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Belfast writer who dug up Dracula’s Irish roots

A Belfast-born author is returning to his native city next month to speak of his vampire-hunting adventures in Transylvania — and a new theory that links how the dastardly Dracula got his name to the Irish language.

Sean Hillen, a Ballymurphy writer, has been invited to the West Belfast Festival to speak about the years he has spent in Romania and its northern region of Transylvania researching a book on the terrifying legend of Dracula.

The former Belfast Telegraph journalist believes he has hit upon the “true Celtic roots” of the infamous Count while writing a travel book with a twist called Digging for Dracula.

For he believes that the vampire’s name does not come from the Romanian for dragon or blood, as suspected, but from the Celtic phrase ‘droch fhola’ (pronounced ‘druc ula’) meaning ‘bad blood’.

Mr Hillen became interested in Dracula, made famous by Irish writer Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, after writing a series of articles for the Irish Times and The Times in London as a foreign correspondent.

“Many theories have been put forward as to why Stoker named his vampire Dracula and why he set the novel in Transylvania, a place he had never been to,” Mr Hillen said.

“The reason could literally be coined in a single phrase — ‘Celtic Cultural Connections’.

“Many literary and historical researchers say the character was modelled after Vlad Tepes, a medieval warlord who belonged to a special organisation called the Order of the Dragon (or Devil) or ‘Drac’ in Romanian.

“However, the phrase ‘droch fhola’ meaning ‘bad blood’ is a phrase that was probably used by the Celtic tribes as they moved through Transylvania northwards ending up in Ireland. Having researched his life and followed his footsteps from Dublin to London and beyond, I can certainly say that his imagination was lively enough to have thought of this.”

Mr Hillen will be speaking at the festival on the subjects of Transylvania, Stoker and vampires on Monday August 3, at 7pm in the upstairs conference room of Falls Road Library.

Speaking about how he came to write the book, Mr Hillen said: “Usually foreign correspondents cover political news or disasters so you can imagine my surprise when The Times news desk called me and asked me to cover the first ever World Congress of Dracula in Bucharest.

“At first, I thought they were joking but they sent me a faxed invitation and off I went to join several hundred vampirologists on a bizarre search through Romania to some of Dracula’s favourite haunts looking for clues. There were quite a few idiosyncratic people from all walks of life — professors, psychologists, writers, historians, even doctors, from many countries — Japan, France Canada, Germany and more.

“Some had their teeth artificially sharpened and some slept in coffins. One man offered $10,000 (£6,062) for anyone who could bring him a vampire. He had medical personnel in central California ready to verify the find.”

The Belfast man even spent a night in the ruins of Dracula’s castle near the village of Poenaru.

“I was bitten by spiders but fortunately nothing else,” he said.

And he’s also travelled to Hollywood to visit some of the leading actors and actresses who have played key roles in vampire movies and met with well-known vampire writer Anne Rice in New Orleans.

For more information on Mr Hillen’s talk, log on to www.feilebelfast.com. Entry is free.

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