Last weekend vampires of every shape and size could be spotted lurking the cobbled streets of Dublin during the Bram Stoker Festival. Yet this annual fright-fest just claws at the surface of one of the world’s most gloriously gothic cities. Here are six fun but freaky things to do in Dublin. With thanks to Orla Lehane and Dan Richardson.
The Bram Stoker trail
Trinity College-educated Abraham “Bram” Stoker is probably the world’s most influential horror writer, though, he owes more than a little to the Gothic tales of fellow Dubliners Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Charles Maturin (what they’d make of the Twilight saga is anybody’s guess). For some literary inspiration visit the eighteenth-century Marsh’s Library where Stoker devoured books on all things Transylvanian (the oak-panelled corridors are said to be haunted, Ghostbusters-style, by founder Archbishop Narcissus Marsh). If you’re in town around Halloween don’t miss the enjoyably kitsch Bram Stoker festival, packed with events for the all ages of the undead.
St Michan’s Crypt
Petrified corpses aren’t to everyone’s taste, but St Michan’s Church has been subsidizing its upkeep for as long as anybody can recall by charging visitors to see the cobwebbed stiffs in its crypt. The “best” ones are 300 to 700 years old: a man thought to have been a Crusader, a woman who may have been a nun, and a man missing a hand. Apparently a young Bram Stoker visited the dusty burial vaults here before writing Dracula.
Glasnevin Cemetery and the Gravedigger’s Arms
Glasnevin Cemetery packs in an staggering 1.2 million souls within its walls, among them some of Ireland’s most famous names including Daniel O’Connell and Eamon de Valera. During the early nineteenth century watchtowers and guard dogs were needed here to keep out body snatchers (an adult corpse could fetch £2, or €500 in today’s money). Just outside the cemetery is the refreshingly old-fashioned Kavanagh’s pub (aka The Gravediggers Arms), comforting mourners since 1833 with perhaps Dublin’s finest pint of Guinness.
Dark and dank, Kilmainham Jail looms large in the Irish imagination – this was where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were shot by the British. A thought-provoking exhibition on capital punishment precedes the tour of the chillingly bleak cellblocks and execution yards. You’ll also find the death mask of revolutionary Robert Emmet as well as an early camera designed to take mug shots. Apart from its historic interest, the jail has no shortage of tall tales associated with the paranormal, from lights turning randomly on and off to a spooky sensation of being watched.
The Hellfire Club
“One of the most terrifying places on Earth!” goes the tourist spiel, and there is something undeniably creepy about this ruined hunting lodge overlooking Dublin from Montpelier Hill. Built in 1725 on the site of a Neolithic tomb, the lodge eventually became the meeting point for the notorious Hellfire Club. Dedicated to drinking and depravity, its members were also said to dabble in the occult and elected Satan himself as club president. Ghoulish night-time tours do their best to scare you witless, though perhaps the most memorable thing about the site is its panoramic view over the capital.
Every castle in Ireland seems to have a ghost story and Ardgillan, a Downton-esque country pile 25km north of Dublin, is no exception. On a fateful November day in 1853 Lady Longford, visiting the castle on a shooting weekend, decided to take a bracing swim off nearby Barnageera beach. Despite her servants warning her about the rough seas she was dragged under by the current and drowned. Today the steps down to the beach, “The Lady’s Stairs”, are said to be haunted by a female apparition in white (whether still clad in Victorian bathers it’s hard to tell).
Dublin’s hotels, B&Bs and hostels are often packed at weekends especially around major sporting events. While booking a fortnight ahead is okay in February or October, one or two months is more appropriate for peak times. For refuelling between frights visit the labyrinthine Dame District, south of Temple Bar. For more information check out the Rough Guide to Ireland.