Sunday 17 November 2019

'No doubt' about Sligo links to Dracula, says Stoker relative

Some of the group who attended the reception at City Hall, including Dacre Stoker, great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker (front, centre right)
Some of the group who attended the reception at City Hall, including Dacre Stoker, great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker (front, centre right)

Jessica Farry

The great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker believes that there is no doubt that the author's writing was inspired by his mother Charlotte's stories from Sligo of the cholera epidemic of the 1830s.

Dacre Stoker, now an author in his own right, visited Sligo last week for the first time to see his family's roots. Bram's mother, Charlotte Thornley, was a Sligo native.

Dacre says it is almost certain that Charlotte's stories of premature burials, death, and illness inspired Bram's most famous novel 'Dracula'.

He said: "When Bram was a young man and he was beginning his writing career, his mother and father and two sisters had moved continent. We have a record of Bram actually asking for that story to be typed up and mailed to him. He took that and used that in his book of short stories, 'Under the Sunset', horror stories for children. We know beyond reasonable doubt that that story had a major impact on Bram."

He believes that Bram kept his mother's stories in the back of his mind, because he as a youngster suffered a lengthy period of illness, and perhaps feared that he too would be misdiagnosed and prematurely buried.

Whitby Abbey in the UK is said to have also inspired Bram Stoker when he wrote 'Dracula'. Although unable to visit Sligo Abbey during his visit to Sligo, Dacre says that there are similarities between Sligo Abbey and Whitby.

"Even when you read Dracula, Whitby Abbey is not really mentioned. It's an atmosphere that Bram took advantage of and placed that story in Whitby because of many things in Whitby's feel and vibe. What's stronger is the association to the story of Charlotte growing up here and the direct connection between her telling him the story of the 1832 cholera epidemic, him asking for it to be typed up and then sent back to him years later.

"There's no question that had something to do with him thinking of undead bodies, misdiagnosis, premature burial, all ties in together," he told The Sligo Champion.

Finally getting to visit Sligo, the home of his relatives, was a 'relief' he said.

"I've come to Dublin, I've come to Killarney where the other part of my family is from.

"Finally coming to Sligo is this relief that I can finally tick off the box, I wouldn't say I've finished the trail of Bram's mother and her family but I'm getting closer and this is an imortant step. I'm loving it and I'm so glad I finally made it."

Dacre said he was aware of the huge work done by the Stoker Society Sligo, but was not fully aware of how much work they have done.

During his visit, he met many members of the society and learned of the research carried out by Dr. Fiona Gallagher, and Dr. Marion McGarry.

"I knew a little bit because of social media and I knew what Marion had done with the Stoker Sligo society. I didn't know much about Fiona's work but now I've met them all, there's great synergy of local interest and expertise that are bringing to the forefront.

"Now that I see the County Council is behind these signs, and the church where the tomb is, it seems to be a group of people very interested in highlighting this. I had a little idea but not nearly as much as now that I'm finally here to see it. Nothing tells the story as much as being there and seeing it."

Dacre unveiled a new storyboard at St. John's Cathedral, where members of Charlotte Thornley's family, including her mother, are buried.

He also laid a wreath at the family tomb in what was an emotional experience for him.

"There was a lot of people that showed up at St. John's Church, a lot of parishioners who came out of interest but there's a wonderful sign that I unveiled. That's important too.

"Even though there may be talk of this in the town, there needs to be physical markers and to see the sign on the side of the building next to where they think Charlotte's family lived and to have these storyboards where people can go and take a picture.

"It's important. The internet is wonderful but it's fleeting. Permanent markers are important.

"When the nerves calm down and you're finally here, this is part of your family. When you sort of look at this and go 'if she (Charlotte's mother) wasn't here I wouldn't be here'. It is emotional. It's a wonderful thing and it's really nice that she's being well looked after and the grave is well maintained and other people care about it even though the family is long gone."

Dacre feels that there is plenty that can be done with the Stoker connection to boost tourism in Sligo.

"There's a number of things that come to mind. Dublin started a full on festival which stimulates other people to do art, music, short plays. I know somebody in Ballyhsnanon did a play that had to do with it. I know there's some interest. I know if there could be a festival, more of these signboards put up, if you build it they will come."

"You need physical things. You need a tourist to look on the internet and say 'let's go to Sligo, let's take this tour and what else is here?'.

"If you don't have a festival or something else organised then you can just read about it on the internet, you don't have to come."

Storyboards have also been erected at Sligo Abbey, the library and more.

Sligo Champion