It can’t be denied that, purchase throughout history, physician Irish authors have had a certain affinity with the Gothic tradition. After all, cheap when an Irishman invented Dracula, the single most well-known literary vampire (barring maybe Edward Cullen), we do have a certain claim to the genre.
This Gothic tradition goes back much further than Bram Stoker, of course, even if it was not necessarily identified as such at the time. Ireland has a rich history of spooky and sometimes downright terrifying fairytales, myths, and ghost stories that have helped shape Gothic literature. Banshees, witches, fairies, shape-shifters, and changelings have all been key elements of Irish folklore for hundreds of years. Even vampires, in the form of the Dearg Due have haunted Irish myths for just as long, if not longer than, their Transylvanian friends.
These Celtic myths are well known for not being typical “fairy-tales”. There are no princes, no shining knights on white horses, and few happy endings. Think of “Deirdre of the Sorrows” or “The Children of Lir”, or even some of the darker Cúchulainn legends, and you can see where Dracula or Elizabeth Bowen’s ghost stories found their inspiration.
As is often the case in Ireland, we have the Catholic Church to thank for our Gothic literature. Though the connection between Catholicism and the Gothic is nothing new (novels often containing priests, nuns, haunted churches, and so on), it’s especially evident in Ireland. If you’re wondering why Ireland has so many monsters for Gothic writers to draw on, it may well be that the church mounted such a smear campaign against Celtic mythology that even its gods and heroes – such as the Tuatha Dé Danann – were demonised, and even more monsters were created. So, we get banshees, púcaí, and vampires. We get ghost stories being told around the fire for centuries, and eventually, we get Count Dracula.
It’s no wonder that writers growing up among this rich storytelling tradition, centred around dark tales of demonic fairies, ghosts, and the occult should adopt these themes into their own works, and in doing so, help mould “The Gothic” as we know it today. From Stoker, to Bowen, even to WB Yeats, Irish writers form no small part of the Gothic literary canon – and for good reason. Who can write spooky stories better than someone who grew up believing there was a banshee outside their door, and that a fairy would steal their baby siblings?
– Doireann Ní Chonghaile