Montpelier Hill, better known as The Hellfire Club to Dubliners, is a lovely place for a weekend walk. It has a variety of short forest trails and provides wonderful views of the city from the south-west. On the weekends you can find it busy with urbanites escaping the city and dogs running free. At the top sits a large hunting lodge where, if the stories are to be believed, some very strange things have happened.
Originally there was a passage grave with a cairn at the top of the hill. Speaker Conolly, one of the wealthiest men in Ireland, built the hunting lodge on its site. Conolly is said to have destroyed the cairn while building the lodge, using a standing stone as the lintel of the fireplace. Some time later the roof was blown off during a storm. The locals reckoned that aggrieved spirits seeking vengeance for the cairn’s destruction were responsible. And so the tales began. Over time fact and fiction have become so intertwined that it’s impossible to separate them. But why let that ruin a good story?
William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons
The building was sold after Conolly’s death and is said to have become a meeting place for the Irish Hellfire Club. The club was founded in 1735 by Richard Parsons, a known dabbler in black magic. The members met at locations across Dublin and were known for their amoral behaviour and debauchery involving alcohol and sex. The secrecy surrounding the club members led to speculation that they were Satanists and Devil-worshipers. The president of the club was named ‘The King of Hell’ and dressed like Satan, with horns, wings and hooves. The members were said to set a place at each meeting for the Devil, in the hope that he’d attend. They were also said to hold black masses in the lodge during which cats – and even servants – were sacrificed. Some say the building was deliberately set on fire in order to enhance its hellish atmosphere.
The best-known Hellfire club story is the in which the Devil himself appears. A stranger had joined the members at a game of cards. At some point one of the card players dropped a card on the floor. As he bent down to retrieve it he noticed that the stranger had cloven hooves instead of feet. Another tale concerns a young farmer, curious to find out what went on at the meetings. Climbing up Montpelier Hill one night, he was invited in by the members of the club and allowed to witness the night’s activities. He was found the next morning trembling and terrified. Tradition says he spent the rest of his life unable to speak; unable even to remember his name.
A black cat features in one of the most famous tales. In this story another young man, a visitor to a local farmhouse, goes to investigate the activities of the club. Next morning he is found dead. His host and the local priest, believing him to have been murdered, go to the club to investigate. They see a banquet laid out and a black cat prowling the room. But this is no normal cat. It’s huge. And the priest notices that its ears are shaped like horns. Happening to have a small bottle of holy water in his pocket, the priest decides to attempt an exorcism. The result tears the beast apart. Outside, the host is found lying on the ground, his face and neck deeply scratched by strong claws.
The Hellfire Club remains, burnt-out and abandoned, on Montpelier Hill, looking over Dublin. The view is glorious on a sunny day. But at night-time, people have reported unusual smells, a strange atmosphere. The traces of satanic rituals have been discovered. Or so they say…
Genevieve is a sunset child from the west of Ireland, now living and working in Dublin as an advertising creative. She doodles, she dreams, she travels, she schemes.
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