Irish Faerie Folk of Yore and Yesterday: The Dearg-Due
You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” No one wants to be on the receiving end of one of those. People native to our beloved Ireland are probably familiar with the legend of the Dearg-Due. One of the most tragic and frightening cases of “a woman scorned,” her legend is still whispered at grave sites. Rocks are still placed over graves in small towns and hamlets because of her. She is a vampire. Not the first, not the last, but threads of her grim tale have been sewn into the fabric of all vampire myth…perhaps even into the most legendary of all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
While there is no confirmed link, I’d actually like to think that the legend of “Count Dracula” might have, in some small way, stemmed from the myth of the Dearg-Due. Written in 1897 by Abraham (Bram) Stoker, a born and raised Irishman, Dracula, though highly praised by critics, was initially not the overwhelming blockbuster and creator of a multi-million dollar entertainment legacy we know today. Stoker had been studying and researching European folklore for many years prior to the writing of the novel, and of course, legends of Nosferatu and Vlad the Impaler were well-known …and well-feared …through the lands of Transylvania and Romania. As a writer, how could he resist wrapping a horror story around that?
However, in his youth, Bram was a very sickly boy. Bedridden until the age of seven, his time was often filled by stories told to him by his mother, Charlotte. Even though Charlotte was a charity worker by trade, she was also an aspiring writer, so it stands to reason that her imagination and storytelling ability was formidable. Her own childhood was littered with images of the cholera epidemic that ravaged the country in 1832, which no doubt gave her dark stories an even more decidedly morbid edge. Young Bram was enthralled, and his imagination went merrily along with hers.
As natives of folklore-steeped Ireland in the early-to-mid 1800s, survivors of the Irish Potato Famine (and the various assortment of horrors that followed in its wake), I simply must believe that not only was the legend of the Dearg-Due known to the Stokers… but that a fragment of her lore, no matter how small, was imprinted into the pages of Dracula.
Dearg-Due, meaning “red-blood sucker” in Irish (pronounced DAH-ruhg DU-ah / DAH-ruh-guh DU-ah), was not the name of this poor girl in life. In life, over two thousand years ago, she was a legendary beauty, with blood-red lips and pale blonde hair. Her true name has been lost to the ages, overshadowed instead by the thing she became. Men travelled from far and wide, and even from rival clans across the land, to not only look upon her, but to win her hand. Her outward loveliness was said to be only a shadow of that within her. Godly and kind, she was a blessing to all who knew her.
Of course, as fate would have it, this sweet-natured girl fell in love with a local peasant. His name too, has been forgotten, swallowed by legend. He was a true match for her in all things…handsome, kind-hearted…but lacking in the one that meant the most to the fair maiden’s cruel Father: money. Without money, there was no stature in the community, and without stature, there would be no security for the family. That love match would never be allowed to happen.
Instead, the Father gave his child to a vastly older, vastly crueler man, all to secure a name and a fortune for the family. While the Father reveled in his newly acquired riches, he gave not a thought to his poor daughter. She daily suffered terrible mental and physical abuse at the hands of her new “husband.” His particular pleasure was found in drawing blood from her…watching as the deep crimson welled up on her soft, porcelain skin. When she was not being abused, she was kept locked away in a tower cell, so that only her husband could see her…touch her…bleed her. And she waited, in vain, for the day that her former love, the kind peasant boy, would somehow rescue her. That hope kept her alive for many months.
Until, one day, she realized there was no hope. No one would come for her. So she saved herself, the only way she knew how. She committed suicide, it is believed, by secretly disposing of the scraps of food left for her each day. It was a slow, and no doubt painful, death. She is buried in a small churchyard, near “Strongbow’s Tree,” in the County of Waterford, Southeast Ireland.
Some say the months of abuse had broken and twisted her kind spirit, and before she finally breathed her last, she renounced God and vowed a terrible vengeance. For the devout, souls of those who commit suicide are never at rest, regardless; they are, in fact, doomed to walk forever in torment.
Long before this sad tale, folklore in Ireland dictated that you should pile stones on the graves of the newly dead, to prevent them from rising again. Perhaps it was out of sadness and guilt that the townspeople did not pile the stones on her grave that first night. Perhaps they remembered the kind and beautiful soul she was and thought she had suffered enough persecution and defamation. After all, none of them had come to her rescue, despite the fact that they knew her husband was a monster of a man, and none of them had ever seen her again after the day of their marriage.
But alas, they were remembering the person she was, not the creature she became. Her undead corpse rose from the earth the very night she was buried, driven by the half-remembered human visions of her own blood welling on her skin, thirsting for revenge, thirsting for blood in return. She rose that night as the Dearg-Due, “the red-blood drinker,” and thus her legend was born. She steals blood from children, from the innocent, and especially from young men. Calling them with a strange, haunting siren song that invades their sleep, she lures them out into the night with her…tempting them to follow her, to her grave. Punishing them, as she was punished. Keeping them with her, as she herself was kept. Those who go missing, those taken mysteriously ill, those children who die inexplicably, are all attributed to the cursed, wandering, and insatiable Dearg-Due.
While there has never been found a direct connection between Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the legend of the Dearg-Due, perhaps the Dearg-Due herself can be seen reflected in the Brides of Dracula? Perhaps the ill-fated love story in her tale can be seen reflected in later adaptations of the legendary vampire tale? Could even a connection be made between the sadistic, soulless, blood-lusting husband and Count Dracula himself?
As children, we imprint on any number of experiences. Who’s to say that young Bram wasn’t, in fact, influenced by his childhood memories, of outlandish and bizarre Irish folklore and stories …dark, imaginative stories…told to him while in the fog of childhood illness? After all, those Irish folklore tales did blend so well with the European folklore of Nosferatu and Vlad the Implaler…
But you can read and judge for yourself. With so many stories, so many legends, sharing so many commonalities, how did they all come to be? Where there is smoke, is there fire? Where there are vampires, is there the Dearg-Due?
“I was not alone. The room was the same, unchanged in any way since I came into it. I could see along the floor, in the brilliant moonlight, my own footsteps marked where I had disturbed the long accumulation of dust. In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming when I saw them, they threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. I seemed somehow to know her face, and to know it in connection with some dreamy fear, but I could not recollect at the moment how or where. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest someday it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain, but it is the truth. They whispered together, and then they all three laughed, such a silvery, musical laugh, but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips. It was like the intolerable, tingling sweetness of water glasses when played on by a cunning hand. The fair girl shook her head coquettishly, and the other two urged her on…
…I lay quiet, looking out from under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, and sent the same tingling through the nerves as her voice, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood.
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.
But at that instant, another sensation swept through me as quick as lightning. I was conscious of the presence of the Count, and of his being as if lapped in a storm of fury. As my eyes opened involuntarily I saw his strong hand grasp the slender neck of the fair woman and with giant’s power draw it back, the blue eyes transformed with fury, the white teeth champing with rage, and the fair cheeks blazing red with passion. But the Count! Never did I imagine such wrath and fury, even to the demons of the pit. His eyes were positively blazing. The red light in them was lurid, as if the flames of hell fire blazed behind them. His face was deathly pale, and the lines of it were hard like drawn wires. The thick eyebrows that met over the nose now seemed like a heaving bar of white-hot metal. With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the woman from him, and then motioned to the others, as though he were beating them back. It was the same imperious gesture that I had seen used to the wolves. In a voice which, though low and almost in a whisper seemed to cut through the air and then ring in the room he said,
‘How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me.’
The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him. ‘You yourself never loved. You never love!’ On this the other women joined, and such a mirthless, hard, soulless laughter rang through the room that it almost made me faint to hear. It seemed like the pleasure of fiends.
Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper, ‘Yes, I too can love. You yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so? Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will. Now go! Go! I must awaken him, for there is work to be done.’
‘Are we to have nothing tonight?’ said one of them, with a low laugh, as she pointed to the bag which he had thrown upon the floor, and which moved as though there were some living thing within it. For answer he nodded his head. One of the women jumped forward and opened it. If my ears did not deceive me there was a gasp and a low wail, as of a half smothered child. The women closed round, whilst I was aghast with horror. But as I looked, they disappeared, and with them the dreadful bag. There was no door near them, and they could not have passed me without my noticing. They simply seemed to fade into the rays of the moonlight and pass out through the window, for I could see outside the dim, shadowy forms for a moment before they entirely faded away.
Then the horror overcame me, and I sank down unconscious.”
~ from Bram Stoker’s Dracula
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Misty Night Moon
Bram Stoker: Dacre Stoker