The Story of King Abhartach The Undead

Stories of terrifying creatures are found in the folklore of most countries. Some of these creatures are similar throughout different cultures – none more so than the vampire. 

Although the vampire has taken on many forms throughout the centuries, especially with the influence of pop culture, the vampire has given birth to numerous stories of terror. 

This telling of a tale was penned by the famed Irish historian Patrick Weston Joyce in 1869, in the book which was entitled The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places.

The Origins of King Abhartach

The story of King Abhartach takes us to Ireland, to the lands that run between Dungiven and Garvagh, in the glen of the eagle. It’s there, that stands a monument of the Abhartach.

The name of king Abhartach suggests that he was of small stature, or even a dwarf. The reasons for his stature were unknown, but as all great leaders had to be, he was strong and courageous. 

Patrick Weston Joyce describes the place: ‘ There is a place in the parish of Errigal in Derry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach or dwarf.’

Despite his abilities as a warrior however, he was an evil man. A renowned wizard who became feared and resented by his own people, as well as the neighbouring clans. He was a wizard who used his magical gifts to carry out evil deeds. 

The Death of King Abhartach

King Abhartach was a jealous man, and held the suspicion that his wife was committing adultery. With his suspicions raised, he decided to spy on her. After trying to follow her one night, by climbing out of his castle window undetected, he slipped, and fell to his death. 

When morning came, his body was found by his unsympathetic clansman. They buried him hastily, in an upright position suitable for a man of his status. This wouldn’t be the last time they would see the Abhartach however. 

The Abhartach suddenly appeared the following day demanding bowls of his peoples’ blood, which was to be drained from their freshly slit wrists. In sheer terror, the people began to donate their blood to the former king, but as some remained unwilling, they turned instead to a neighbouring chieftain and asked him to rid them of the Abhartach. 

The local chieftain, Cathán, obliged. He waited for the perfect opportunity, and seized the moment. He successfully killed the Abhartach, and once again had him buried in an upright position. 

Contrary to what common folklore tells us, the Abhartach wasn’t impaled with a wooden stake, and once again, he rose from the grave. He found his way back to his clan members, and again demanded their fresh blood for his nourishment. 

Cathán once again came to the clan’s rescue, only for the same exact thing to happen a third time. He was again demanding blood from the local people, and Cathán was left in bewilderment. Out of ideas, Cathán turned to saint Eoghan for help. 

[In earlier accounts of the story, Cathán consults a Druid, not an early Christian Saint]

Keeping King Abhartach In The Grave 

The local saint, Eoghan, listened to the story of the Abhartach, and took it upon himself to pray to God for deliverance. Eoghan had told Cathán that the Abhartach was already dead, and so could not be killed again. 

In order to prevent the already dead king from continuously rising from the grave, Eoghan suggested that the heart of the Abhartach should be impaled with a sword made from the yew tree. After this, Eoghan told Cathán to bury the body of the old king upside down, and have him covered with ash branches and thorns. A large, hefty stone slab was then used to cover the grave, preventing the old king from being able to move it, should he still manage to break free. 

The stone slab that is said to cover the grave of the Abhartach still remains as a monument to the story of irish folklore. People have reportedly had bad experiences at the site, and many more refuse to visit.

The Final Telling by Bob Curran

Bob Curran was a lecturer in Celtic history and folklore at the University of Ulster, and has been attributed with the final, modern retelling of the story. 

Curran claims the real ‘Castle Dracula’ can be found between the towns of Garvagh and Dungiven. 

On what now seems like a small hill, Curran claims that the 5th or 6th-century Abhartach had once lived. 

In Currans’ retelling, the Abhartach was killed because his people feared his magic, so they went to a local chieftain to have him slain. 

Though modern stories of vampires are widely varied, they all borrow from the tales of old, with Bram Stoker’s Dracula becoming the most iconic, and widely read.