Sunday 17 November 2019

Making town a 'Dracula destination'

Dacre Stoker signs the visitors book at City Hall last Wednesday, accompanied by Cathaoirleach Councillor Tom MacSharry
Dacre Stoker signs the visitors book at City Hall last Wednesday, accompanied by Cathaoirleach Councillor Tom MacSharry

'It's only by raising awareness that we can make Sligo a Dracula destination for tourism," said historian Dr. Fiona Gallagher at last Wednesday's civic reception for Dacre Stoker, great grand-nephew of author Bram Stoker.

Dr. Gallagher's has conducted a huge amount of research into the cholera epidemic of 1832.

She says there are plans to introduce more storyboards around important locations that have a connection to Bram Stoker.

"Our plan is to roll out more of these signs across key locations in town and all these key locations played a part in the cholera story and the account of Charlotte Thornley.

"What we must remember is that Charlotte Thornley's account is in many ways more horrific than fiction. In a six week period in 1832, between 700 and 1000 people died in many cases horrific deaths.

"They were largely forgotten until in 2007 when the County Sligo Famine Memorial Committee had some money left over from the famine tree and decided to put a plaque at Sligo hospital.

"That's where most of the victims were buried. Those who weren't buried at St. John's or the abbey were buried in the cholera trench behind the hospital. There's at least 500 people buried there."

She recited part of the account of Charlotte Thornley, the mother of Bram Stoker, who witnessed that cholera epidemic as a teenager.

'By twos and threes our dead neighbours were carried away. On the ninth day, of the contagion, four were carried out in one day. Our neighbours on both sides die. On one side a little girl called Mary Sheridan was left alone, sick. We could hear her crying. I begged my mother to help her. She let me go but with many tears. Mary died in my arms after an hour. I then returned home to be well fumigated.'

Cathaoirleach Councillor Tom MacSharry said: "It is appropriate that we are hosting guests from the Stoker Society in the lead up to Halloween, as his novel written 120 years ago retains the power to enthral and excite a new generation of readers.

"Stoker's legacy is claimed with equal conviction by Dublin and Sligo, a situation that is not unique in Irish literature.

"We are delighted to welcome Dacre on his first visit to Sligo. We are proud of the historical association with your family and we are hopeful that ongoing research will continue to offer new perspectives on Sligo's importance to one of the most famous books in Irish literature."

The civic reception at City Hall followed the visit to St. John's cathedral. Dacre then visited Sligo Library on Wednesday evening where he read from Dracul, which he co-authored with J.D. Barker. Dr. Gallagher also conducted a Q&A, and Anna Houston and Niamh Crowley provided the music.

Sligo Champion