Emerald Isle

The Hellfire Club

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Irish Ghost Stories

English gentry and their bad habits at The Hellfire Club

High on a windswept slope in the Wicklow mountains near the summit of Mount Pelier, with a commanding view overlooking Dublin city, lies the burnt and blackened shell of a sinister old hunting lodge, now called the Hellfire Club, and well named it was too! For it was home to the Irish branch of that selfsame society, notorious for drunken debauchery and conducting unholy rites at the darkest hour of the night.

It was first constructed by the Right Honourable William Conolly of Castletown, who was a Speaker in the Irish parliament in 1725. An enormously wealthy man, he is said to have destroyed an ancient cairn, a tomb of the old people, in order to clear the way for his hunting lodge. So when the roof of that lodge was pulled clean off shortly after in a mighty storm, the local people knew what to think!

Not a man to be dissuaded by what he felt to be local superstition, Conolly rebuilt the house with a strong arch roof of solid stonework and contented himself that he had beaten the devil of the mountains, but it became known as a place of ill repute thereafter.

Six years after his death the lodge was purchased by Richard Parsons, the first Earl of Rosse, freemason master and president of the Hellfire Club, a group who delighted in fashionable blasphemy and carousing, attracting the membership of young Bucks as they were known, a sort whose whole enjoyment and the business of whose life seemed to consist of eccentricity and violence. The president of the club was known as "The King of Hell" and dressed himself as Satan, with horns and cloven hoofs, and in the devil's name was the first toast always drunk and a chair left unoccupied for Old Hob.

Their shameless festivities knew no bounds, admitting men and women in equal measure to partake of black masses, so called "Holy Ghost Pie" and drinking scaltheen, a noxious mixture of whiskey and butter. Their decadence didn't blush at holding orgies and animal sacrifices, worshipping pagan deities and going on wild rides through the surrounding countryside, beating local villagers and taking whatever they wanted. More than once, it was said, strange visitors in peculiar attire would arrive in the midst of their feasting and dance wildly before vanishing in a flare of sulphur.

Not so long ago the skeleton of a dwarf and a demonic statue were unearthed under a house at the foot of the hill. They even went so far as to kidnap a local woman and roll her down the hill in a barrel after setting it alight, not a one of them being convicted of the murder afterwards, for such was the nature of the times and the secrecy of the club.

So it was no surprise that unpleasant legends and tales grew up like wild weeds about the old hunting lodge and its new occupants. A young man was visiting a local farmhouse when he heard of this notorious club, and decided to pay it a visit to see what was what. The very next day he was found murdered and face down in a shallow pool. His host, appalled, determined that he'd beard the lion in its den and brought with him a priest for good measure.

Well the sun had set by the time they made it to the doors, which were answered by a tall man in dark clothing. They were seized and forced to sit at a sumptuous feast that was about to begin. At that, a huge black cat stalked into the room, which had not ears but horns like a goat. Upon seeing the beast and the malevolent glare it laid upon him, the priest leapt to his feet, knowing he was done for if he didn't move quickly.

Again he was grabbed but he reached into his pocket for a vial of holy water he kept there, and hurling it at the cat he uttered the words of the exorcism. With that all hell broke loose, fire and smoke erupted, and he escaped out the front door with the piteous cries of his farmer friend echoing in his ears!

The next morning the farmer was found scratched and cut about the head and face and he never spoke a word from that day forth. Some say the Hellfire Club ended on that day, while others tell how its master's misadventure finally closed the doors. That was one Richard Chappell "Burn-Chapel" Whaley, another of the decadent ascendancy who'd gotten his name by riding around and setting fire to the thatch of Catholic chapels.

After a black mass it is said a footman stumbled over the slumped figures of insensate orgiasts, spilling whiskey on Whaley's coat. Infuriated, Whaley poured brandy on the man, setting him alight, and soon the whole place was ablaze, revellers and all.

However it ended, local people shun the hilltop now, disliking to tempt the wrath of the many dark spirits said to haunt its windswept trails yet, and no animal will set foot on it. Should you venture that far, you may hear the shrieks of tortured women echoing from a distance, or odd smells as of brimstone and soot, or you may feel a hand pushing you or pressure on our chest or head.

And if you hear the hiss of a cat, it may be time to beat a hasty retreat!

The shell of the old Hellfire Club is marked on the map below, and its story is not yet done, for a team of archaeologists were digging in the vicinity and found partial ruins from an ancient megalithic tomb early in 2021! Lead archaeologist Neil Jackman was stunned by the series of coincidences that lined up to allow his team to spot something that had been lost to time and memory.

"If we placed the trench a metre to the left or right and we wouldn’t have found it. If we excavated during the summer the high flat light would never have shown it up. If we had taken the stone straight to the spoil heap we wouldn’t have seen it. If we hadn’t have accidentally placed the stone with the art facing at a perfect oblique angle to the sun’s position in the morning it would have never been noticed.

Although it is pretty corny to say so, it’s almost like some things just want to be found."

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