Fang-tastic show Friday at Amharclann Gaoth Dobhair starring Dracula

With the spine-chilling howls of Halloween approaching and the door between the living and the dead opening ever so slightly, I’m reminded of midnight hours cutting my teeth on research for a proposed book later published under the title ‘DIGGING FOR DRACULA.

This week I’m delighted to be involved in the organisation of what should be an intriguing, titillating,  even frightening, cabaret this Friday evening at the Amharclann theatre in Bunbeg starting at 7.30 pm, enticingly entitled Dracula & Friends.’

Dracula event Donegal, Sean Hillen author Digging for Dracula, Amharclan theater Gweedore, halloween show gweedore

The event, complete with coffins and cobwebs in the lobby, tasty vampire foods and drinks and make-up artists ready to transform people into Immortals, has already garnered immense publicity, not just locally in the Donegal News (above) and Donegal Democrat, but also national attention, on RTE1 and in ‘The Irish Times.’

And the ghoulish fun is all in aid of good causes – fund-raising for the community theatre itself and promotion of the excellent work being done by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.

My main role is hosting an on-screen, multi-media presentation called ‘Dracula: Legend versus Truth’ based on my memoir ‘Digging for Dracula’ about my search for the elusive Long-Toothed Count from the castles of Transylvania to Bram Stoker’s home city, Dublin, to Hollywood USA.

My presentation will also include short film clips illustrating how the famous vampire has gone from near obscurity to movie stardom, from the silent era to the present day.

But first some background…

I had been living in Romania for several years, wearing two hats – professor of journalism at the University of Bucharest and foreign correspondent for The Times – when a fax came through from the news desk in London (those were the days before emails).

Halloween gift, book in a coffin

Funky Christmas gift for vampire-lovers! A book-in-a-coffin.

Under the headline ‘First-ever World Congress of Dracula’ were details of an upcoming, week long international event focusing on those strange Long-Toothed creatures that simply refuse to die.

Being from Ireland, the homeland of the famous vampire’s maker, Bram Stoker, I was intrigued, so much so I promptly set off on an adventure – to find out why his classic character created more than a century ago could attract such global fame.

Whitch trial, Transylvania vampires stories

Daily Telegraph, London. I ended up marrying this sexy witch. It was the only way to save her from being burned at the stake. Or worse.

That adventure brought me through the breathtaking landscapes of Transylvania to the princely lair of Vlad the Impaler within the craggy peaks of the Carpathian Mountains; to a seat beside Bram on a cliff-edge in the eastern port of Whitby, England, a place pivotal in the unfolding vampire drama; and to ‘Tinseltown’ Hollywood where Stoker’s creation won immortality on stage and screen.

Along the way, I visited the Mummies of Dublin; the ‘Agony Aunt’ of vampire lovers in New York; voodoo artists in New Orleans; a Los Angeles graveyard filled with larger than life characters; and the world’s largest garlic festival.

On a search for literary truths and the meanings of centuries-old myths, I learned that Celticism might just explain the elusive meaning of the word ‘Dracula’ – ‘droch fhola’ (pronounced ‘druc ula’) meaning ‘bad blood’ in Gaeilge, the native language of Ireland.

Forrest Ackerman science fiction, Los Angeles science fiction museum

Hollywood, California. Forrest Ackerman (left), known as the ‘Father of Science Fiction,’ famous collector of vampire books and movie memorabilia, shows me how vampires trap their prey.

As for the ‘First–ever World Congress of Dracula,’ it attracted many idiosyncratic people from all walks of life – professors, psychologists, writers, historians and teachers from many countries including Japan, France, Canada, Germany and the USA.

Some had their teeth artificially sharpened. Some slept in coffins. One man offered 10,000 dollars for anyone who could bring him a vampire, having arranged doctors in California to verify the find.

Digging for Dracula book, Vincent Hilliard Los Banos

Vincent Hillyer (left) offered 10,000 dollars to anyone who’d bring him a vampire. He lined up some doctors to verify the find. Here he poses in his home in Los Banos California, with Columbia, a Transylvanian visitor.

Those were just some of my experiences. So grasp your garlic and join me on a journey. Prepare to enter the ‘Lovable House of Horror’ and the ‘Land of the Living Dead.’

Youthful Irish spirit and creativity generate success

Entrepreneurial spirit often starts early in life – perhaps it’s embedded in DNA – and that certainly seems to be the case with teenage brothers, Rónán & Conor McGarvey, who are enjoying their successful venture, ‘Donegal Pens.’

Started in a makeshift garden shed at their parents’ (Eoin and Marie) home in the charming village of Loughanure in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht in Ireland’s most inspiring and northerly county, where their father is a local postman, their company has flourished. The siblings showed a true spirit of endeavor by developing their fledgling idea of using leftover wood from local carpenters and sawmills to create stylish, elegant pens, some of which have inbuilt styluses with a special touch application for use on IPhones.

Donegal pens, Christmas gifts

Rónán & Conor McGarvey

‘We’ve worked hard at building up our wee business but we’re used to the six and seven day weeks by now,” said 19-year-old Rónán, who with 16-year-old, Conor, started ‘Donegal Pens’ when they were only 14 and 11 years old respectively, when they were both students at Rosses Community School and after first trying their hand at making pens from wood at a craft-fair in Antrim. “We’ve sold several thousand pens so far, with the most popular being from bog oak, trees that can lie deep in the bogs for thousands of years.”

Ireland Writing Retreat, what to buy for Christmas

Conor McGarvey

Their pens, from trees as diverse as bog oak, yew, ash, elm, beech, ebony, olive, beech, cherry, laburnum, purple heart, oak, jatoba, maple, pear, walnut, spalted beech and red cedar, are individually turned and polished. Interestingly, the equivalent of their hometown ‘Loughanure’ in Irish is ‘Loch na Luire,’ meaning ‘island of the yew trees.’

Donegal pens, hand made pens

Conor McGarvey

Not only are their pens sold in 50 stores throughout Ireland but also internationally, with three shops in Germany and two in the United States – Carrick Mór, a gift shop specializing in the best of Ireland and Irish culture, run by Kristin and Michael McGowan in Glenrock, New Jersey and Sarah Maguire’s Cottage Scents & Gifts run by Arlene & Ann Maguire in New Milford, Connecticut, who named the store after their great grandmother.

Donegal made pens, Wild Atlantic Way crafts

Rónán McGarvey

With the growing success of ‘Donegal Pens,’ the two brothers have developed their business premises from their modest shed to a second garage where they store the wood and also a small office. Having taken classes in wood-turning in Downpatrick in northern Ireland, they also now create designs on a special computer which are then ‘burned’ on to the wood of the pens. All pens are put together painstakingly by hand, not by machine.

Irish made pens, Christmas gifts

Rónán & Conor McGarvey

Ireland Writing Retreat’ is delighted to partner with the two creative young west Donegal pen-making brothers, Ronan and Conor, from the ‘Island of the Yew Tree’ for a ‘Winter Season Special Gifts.’ To find out how you can win a unique Irish Gift, your perfect inspirational writing companion, become a Friend of ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ before December 31st.