Historian Fiona Fitzsimons has been tracing the roots of Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. And it seems it was a cultured but brutal figure in Bram Stocker’s past that was the inspiration for the Dracula we know today.

Genealogy website findmypast.ie has conducted research on Bram Stoker’s family tree which sheds new light on how he created the gothic horrors of Dracula. Count Dracula, the Transylvanian nobleman and daddy of all vampires, is now thought to be inspired by a historical Irish figure, rather than Transylvanian. This is according to new research by the family historian who previously traced Barack Obama’s Irish roots, Fiona Fitzsimons.

Dracula is the title character of the 1897 Gothic horror novel by Bram Stoker, the Irish writer who died 100 years ago, on April 20, 1912. Many historians have wondered how Stoker, a one-time Dublin civil servant and chum of Oscar Wilde came to imagine the gothic horrors of Dracula. But now, new research into Stoker’s family tree provides the answer.

Bram Stoker turns out to have been of an old family with a glorious history. His direct ancestor, Manus “The Magnificent” O’Donnell, once ruled much of Ireland and led a rebellion against Henry VIII. Through his maternal line, Bram Stoker is a direct descendant of Manus O’Donnell (Manus ‘the Magnificent’), Lord of Tír Conaill, who died in 1563. The O’Donnell lords were one of the oldest recorded lineages in Ireland. This makes Bram Stoker one of the very few Irish people who can trace their family history back over 1000 years.

So who was this Manus ‘The Magnificent’ O’Donnell, who is thought to inspire the world-famous Dracula? He gets a good few mentions in history: as a flamboyant character known for his dramatic clothing and appreciation of art and culture. His clothing is described by St. Leger in a despatch to Henry VIII.: “He was in a cote of crymoisin velvet, with agglettes of gold, twenty or thirty payer; over that a greate doble cloke of right crymoisin saten, garded with blacke velvet; a bonette, with a fether, sette full of agglettes of gold.”

Manus ‘The Magnificent’ lived in a castle called “Portnatrynod” near Strabane, perhaps not unlike the castle built by Count Dracula. He was also a poet and many of his poems, written in Irish, still survive. Manus is known as one of Ireland’s leading political figures of the time. He was also well known in Britain and in mainland Europe. He is described in The Annals of the Four Masters as “a learned man, skilled in many arts, gifted with a profound intellect, and the knowledge of every science.” But he was also a brutal warlord. He ruled over the O’Donnells during the most bitter and protracted feuds between his clan and the O’Neills, which in 1491 led to a war lasting decades. There was great bloodshed during this time, and war was brutal and ghastly. It was one of the bloodiest ever battles between clans, and the grisly activities raged on endlessly.

Manus O’Donnell, though a fierce and bloodthirsty warrior, was hospitable and generous to the poor and the Church. In his later years Manus was troubled by quarrels between his sons Calvagh and Hugh MacManus; in 1555 he was imprisoned by his own son Calvagh, who deposed him from all authority in Tyrconnell, and he died in 1564.

So let’s compare this to the figure of Dracula. The tale begins with Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified English solicitor, visiting Count Dracula in the Carpathian Mountains on the border of Transylvania, Bukovina, and Moldavia. At first enticed by Dracula’s gracious manners, Harker soon realises that he is Dracula’s prisoner. The original final chapter of Dracula was removed, but in it, Dracula’s castle falls apart as he dies.

The comparison between Manus ‘The Magnificent’ and Count Dracula is an easy one to make. “We have discovered that Bram Stoker could trace his own direct family line back almost 1,000 years,” said Fitzsimons. In short, his own lineage turns out to have been remarkably similar to Dracula’s. “Stoker did not use overtly Irish references in Dracula, but his main theme is taken from Irish history – the history, we now learn, of his own family – recast in the writer’s imagination.”

Fitzsimons believes the true inspiration for Dracula was Manus the Magnificent, Stoker’s direct ancestor. He was a feudal leader with great power over much of the country and his heroics in gory battle are just as likely an inspiration for Dracula as any historical figure.

Want to research your own family history? Click here.


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