The Hell Fire Club on Mont Pelier Hill casts a foreboding presence over the south Dublin suburbs. (periscope tv video below)
It was originally built as a hunting lodge by William “the Speaker” Connolly, politician and land owner, in or around 1725. It is reported that the stone used to build the lodge was sourced from a large passage grave and cairn, (burial place), which once stood on the hill, and a standing stone was used as the lintel for the main fire place. So began the buildings association with misfortune, as shortly after completion the entire roof blew off in a storm. This was considered by many as retribution for using the stone from the ancient sacred cairn burial place in its construction.
The lodge contained apartments and a central hall on the upper level and servants quarters on the lower level. It also had a large pillared fire place. It’s reported that a granite staircase lead from the ground to the upper level, but the steps no longer exist.
Connolly died in 1729 and it was here, from 1735 onwards where an Irish branch of the Hell Fire Club formed and reportedly rented the club from Connolly’s family. From time to time they would hold their meetings here alongside other locations in Ireland.
The branch was said to consist of aristocrats and the wealthy. It’s not clear what the function of the Hell Fire Club was, but it was alleged that members participated in unbridled drinking and immorality.
A painting by James Worsdale, circa 1735 depicts five members of the club seated around a table and is held at the National Gallery of Ireland.
While much is made of debauchery, demonic manifestations, reports of black masses, black cat mascots, offerings and orgies at the site from this period and primarily surrounding the Hell Fire Clubs reinvention in 1771 by Thomas “Buck” Whaley. There is little evidence to support any claims of such happenings due to the site being so remote at the time. The main source of information were locals who lived on the hills and reported shrieking at the house and would not venture near the hill after dark.
There are many stories attributed to the Hell Fire Club, such as, they often left a seat free at their meetings and gatherings for, as folklore would have it, the devil himself. That their mascot was a black cat, (this possibly sets the scene for the infamous story of the black cat of Kilakee).
Another story, being the more believable of many, is that the club was set on fire when William Connolly’s son allegedly refused to renew a lease to the club members. Other stories state that the club was set alight just to give it a hellish appearance. Another states that following a black mass a footman spilled a drink on a members coat, and in retaliation, the footman was set alight with alcohol, resulting in the fire spreading to the entire building.
The most famous story, and the one I grew up with, is that of the devil appearing as a wandering stranger to the lodge. The devil was invited to a game of cards where a member dropped a card and reaching beneath the table to retrieve it, spotted that the stranger had a cloven hoof. Once revealed, the stranger set the entire lodge alight and disappeared.
Surrounded by ancient history, mystery and much folklore, the Hell Fire Club is the best spot to view Dublin in panoramic vista. Just a short fifteen minute climb from the car park, it’s well worth a visit on a trip to the Dublin mountains.
Daithi hikes to the Hell Fire Club on Periscope.TV