 - 1912) wrote the classic horror story 'Dracula' in 1897. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bram Stoker was born at 15 Marino Crescent in 1847, to Abraham Stoker and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley. He was the third of seven children, and spent the first seven years of his life in bed due to a mystery sickness.

Stoker spent two years at the house, a three-storey affair set on a leafy Georgian crescent overlooking Bram Stoker Park and Dublin Bay (it is privately-owned).

"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," he would write.

During these early years, could his mother have begun passing on stories of cholera victims buried in her native Sligo? It's tempting to think so...

Details: The Crescent is a short walk from Clontarf Dart Station.

More: 10 of the world's scariest travel destinations for Halloween

Marsh's Library, St Patrick's Close

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Marsh's Library, Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Bram Stoker was a regular visitor to Archbishop Marsh's famous library... a brilliantly fusty hideaway right around the corner from St Patrick's Cathedral.

In truth, even if Stoker had never darkened its door, Marsh's Library should be on any ghost-hunter's itinerary. It's not only home to the death mask of Jonathan Swift, but the ghost of Archbishop Marsh himself.

Oh, and see if you can spot the bullet holes from 1916...

Details: marshlibrary.ie; €3pp.

More: Loftus Hall: Ireland's most haunted house celebrates 666th anniversary

Dublin Castle

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Dublin Castle. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Abraham Stoker's first published book was rather less sensational than Dracula, though perhaps a little horrifying in its own way -The Duties of Clerks of the Petty Sessions of Ireland.

The guide was based on his experience as a civil servant working in Dublin Castle. According to the castle's website, Stoker began work there in August 1871, following in the footsteps of his father, and later becoming Inspector of Petty Sessions.

Later, while still working at the castle, Stoker published his debut short story, The Crystal Cup. He eventually moved to London in 1878.

Details: dublincastle.ie; self-guided entry from €7, guided tours including the State Apartments, Viking Excavation and the Chapel Royal cost €10pp.

Dublin Ghostbus Tour

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Dublin Ghostbus Tour

What could trump a tour of Dublin's most haunted nooks and crannies? A tour onboard the macabre mobile theatre that is Dublin's Ghostbus, that's what.

Step into the curtained saloon upstairs and you'll embark on a two-hour jaunt through a parallel universe of felons, fiends and phantoms, with actors spinning yarns along the way.

Stops include St Kevin's graveyard, the candlelit crypt of Christchurch Cathedral and, naturally, several sites associated with Dracula's creator.

The Ghostbus passes Trinity College, where Stoker studied, the house where he lived at 30 Kildare Street, and the Shelbourne Hotel, where he met Henry Irving, the man who invited him to manage the Lyceum Theatre in London, where he went on to pen 'Dracula'.

Details: €28 (not suitable for children under 14); ghostbus.ie

More: A Scare at Bedtime: Airbnb's seven most haunted homes

The Old Ballybough Cemetery, Fairview

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Get spooked at the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin Castle

Could Dracula have had a stake in Ballybough?

Stoker grew up nearby, and fans say he's likely to have visited a former cemetery in the area known for its 'suicide plot'.

In this unconsecrated patch, robbers and highwaymen were interred along with those who had died by suicide, and wooden stakes are said to have been driven through their hearts, to prevent their spirits from wandering.

Readers don't have to look far to find a similar device in 'Dracula' and other vampire lore, though you'll have more trouble finding the cemetery. It has long since disappeared.

Details: The 51A and 123 buses stop at Clonliffe Road.

Trinity College, Dublin

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The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin (Photo: Fáilte Ireland)

Trinity was Bram Stoker's alma mater, and, by all accounts, he sank his teeth into college life.

During his time at Trinity (1864-1870), Stoker served as Auditor of the Historical Society and President of the Philosophical Society - at one point proposing fellow writer, Oscar Wilde, for membership.

Several years ago, a centenary conference took place at the author's old haunting ground, with speakers including his great-grandnephew, Dacre Stoker.

Visitors can enter Trinity's campus freely, though you may be spooked by the €11 fee to visit the Old Library and Book of Kells.

The creepiness quotient rises by night, when clip-clopping footsteps echo over the college cobblestones.

Details: €11-€14 (Old Library/Book of Kells; kids free). See tcd.ie/visitors.

'Famine', Custom House Quay

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The Famine memorial sculpture near the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The haunting bronze figures depicted in Rowan Gillespie's 'Famine' are as close as contemporary Dublin gets to the walking dead.

Though a relatively recent addition, the staggering figures commemorate a tragedy Stoker would have been deeply aware of, having been born in Black '47.

Something else Stoker may have drawn on were Ireland's 19th-century cholera outbreaks. His mother told her young boy stories of 'the walking dead' and victims buried alive, along with old Irish legends of wandering spectres possessed of 'bad blood' or 'droch fhola'.

Hints of 'Dracula', anyone?

Details: Custom House Quay. See rowangillespie.com.

Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street

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Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street

Both of Bram Stoker's brothers trained at Dublin's Royal College of Physicians, the oldest surviving medical institution in the country.

Its Kildare Street building was refurbished in 2005, and tours are available by appointment with the Heritage Centre. Weddings, meetings, lunches and celebrations can also be held in the venue.

Ghost tours sometimes stop outside No 6 Kildare Street, a spokesperson for Dublin Ghostbus told me some years ago, because it was here that Dr Samuel Clossey is alleged to have dissected cadavers supplied by grave robbers.

Today, does the doctor's spirit still wander the corridors?

"I'm sorry to say the ghost story is not true," a college archivist told me. "There certainly was a tradition of doctors digging up graves, but this ended with the Anatomy Act in the 1830s, and the RCPI building wasn't built until the 1860s.

"Samuel Clossey died in 1786, so it seems unlikely that he would choose to haunt a building that wasn't built for another 80 years."

Details: rcpi.ie; heritagecentre@rcpi.ie.

Greystones, Co. Wicklow

Okay, so Greystones is almost an hour (by southbound Dart) from Dublin. Dracula thought nothing of making journeys, however, so why should we?

"The nets as they rise from the water are starred with phosphorescent lights," Stoker wrote on a visit in August 1871.

"As the ends of the net come nearer and the lead line comes up upon the beach, the fishes are seen struggling in the net and show their white bellies."

Stoker's 'Lost Journal', covering 1871-1881, was published together with annotations by Professor Elizabeth Miller and the author's great grandnephew, Dacre (Robson Press).

The above passage is "a first attempt by Bram at writing descriptive prose in a seaside town called Greystones", Dacre told 'Weekend' Magazine some years ago.

"We didn't realise that he went there quite frequently and we could surmise that it was just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, for fresh air."

Details: Greystones Dart Station. See bramstokerestate.com.

NB: This story has been updated.

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