It is one of the most famous novels of all time, one which has scared readers and viewers of the many screen and stage interpretations since it was penned in 1897.
What’s not widely known, however, is that Dracula, the story of a Transylvanian vampire who travels to England in search of new blood, was actually partly inspired by the town of Sligo.
Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, was born in Dublin on 8 November, 1847, but his mother, Charlotte Stoker, née Thornley, grew up in Sligo, and stories she told him as a child echo through Stoker’s most famous novel.
Today, to mark Bram Stoker’s birthday, academics and fans of the gothic novel have gathered in Sligo to discuss just 'How Sligo shaped Dracula' at a conference organised by the local Bram Stoker Society.
Historian Dr Marion McGarry has been researching the connections between Dracula and Sligo, and points to a devastating cholera epidemic in the town in 1832, when in just six weeks, an estimated 1,500 townspeople died from the disease.
While Charlotte’s family escaped, Dr McGarry says she was forever haunted by what she witnessed, and in later years wrote a first-hand account of what she witnessed in ‘Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland’.
Charlotte told the young Bram stories of the cholera epidemic, but it seems he later consulted other accounts of the epidemic in Sligo written by local historians William G Wood-Martin and Terence O’Rorke.
According to Dr McGarry, by analysing these sources and cross-referencing the text of Dracula, it is apparent that Count Dracula can be partly read as the personification of Sligo’s cholera epidemic.
The first victim of the cholera epidemic in Sligo died on 11 August. Wood-Martin wrote that this event was preceded by an unusual storm, with ‘thunder and lightning, accompanied by a close, hot atmosphere’.
Dr McGarry says this is mirrored in Dracula, whose arrival from the east is preceded by a great and sudden storm, and he claims his first victim on English soil on 11 August.
Dr McGarry’s research highlights other connections between Dracula and what happened in Sligo in 1832, including real stories of people being buried before they were dead - while in Dracula, there is the concept of the undead, vampires who are living while dead.
It was believed in Sligo during the epidemic that the Catholic clergy were miraculously immune to cholera, and in Dracula, symbols like holy water and the crucifix are used to fight vampirism.