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The Irish Hellfire Club

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Date: About 1737 to about 1741
Location: Montpelier Hill, Dublin Mountains, County Dublin, Irelandmap
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The Hellfire Club is a ruined building on Montpelier Hill, a 383 metre hill in the Dublin Mountains. It was used as a meeting place for the members of the Irish branch of the infamous Hellfire Club in the eighteenth century and is associated with many supernatural activities. It is widely believed to be haunted. Apparitions have been spotted in and around the building, mainly of a large black cat.

Contents

Architecture

The building is thought to have been designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. It was built in the Palladian style and faced the north to overlook William Conolly's home at Castletown House in Celbridge. At the front of the house was a low stone wall and gate enclosing a semi-circular courtyard. The entrance was on the upper floor and was reached by a flight of stairs that is now gone. The upper floor contained the hall and two reception rooms. Sleeping quarters were located on the eastern side on the third floor. The ground floor had the kitchen, servant's quarters and stairs to the upper floors. On both sides of the building there was rooms with lean-to-rooves, possibly to stable horses. There was a stone mounting block on the eastern side to help guests mount their horses. The lodge was surrounded by a 1000 acre deer park.

The Hunting Lodge

Before the Hellfire Club was built, there was a prehistoric court cairn on the site with a standing stone. In 1725, William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, built a hunting lodge on the site after purchasing Montpelier Hill from the Duke of Wharton (founder of the first Hellfire Club in 1719). He used stones from the cairn for the walls of the lodge and the standing stone for lintel over the fireplace. He named the lodge "Mount Pelier". Shortly after it was built, a storm blew off the roof. Local folklore says this was a punishment from the devil for interfering with the ancient burial place. Despite Connolly's disturbance, the central chamber of the cairn remained intact. A huge passage grave similar to Newgrange was discovered in 2016 under the ruins.

He replaced the roof with an arched stone roof like a bridge, which is still in place today. Conolly rarely used the hunting lodge and died in 1729, four years after its completion. The lodge and the hill were known locally as the Brass Castle and Bevan's Hill.

The Hellfire Club, 1737-1741

The Hellfire Club was a organisation with multiple branches in Britain and Ireland, consisting of groups of upper class men, mostly politicians, and associated with drinking, drugs, fighting and debauchery.

Around 1737, Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, and James Worsdale, founded the Irish Hellfire Club and rented the hunting lodge from the Conolly family. Rosse was president and Worsdale was "Master of the Revels". Members included Henry, 4th Baron Barry of Santry, Simon Luttrell the Lord Irnham, Colonel Henry Ponsonby, Colonel Richard St George and Colonel Clements. Before they rented the lodge, they met at the Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill near Dublin Castle.

Many of the stories of what occurred in the Hellfire Club come from local stories and are not backed up by evidence. Folklore says the mascot of the club was a black cat and they let a chair empty at every meeting for the devil. They drank "scaltheen" , a mixture of whiskey and hot butter from a silver punchbowl. By all accounts, they drank heavily and dabbled in "black magic". They took part in animal and allegedly human sacrifices.

One story is about a stranger who came to the club on a stormy night and played a card game with the other members. A player dropped his card on the floor and when he bent down to retrieve it, realized the stranger had cloven hooves. Then, the stranger disappeared in a ball of flames. Another one recalls when a priest arrived at the club to find the members sacrificing a black cat. He grabbed the cat and called out an exorcism, upon which a demon was released from the cat's corpse.

Simon Luttrell, the Lord Irnham who was later Earl of Carhampton and once the Sheriff of Dublin, was a notorious member of the club. According to the Diaboliad, a 1777 poem about the "worst man in England" that is though to be about Luttrell, he made a deal with the devil to sell his soul to him in seven years in return for settling his debts. The devil came to the lodge to find him and declared he would take the soul of the last man out of the room. Luttrell was the last man but he distracted the devil and ran away.

Henry, 4th Baron of Santry, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of innocent tavern porter Laughlin Murphy in 1738 while drunk. A campaign was launched by his friends and family to King George II to grant a pardon to Santry, arguing that Murphy was of lower social standing so his death mattered less than Santry's. The pardon was granted and Santry was free to go. However this event garnered bad publicity for the Hellfire Club.

Before 1741, the building caught fire. Some stories say this was because William Conolly's son refused to renew the lease for the lodge while others state the club members started the fire to make the building look more hellish. One account tells that after the club held a "black mass", a footman spilt a drink on a man named Whaley's coat. Whaley was furious and poured brandy over the footman and set him on fire. The fire spread and killed many members.

After the fire, the club relocated to Killakee Steward's House on the hill but their activities stopped soon after.

Revival, 1771-1800

The club was revived in 1771 by Thomas Whaley, a member of the Irish House of Commons nicknamed "Buck". Their meetings took place in the old lodge once more. They called themselves "The Holy Fathers" and according to stories, took part in cannibalism and more black masses.

Before his death, their leader Whaley repented his sins. He died in 1800 and the club disbanded.

After the Hellfire Club

The Conollys sold their land on Montpelier Hill to Luke White in 1800. It was inherited by the Massy family of Duntrileage, County Limerick and after their bankruptcy, it was acquired by the State. Today it is owned by the forestry organisation Coillte.

The roof of the Hellfire Club was set alight with tar barrels during the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1849.

Resources

Books:

  • Ashe, Geoffrey, 2000. The Hell-Fire Clubs: A History of Anti-Morality. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.
  • James Kelly & Martin Powell (eds). 2010. Clubs and Societies in Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Four Courts Press)
  • Lord, Evelyn, 2008. The Hell-Fire Clubs. Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies (Yale University Press)
  • Milne, Norman, 2014. Libertines and Harlots. Paragon Publishing.
  • Ryan, David. 2012. Blasphemers and Blackguards. The Irish Hellfire Clubs. (Irish Academic Press)
  • Whaley, Thomas, 1980 (reprint) Buck Whaley’s Memoirs (The History Press)


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