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In Ireland, Dracula is front and center

Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is this year's book of choice for a project that promotes works by Irish authors.

Romanian actor Petrica Moraru performs as Dracula for the guests at the Club Count Dracula restaurant in Bucharest in March 2003. Right now in Ireland, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is being promoted by the “One City, One Book” event. (Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)

DUBLIN — Just round the corner from the Irish Parliament a wild-looking man with arched nostrils and red-stained teeth hurried by, his black opera cape billowing behind him. No, it wasn’t Finance Minister Brian Lenihan on his way to finalize this week's budget — which will surely extract blood from Irish taxpayers — but an actor dressed as Dracula.

He was en route to St. Anne’s Parish Church on Dawson Street, where scores of churchgoers in late 18th century costumes were gathering to reenact the 1878 wedding of Dracula’s Irish creator Bram Stoker.

I pushed my way past men in top hats and women in bonnets, grabbing a news sheet from a flat-capped urchin as I entered. It was a copy of The Irish Times of Dec. 5, 1878 carrying a paid announcement of the betrothal “of Bram Stoker MA, the second son of the late Abraham Stoker of the Chief Secretary's Office Dublin Castle, to Florence, third daughter of Lieut-Col Balcombe, late of the 57th regiment and Royal South Down Militia.”

During the reenactment the robed vicar asked if anyone in the church knew of any lawful impediment to the marriage, whereupon a long-haired fellow at the back emitted a loud, disapproving cough. It was (an actor playing) Oscar Wilde, a friend of Stoker’s and Dublin rumor had it, a one-time lover of both the bride and groom.

The ceremony went ahead, much to Wilde’s apparent disgust, as fellow actors in Victorian finery gossiped loudly in the pews about his scandalous goings-on.

The director of the little melodrama, Estelle Clements, explained in the program notes that people ask, “But wasn’t Oscar Wilde gay?” She mentioned how academics had speculated that the difference between Wilde and many other men of his time was Wilde’s refusal to keep quiet about it. Wilde was vilified for his homosexuality but he and his wife Constance, whom he married some years later, had more children (two) than Bram Stoker and Florence (one).

Only Stoker, his bride and one other guest were actually present in the church on the wedding day, said Alastair Smeaton, divisional librarian with Dublin City Libraries. “The wedding announcement didn't appear in the newspapers until the next day,” he told me, “so there are rumors that Florence Balcombe may not have been in the condition she would been expected to be in on the day of her wedding.”

Smeaton is one of the people behind a City Council project called “One City, One Book,” which every year promotes a noted work by a famous Irish author. The wedding recreation is one of several events in Dublin in April commemorating this year’s choice of “Dracula”: There are also spooky organ recitals and gothic candlelight readings at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and scary street theater in Temple Bar.