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Sitting atop the Dublin Mountains, gauntly staring down on Dublin City is a den of iniquity graced by the presence of Lucifer himself. On Montpelier Hill, on ground so evil that not a single tree will grow, sits the Hellfire club. Cool by name, very cool by nature.
The haunting stone shell is a former hunting lodge. William Conolly (yes, one ‘n’) built this ominous creation in 1725. Born in 1662 to an Inn Keeper in County Donegal; he rose to become one of the most prevailing men in Ireland and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons in 1715; for which he became known as Speaker Conolly. How very original for a man who had a house called the Hellfire Club.
He built his fiefdom from a foundation of law as a practicing attorney but like any good Irish entrepreneur he developed a panache for property speculating. On a side note his son Thomas had a somewhat interesting life for a member of the gentry; as in 1864 he travelled to Virginia during the American Civil War where he met General Lee and Jefferson Davis no less.
Conolly’s Hellfire Club was built on the site of a megalithic passage tomb. Oh dear. In a country of storytellers and banshees that was always going to court controversy no matter how innocent your intentions. Aforementioned it was built as a lonely hunting lodge for aristocrats. Reading between the lines, allegedly, the Hellfire Club was den of debauchery as and shrine in which to practice black magic and devil worshiping. It was on one of these nights that Satan himself shot out of the flames of the fire in a fit of rage and blew off the roof. Fortunately for those in attendance, they managed to avoid having their nocturnal activities rumbled and exposed in the Sunday tabloids. A vicious storm that very same night masked the sound from the sleeping locals down the hill keeping them none the wiser.
If you dare, you can walk right up and enter this place of shadows. A central stone staircase divides the building with four rooms, one on each floor each side of the stairwell. There are storage rooms than on either side of the outer building giving a nice symmetrical feel. No Gaudi out this direction. All the windows face north keeping a cheeky eye on Dublin City below.
Truth be told, I led you astray. William Conolly had nothing to do with the Hellfire Club gaining its current reputation and name. That honour is saved for this dirty divil, Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse (1702–1741). Richard was born in Twickenham, Middlesex and become Grandmaster of the Freemasons Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1725; the same year the Hellfire Club was built. Hmmm. William Conolly died in 1729 and Dick acquired the hunting lodge in 1735. He was a founding member of the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe. That didn’t roll of the tongue in South County Dublin so the group rebranded as the Hellfire Club. The first Hellfire Club was founded in London in 1719 as a satirical gentleman’s club, to shock the outside world mocking religion and current social norms. The president was to be the devil himself with the members also calling themselves devils, little devils if you will. Rumours swirled around these clubs about rituals, black magic et al; however, seriously, setting up a Gentleman’s Club with the motto ‘Fais ce que tu voudras’ (Do what thou wilt) in 1719 was always asking for trouble.
So back to our Hellfire Club. The date is hard to pin down, but one rainy night a stranger tapped on the door of the remote, dark club. The members invited him in to dry in front of the blazing log fire and found their guest to be an insightful and appealing character. The drinks flowed and a game of poker ensued. One member laughed so hard he leaned back and dropped a card, whilst retrieving it from beneath the table he saw their esteemed guest had a cloven foot. With a roar and a bang the table was strewn with a cloud of smoke, the smell of brimstone burning their nostrils and their strange guest gone.
Not long after a young curious farmer from down the hill in Bohernabreena heard the rumours throughout the community of this aristocratic den. At night he could hear noises sweep through Massey Woods whispering secrets. One night he could take no more and hiked above the tree line to the open plain that exposes and protects the lodge. On a moonless night he crossed to the deep gloom of the north walls and stole a glance in the window. The next morning he was found disorientated at the bottom of the hill deaf and dumb, never to recover his senses.
I can confirm this rumour. I had an epiphany at this very site. On a midnight hike with my boyhood scouts troop we reached this tortured hill. We melted our marshmallows on the open fire wearily watching the skeleton of the building for movement. Our scout leader felt duty bound to inform us of the horrific history sitting behind us. We hung on every word until he we heard that running around the building 13 times backwards would make the Devil himself appear before us. Flared marshmallows flew through the air as we started lapping the building. Running backwards through long glass in only faint moon light is no easy task. I chugged along until we reached the 12th circle. The seriousness of the situation and the weight of the ancient world rested on our shoulders. A solemn silence fell over the group as we undertook the 13th circle. On the dark side of the Hellfire the scout leader jumped out of a back window screaming blue murder, I mouthed a silent scream with airless lungs as my legs melted away under me. I got my first grey hairs at 10 years old.
So how to get there! By car is the easiest option. It is a short distance from the South Dublin Suburbs of Rathfarnham and Knockylon. From these areas (accessible by bus) it is manageable distance for experienced hikers. Note that this area does have a reputation for anti-social behaviour in the evenings so be vigilant with locking cars. 100m down the road on the right from the car park entrance is the beautiful Massey Woods which are well worth exploring.