Exploring Gothic Ireland: Fact, Fiction and Film

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Course Information
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The Irish imagination has long held a deep fascination with macabre stories of ghosts, changelings and other supernatural manifestations.  It is a legacy that can be traced back to the mythology and folklore of pagan times, and in some cases—such as the legends of the Banshee and the Dullahan—have been maintained in wives’ tales and superstitions right through to the present day.  This course will explore the supernatural side of Irish fiction by tracing the origins of what is considered to be Irish “Gothic”—beginning with folkloric traditions, continuing on to the rise of vampire fiction in the nineteenth century, and finishing with more recent twentieth century short stories of ghosts and hauntings.  We will also read a selection of writings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that depict Ireland as a country inhabited by fairies and supernatural beings, and articles that describe Dublin as a dark, dangerous place filled with ghosts and ghouls and acts of treachery. These images of the country, combined with Ireland’s deep rooted superstitions, inspired the literary creations of Sheridan Le Fanu, planted the seeds of inspiration for Bram Stoker to compose his groundbreaking novel, Dracula, and helped to give rise to Oscar Wilde’s sinister and thought-provoking piece, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Finally, we will look at how these ideas have found their way into the medium of film.


Attendance policy: 

Because IES courses are designed to take advantage of the unique contribution of the instruction and the lecture/discussion format, regular class attendance is mandatory. Any missed class, without a legitimate reason will be reflected in the final grade. A legitimate reason would include: documented illness or family bereavement. Travel, (including travel delays) is not a legitimate reason.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to...

  • Engage with a wide variety of theories, themes and issues associated with Irish Gothic fiction.
  • Develop their analytical and critical thinking skills via both the written assignments required for this course and the strong emphasis on verbal engagement during group discussion.
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Seminar discussion
  • Small group discussion
  • Presentations
Required work and form of assessment: 

This course is reading-intensive and students will be expected to have all assigned reading completed for the appropriate day and to contribute to class discussion. 

  • Weekly class participation and one short presentation - 30%
  • Written film review -10%.  
  • In-class mid-term exam - 30%
  • End of term research paper -  30%. 


Week Content/Activities
  • Introduction—In this introductory class, we will explore the term “gothic” and the rise of gothic literature in England, America and Ireland.  We will take a post-colonialist approach to the origins of Irish monsters and the colonised “other”. 
  • Irish Folklore—We will look at legends of supernatural creatures that have existed in Ireland for hundreds of years.  Will read a few Old Irish tales, such as The Voyage of Bran and Connla and The Fairy Maiden and Sheridan Le Fanu’s “The Child That Went With the Fairies”. We will also read Yeats’ poem, “Come Away O Human Child” and Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”
  • Short film clip: The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley.
  • Psychological Obsessions—In order to form a basis for the literature we will read and discuss this term, we will look at a combination of so-called “eye-witness” accounts of banshees and other fairy-like supernatural manifestations, along with fairy beings from Irish mythology. To compliment this, we will read Bob Curran’s “A Way Through the Woods” and Sheridan Le Fanu’s “A Legend of Cappercullen.”
  • Film clip: Púca agus Péist
  • Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”—Regarded as a ground-breaking novella that paved the way for the future success of vampire stories and most possibly inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  One critic has described Le Fanu’s writings as being about “men in an Irish situation.”  We will explore the significance and truth of this statement
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula—Probably the most famous vampire story ever written, Dracula remains to this day one of the most widely read books in the world.  Stoker was himself a native Dubliner, but wrote and set his novel in England.  We will question the “Irishness” of Stoker’s most enduring and influential novel.
  • Mid-Term Exam
7 &8
  • Split-Personalities and Sinister Portraits: Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Stoker’s The Judge’s House—both of which confront issues such as the inherent evil inside man and his consequent descent into madness.  We will also take a parallel look at The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • Ghost Stories and Gothic Humour: We will read some short fiction by the Irish-born Elizabeth Bowen who wrote stories that feature ghostly horrors, but as a firm believer in the existence of ghosts, Bowen sometimes took a lighter, more humorous approach to the supernatural. We will also read a few short stories by the contemporary writer John Connolly, whose exquisitely haunting prose captures the sinister and macabre world of the supernatural.
  • Guest Speaker: John Connolly (TBC)
  • Film versions of Dracula.  We will explore how Stoker’s novel has translated itself into film, from Nosferatu to Coppola’s Dracula. Reading for this week will be Connor McPherson’s Gothic play, St Nicholas.
  • Finish Dracula discussion and look at excerpts from film versions of The Picture of Dorian Gray and the film adaptation of John Connolly’s short story “The New Daughter.”
  • Film Review and Final Essay Due


Required readings: 
  • Bowen, Elizabeth. The Collected Short Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. Hermione Lee, ed.  London: Vintage Press, 1999.**
  • Connolly, John. Nocturnes. London: Hodden and Stoughton, 2004.**
  • Curran, Bob. A Bewitched Land: Ireland’s Witches. Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2005.**
  •  Bloody Irish. Dublin: O’Brien Press.**       
  • McPherson, Connor.  “St. Nicholas.”**
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  London: Penguin, 2003.
  • Wilde, Oscar.  The Picture of Dorian Gray. Any edition.
  • Williams, Anne, ed.  Three Vampire Tales: Dracula, Carmilla and The Vampyre.
  • New York: Houghton Miffin Co., 2002. 

**Will be provided in a class packet that will be handed out to each student on the first day of class. All of the books listed above are available in the IES library.


  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1992.
  • Dracula, directed by Tod Browning, 1931.
  • Horror of Dracula, directed by Terence Fisher, 1958.
  • Nosferatu, directed by F.W. Murnau, 1922.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, directed by Albert Lewin, 1945.