Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Hellfire Club, County Dublin

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Last Saturday we visited the infamous Hellfire Club on Montpelier Hill, just south of Tallaght in County Dublin. The Hellfire Club is steeped in stories of dark events and the occult. It was built by the famous Irish politician William Speaker Connolly in 1725 as a hunting lodge, however this building wasn't the first structure on the hill. In the foreground of our header picture you can see a low grassy mound with some large stones, this could be the remains of the Neolithic passage tomb that William Connolly is said to have had destroyed to clear the land for the lodge. Looking at a Google Satellite image of the Hellfire Club, you can clearly see traces of the circular earthworks that formed the Neolithic tomb, judging by its comparative size to the building it would have been a very large example of a passage tomb. 

Image from Google Earth showing the large circular earthworks, traces of the large passage tomb that once stood here
It would have also had extensive views over County Dublin, and its prominent location is similar to that of Seefin Passage Tomb located nearby in County Wicklow. The tomb features in the first supernatural tales associated with the building. It is said that shortly after the tomb was destroyed and its stones used in the construction of the Hellfire Club, a strong wind blew and demolished the fashionable slate roof of the new building, presumably in retaliation for the desecration of the ancient burial site. Undeterred Connolly had a new roof constructed, this time from a strong arch of stone that still stands today.

Connolly died in 1729 and the lodge lay unoccupied for a time before being acquired by the Hellfire Club. This was a group notorious for excess and depravity. They had famed drinking bouts, during which they always left one chair empty in honour of the devil. They drank a mix of melted butter and whiskey called scaltheen, and various accounts of them and their practices abound. I have read accounts that they poured this scaltheen mix 

over a black cat then set the poor animal alight as a precursor to their evenings revelries and devil worshipping. Another account tells of a priest who had been told of the satanic worship, he arrived at the club during one of their sessions to see them all gathered around a table, at the head of which sat a large black cat. The clergyman recited prayers of exorcism and threw holy water at the cat which ‘tore the beast apart’. Creepy stuff indeed, and you thought the television show Love/Hate was cruel to poor moggies! There are even darker stories of murder and sacrifice, of a young woman who was killed by being rolled down the steep hill in a burning barrel. The building was burned either on purpose to give it a more hellish appearance, or as an accident, when a poor footman accidentally spilled drink on the Principal of the Hellfire Club’s coat, he reacted by pouring scaltheen over the footman and setting him alight, the poor man tried to flee but bumped into tapestries, setting the whole building ablaze. According to this tale, many of the members of the Hellfire Club burned alive as they were too drunk to escape. 
With the Hellfire Club largely destroyed by the fire the members relocated down the hill to the nearby Stewards Lodge which also has a grim reputation with more tales of apparitions and ghoulish goings on.

When we visited there wasn’t much in the way of anything supernatural happening (well apart from a lot of kids running around shrieking, they kind of dulled any spooky atmosphere a bit but they were terrifying in their own way). Inside the building there are a number of rooms with fireplaces, arched windows and connecting galleries. The architecture is very unusual and it is well worth a look. Probably the most disturbing thing about the site is the unfortunate extensive graffiti and vandalism, there is no doubt it is still used as a place for excess and boozing, I suppose it’s just keeping up the tradition set by the original Hellfire Club!

The views over the landscape are incredible, and there is a nicely set out walking loop around the hill so it is a popular place for walkers and dog owners.

The site is about 15mins or so drive south of Tallaght on the R115. It is well signposted with a large carpark (please be careful not to leave any valuables on display in your car) and follow the well made path up all the way to the site.  If you like to use Google Maps enter Mountpelier Hill, South Dublin as your destination. Latitude 53.2518611 Longitude -6.3303444.

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Incredible views over Dublin from the top of Montpelier Hill