The legendary Hellfire Club is a former hunting lodge located on Montpelier Hill overlooking the city of Dublin. The lodge was constructed in 1725 on the order of William Connolly, owner of Castletown House in County Kildare.
During its construction, workers uncovered an ancient passage grave and cairn on the site and made the decision to use some of the rocks in the construction of the lodge, including a standing stone. When completed, it is said that the lodge was a fine-looking building with granite steps leading up to its door and a smart, whitewashed plaster facade. The lodge included accommodation and reception rooms. None of its former grandeur is evident today.
One night, shortly after construction, the roof was ripped off the building during a wild storm. Some believe that this may have been an act of retaliation for disturbing the ancient tomb and was the act of the devil himself. But the roof was quickly rebuilt using even more of the ancient stones, to create the arched roof that remains to this today.
Hellfire Clubs existed in the UK and Ireland around the same time and were exclusive societies where wealthy and educated men met to discuss – in candid terms – the restraints of society. This would have included blasphemous and anti-establishment sentiment, provoking even more extreme behaviour by boisterous members. Indeed, the Dublin hellfire club became associated with alcohol abuse, gambling, violence, and allegations of sexual assault.
When rakish gentlemen wished for congenial society they rode up to Mr. Conolly’s hunting lodge, perched like Noah’s Ark on the top of Mount Pellier, among the Dublin Mountains. Here they were reported to drink heavily, indulging in blasphemous oaths, and amusing themselves with preposterous orgies. This may have been, as it is said, a haunt of the notorious Hell-Fire Club, but most of the club’s meetings were actually held in the Eagle Tavern, in Dublin.
(Source: Maxwell, C. 1956. Dublin Under the Georges: 1714–1830.)
As the quotation suggests, there are conflicting reports about whether the hellfire club did actually use the lodge on Montpelier Hill as a regular meeting place for their activities, but the name has stuck regardless. William Connolly purchased the site on the hill from Philip, Duke of Wharton – who founded and presided over the original incarnation of the club in England, so it is entirely possible that there was an alliance and that the club was given access to the lodge after Connolly’s death.
Stories suggest that the group of “wild young gentlemen” were put out of their usual meeting place – the Eagle Tavern in Eustace Street – because of their bad behaviour and that they sought another venue for their activities. The privacy of the lodge on the hill would certainly have been a spot where they could engage in more intense acts of depravity, away from respectable society. Wild orgies and black masses – including human and animal sacrifices – were among the activities said to take place on the site, alongside the drinking and gambling the club was certainly known for.
In one story, a stranger arrived one night and joined members in a game of poker. One of the players bent down to retrieve a card from the floor when he noted that the mysterious guest had cloven hooves. The stranger then mysteriously disappeared in a burst of flame. As a side note, a similar story is associated with Connolly’s Castletown House. Is it a coincidence? Has legend muddled the lines between these two places, or did Connolly have underworld connections? Did the devil just like playing cards?
A demonic black cat features in another tale, where a visitor staying at a local farmhouse went to the club to see what the fuss was about and was found dead the following day. Believing him to have been murdered, the owner of the house attended the lodge and was accompanied by a priest. It is said that they found the lodge set up for a banquet and that there was a large black cat with horns pacing the room. The priest retrieved a small bottle of holy water from his pocket and began an exorcism that is said to have torn the “cat” apart. Some say that the ghostly black cat still prowls the lodge and neighbouring areas.
The lodge itself is now a burnt-out shell and there are various versions of how this might have happened. One suggests that William Connolly’s son refused to renew the lease of the property and burned it himself. Another claims that members of the club set it on hire to give it a more “hellish” appearance, while two other stories result in the death of several club members and the relocation of the club to a nearby house. The first of these stories tell of how the lodge caught fire during a back mass at which a sacrifice was being offered. The second claims that a member was so incensed when a servant accidentally spilled a drink on him, that he set the servant on fire. In his panic to extinguish the flames, the servant ignited several members and the lodge itself. Another variant references how a priest was brought to the club to be ridiculed and assaulted by the members. During each round of drinks, one was offered to a cat who represented the devil. As the members prepared to “finish with” the priest, he asked whether he could bless the animal, and as he did so, the cat leaped up and pulled down the candle illuminated chandelier, setting the room on fire before disappearing into thin air.
In October 2010, a presenter from FM104 did a live broadcast from the Hellfire Club. It would be fair to say that the team was relieved when their ordeal was finished. During the broadcast, the decomposing head of an unidentified animal was dropped down the chimney, causing several members of the team to feel nauseous and the presenter to vomit. A visiting psychic felt the sensation of being stabbed and blood was visible on his shirt despite there being no actual evidence of a cut on him. Throughout the broadcast, members of the team were startled by “unexplained” noises, although at one point, it mentioned that there were “kids” on the hill that evening, despite security being present around the building itself.
Modern-day encounters have included voices telling people to get out, strange smells, shadows moving across the rooms, scratching, pinching, and physical assault by unseen hands, crucifixes becoming hot and uncomfortable for the wearer, and the sense of dark, malevolent energy moving at speed towards them before disappearing. Those who enter a ground floor room and ask the question “who killed his wife in this room” are supposed to hear the answer. The chilling sound of a woman screaming in agony has been heard, and this is believed to be the spirit of a woman who was set on fire and rolled down the hill in a barrel by a later incarnation of the hellfire club. Witnesses also claim to have spotted the ghost of a victim of a human sacrifice and several solemn figures standing around the tomb that was disturbed by Connolly’s builders.
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