Liamy Mac Nally
Newport has a new claim to fame - Dracula! Henry VIII is also in there as is the well-documented ‘Cathach’ of St Columcille! It has emerged that Bram Stoker, the writer of the most feared and famous vampire, had close family connections with the newly-crowned Greenway Capital.
Bram Stoker, born in 1847 in Clontarf, Dublin, is back in the news with the centenery of his death in April. Fiona Fitzsimons, Helen Moss and Jennifer Doyle, researchers with Eneclann, a Trinity College Campus Company, have produced amazing research on his maternal Mayo ancestry in the Irish Roots (2012 No 2) magazine, brought to my attention by Tom Staunton, Rosduane. (See www.irishrootsmedia.com and www.eneclann.ie for further details.)
Bram Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Matilda Blake Thornley (from Ballyshannon, Co Donegal) inherited lands at Garracloon, Cong through her mother, Matilda Blake, who was a daughter of Richard Blake and Eliza O’Donnell. The O’Donnell family in question is associated with Newport House.
The Blakes (a Galway tribe) have documented history from circa 1300AD with Bram’s great-uncle, General George Blake, listed as a rebel Irish leader during the 1798 Rebellion. A former British Army officer who served in the West Indies, Blake fought alongside General Humbert in Ballinamuck, Co Longford and was hanged for treason afterwards.
The O’Donnell lineage can be traced back to the main O’Donnell family, Lords and Earls of Tír Conaill. The Eneclann researchers have traced the family of Bram Stoker for twelve generations from 1563 with the death of Manus O’Donnell, ‘Manus the Magnificent, a warrior lord who led the Geraldine league in revolt against Henry VIII.’ With this O’Donnell link the lineage can be further traced back to St Columcille and 561AD.
The Cathach is reputed to be a manuscript (in Latin) written by St Columcille containing Psalms 30:10 to 105:13. It was called a ‘Cathach’ or ‘Battler’ because the O’Donnells carried it into battle. Cathbarr Ó’Domhnaill (d.1106) had a “case or shrine of silver, overlaid in parts with gold,” made for the Cathach, with the present lid from the 14th century, according to Pádraig Ó’Móráin in his history of Burrishoole.
The Cathach was taken to France in 1691 and returned to the O’Donnells in Newport in 1802. In 1843 the Psalter was deposited with the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). Media fanfare followed that St Columcille’s relics had been deposited after 1,300 years in the care of the O’Donnells. The family and their relatives, including the Stoker family, were treated as heroes. The Psalter manuscript is still in the RIA while the Book Shrine which held the manuscript is in the National Museum.
Bram Stoker’s great-grandmother, Eliza O’Donnell (Newport) was a close cousin of Sir Neal O’Donnell who deposited the relics in the RIA in 1843. Four years later, Bram Stoker was born. His mother, Charlotte, would have been acutely aware of the family history and their links with the Cathach, the earliest surviving Irish manuscript. Bram spent the first seven years of his life mostly confined to bed, listening to stories of Irish history and folklore from his mother. One wonders how his mind absorbed the exploits of his ancestors.
Did Bram Stoker walk in his mind’s eye with Columcille, also known as Columba, who was born in 521 in Gartan, Donegal? The saint was fostered to St Finnian, became a monk at Glasnevin under St Mobhí (as in Kilmovee) and ordained. He founded many monsteries, including Durrow, Derry and Kells.
In 563, with 12 companions, St Columcille, the patron saint of poets, crossed the Irish Sea to the Scottish island of Iona. This became the heart and soul of Celtic Christianity. St Columcille is credited with anointing King Aidan of Argyll on the famous Stone of Scone (Lia Fáil), held in Westminster Abbey before its return to Edinburgh Castle in 1996.
The saint is described by St Adamnan, his biographer: “He had the face of an angel; he was of an excellent nature, polished in speech, holy in deed, great in counsel... loving unto all.”
The researchers at Eneclann claim that the family history, previously unknown, provides a new context to interpret the text of Dracula. “Instead of trying to “shoe-horn” the story of Dracula into a metaphor for sexual repression or sexual deviancy, which are the main current interpretations, the new information we provide allows the text to be read as Stoker originally intended - i.e. Dracula is the story of a decayed aristocracy, with a glorious warrior past, bypassed by history, which now survives hiding in the shadows.”
“Alone with none but Thee, my God,
I journey on my way;
What need I fear when Thou art near,
Oh King of night and day?
More safe am I within Thy hand
Than if a host did round me stand.”
Attributed to St Columcille.