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Bram Stoker – Creator of Count Dracula

BSCAbraham ‘Bram’ Stoker was born in 15 Marino Crescent, Fairview, on the 8th November 1847, the third of seven children and baptised in the Church of Ireland, Clontarf on 30th December. He was a sickly child and did not attend school until he was seven. As such, he spent much time reading and he noted years later ‘I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many  Stoker15 copythoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.

He made a full recovery from his early illness and studied Mathematics in Trinity College where he graduated with honours. He was a keen sportsman and was awarded Athlete of the Year, as well as being Auditor of the Historical Society and President of the Philosophical Society. Oscar Wilde was a contemporary who Stoker proposed for membership of the Philosophical Society. Years later, after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol, Stoker visited him in Paris. Coincidently, Wilde had once courted Florence Balcombe who Stoker married in 1878. She was almost the ‘girl next door’ as she lived at 1 Marino Crescent, a few doors from the Stoker household.

Stoker was always interested in theatre and became the Dublin Evening Mail’s (co-owned by the great Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu) theatre critic and respected for his incisive reviews. After seeing Henry Irving, the greatest actor his generation play Hamlet in the Theatre Royal, and writing a review which the actor liked, the two met for dinner in the Shelbourne Hotel. Irving invited him to London to run the Lyceum Theatre and be his business manager, and he and Florence moved there in 1878. He acted for Irving until the actor’s death in 1905.

He travelled extensively with Irving, met many famous people, and all the time kept writing. He produced a dozen books, countless articles and short stories, but it is Dracula (1897) for which he is best remembered. The book has been a favourite since its release and is considered to be one of the most widely read books ever. It has never been out of print. More than 200 films have been made about Count Dracula and he has also featured in numerous stage and television adaptions. Stoker, himself, produced the first stage performance in the Lyceum Theatre on 18th May 1897 (8 days before the book’s publication) which Irving  thought was ‘dreadful’. Maybe the fact that it took fifteen actors four hours to perform had a lot to do with that! However, it is a magnificent achievement, and the sickly boy’s ‘fruitful thoughts’ have certainly been realised.

First editiion 26 May 1897

First edition 26 May 1897

 

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St Michan’s Church – A cryptic history

St Michan’s Church, on Church Street, is the oldest parish church on the north side of the Liffey, and the building dates from 1686. The church was originally founded in 1095 and operated as a Catholic church until the Reformation. Since then it has  served Church of Ireland parishioners for over three hundred years.

Gates of no return

Gates of no return

The church is most famous for its crypts where the limestone walls have kept the air dry and helped preserve the remains. When our guide removed a heavy chain and pulled back the strong, iron door it creaked loudly and made a few of my fellow visitors a little less comfortable. I suspect if we visiting on a dark winter’s day the atmosphere would have been really heightened. Along the corridor there are a number of recesses where coffins rest, some on top of one another, and at the end we met The Crusader. The state of preservation is amazing, and once upon a time visitors used touch his long, bony hand – for luck! In another recess are the remains of the Sheares Brothers, John & Henry, who were executed for their part in the 1798 Rebellion. You can also see their Execution Order, and in the back is the death mask of Theobald Wolfe Tone. It is no surprise that Bram Stoker (the creator of Dracula) is believed to have visited these subterranean vaults. It is also reckoned that the body of Robert Emmet (leader of the failed 1803 Rising) was buried in an unmarked grave in the graveyard, but it has never been identified.

Mummified remains

Mummified remains

Inside, the church still retains its beautiful gallery and the stained glass window looked great with sun behind it. But most impressive of all is the organ which was built by John Baptiste Cuville between 1723-1725, and cost around £550 – a lot on money back then. Legend has it that George Frideric Handel composed and practised his famous oratorio Messiah on it, before its first performance at the New Music Hall in Fishamble Street on 13th April 1742. Thinking about the composer sitting there, in the candle light, as he worked away on his great work, was quite a good way to end my visit to one of Dublin’s most interesting places.

Magnificent interior & organ

Magnificent interior & organ

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Marsh’s Library – The Oldest Public Library

First Gallery

First Gallery

Although I had passed by it many, many times over the years I had yet to open the door and step inside. Marsh’s Library  (beside St Patrick’s Cathedral) is one of those places that is little known, but has a lot to offer.

It was commissioned by the wonderfully named Narcissus Marsh and opened its doors in 1707. It is one of the  few  early  18thcentury (Enlightenment) buildings in the city still being used for its original purpose. Considering the changes that have occurred in the last three centuries, it is a testament to the building and to what it offers that have helped it survive.

Open the door and you step back in time. The stillness and quiet rule here, and the tall dark oak shelves are crammed with books that were old when Marsh got permission to build Ireland’s first public library.

It is laid out in two galleries (First & Second) joined by a reading room in an ‘L’ shape. It is interesting to think that most of the books are resting the same places that Marsh chose. At the end of the Second Gallery are the ‘Cages’. These were to prevent theft of the smaller books which would have been expensive, and very difficult, to acquire. And here you can test your Quill Power by writing in the old style – very interesting.

Centuries of learning

Centuries of learning

Some of Dublin’s greatest writers spent time here, researching and enjoying books that were unavailable elsewhere in the city. It is thought very likely that Jonathan Swift’s most famous work Gulliver’s Travels owes a lot to books on Formosa and Japan – published in the early 1700s. James Joyce and Bram Stoker also visited, and the place features in Joyce’s Ulysses.

Of a more contemporary note there are bullet marks in the shelves and books, leftovers from the Easter Rising. They, thankfully, are the only scars it bears from the conflict and show that even somewhere like the old library was not safe. The place, however, is, as someone wrote ‘living history’ and long may it continue to enthral and excite booklovers.

Marsh's Library on St Patrick's Close

Marsh’s Library on St Patrick’s Close

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