For centuries, the hilltop on Montpelier Hill, south-southwest of Dublin and overlooking the city, was occupied by a Neolithic passage grave (burial chambers covered in earth or stone, usually with a single, narrow entrance) whose entrance was marked by a large cairn (a pile or stack of stones made by humans). But the vantage point and the view were too powerful for one 18th-century man to resist, so he built his home on the hill…using stones from the cairn he destroyed. Many of the locals were terrified that the man had offended the old pagan gods, especially after a powerful storm blew the roof off his new home shortly after construction.
And some say he offended the devil himself.
In the early 18th century, William Conolly, then the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and one of the richest men in Ireland, was casting about for a suitably impressive location for an expansive hunting lodge he wanted to build. South of the city he found the northernmost mountain that forms the ridge of the Glensamole Valley; no one remembers the original Irish name for the mountain, though the names Suide Uí Ceallaig or Suidi Celi have been suggested. The site and the views of Dublin soon convinced Conolly that this was where he wanted to build his hunting lodge, which he named Mont Pelier (Cnoc Montpelier).
During construction, workers found a large cairn and stones aplenty (that later turned out to be part of a Neolithic passage grave) and quickly “recycled” the stones, using them to build the hunting lodge. Reportedly, the magnificent lintel over the fireplace was a large standing stone (of the type used to build henges, like Stonehenge) found on site. Both standing stones and cairns were known as ancient grave markers, but Conolly forged ahead anyway.
And shortly after construction was completed in 1725, a powerful storm blew the roof clean off his new hunting lodge.
The locals claimed it was retribution for desecrating the burial site; some said by the pagan gods of old, some said by Satan himself. Neither possibility seemed to disturb Conolly in the slightest. He promptly built an arched stone roof for his lodge, again using stones from the cairn and around the site. That stone roof still exists today.
Conolly died in 1729, and for several years, Montpelier was largely abandoned. Which only added to the appeal for the Hellfire Club (Club Thine Ifrinn), who began renting the hunting lodge from the Conolly family in 1735.
The Hellfire Club originated in London in 1719, though King George I quickly outlawed it. Royal edict, however, was no impediment to the idle, titled rich congregating and engaging in immoral acts. Dublin’s Hellfire Club was a place for wealthy young gentlemen to drink, gamble, hire prostitutes, even, allegedly, engage in more degenerate activities like animal torture and Satan worship. Their motto was “Fais ce que tu voudras” (“Do what thou wilt”). One of the Dublin Club founders was Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, and Grandmaster of the Freemasons of Dublin. Sheriff of Dublin Simon Luttrell was also a member.
The combination of reputedly cursed location and allegedly depraved doings quickly led to ever-wilder stories about the Club’s activities. The remoteness of the location meant that few, if any, of the activities could be witnessed or verified, which only added fuel to the fire. And a great many stories about the Hellfire Club involved fire.
One story states that late one night a priest called on the house to see what was really going on. In one version of the story, when he entered the house, the center of attention was a huge black cat with ears so pointed they resembled horns…sitting in the chair reserved for the devil himself. The priest immediately sensed evil when the cat started snarling at him and threw holy water on the cat – which turned into a devil-like figure and ran outside, burning down the roof as it left. In another version of the story, the priest finds a black cat that had been sacrificed and exorcised the cat’s soul. In a third version of the story, the cat was doused in whiskey and set on fire.
An oft-repeated story about the Hellfire Club is the story of “Burn-Chapel” Whaley. In 1740 one of the principal members of the Club was Richard Chappell Whaley. He was at Montpelier enjoying one of the Hellfire Club’s drunken parties (some say a black Mass performed by a defrocked priest) when a servant accidently spilled a drink on him. In retaliation, Whaley doused the man in brandy and set him on fire. As the servant ran through the house he grabbed a tapestry to try and smother the flames; eventually the blaze burned the entire lodge.
There are tales of black masses and human sacrifices, one of which led to the lodge catching on fire and killing several members. There is even a story of the Club members kidnapping, killing and eating a farmer’s daughter.
But the most famous story involves a mysterious stranger who wandered in one dark and stormy night. The stranger joined a card game already in progress. At one point a player dropped his card and bent down to look under table for it. As he looked, he glimpsed at the stranger’s legs and realized that the man had a cloven foot. When the stranger was confronted, he burst into flames and vanished.
Eventually, the Hellfire Club managed to burn Montpelier so badly that it was unusable. They stayed in the area, though, just moving down the road to the Stewards House, also known as Killakee House, and also owned by the Conolly family. Their level of activity waxed and waned throughout the 18th century, and when Thomas “Buck” Whaley died in 1800, the Hellfire Club (then known as “The Holy Fathers”) died with him.
Today, many visitors report strange paranormal activities and a feeling of pure evil at Montpelier, which is now popularly known as the Hellfire Club. Visitors walking through the ruins have reported an entity pulling on necklaces and bracelets, hard enough to snap them in some cases. People have reported seeing a ghostly black cat.
And those brave enough to visit the site at night have heard the screams of a woman who apparently died when she was set on fire and rolled down the hill in a burning barrel during a Satanic ritual.
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