Hell Fire Club

Few places in Ireland are as full of stories as Montpelier Hill. The hill is located at northernmost extent of the Dublin-Wicklow mountain range. Two passage tombs were constructed on the summit during Neolithic period, the time of the first farmers in Ireland over 5,000 years ago. These tombs were great mounds of stone and earth, with a stone lined passageway that led to a burial chamber. The most famous example of a passage tomb in Ireland is the great monument at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley. The tombs here were part of an extended cemetery that stretched throughout the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. From this vantage point, you can see another tomb at Fairy Castle on the summit of Two Rock Mountain to the east.




The unusual building on the summit is known as the Hell Fire Club and was constructed as a hunting lodge for William ‘Speaker’ Conolly in 1725. Originally from Ballyshannon in County Donegal, he was the son of a publican, but he was a lawyer and land agent. He had a stratospheric rise through the ranks of Irish society to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the British Isles.


In 1723, Conolly purchased Rathfarnham Castle and its estate lands from the Duke of Wharton. This purchase included Montpelier Hill, where he established a 1,000 acre deerpark with a hunting lodge on the summit. He chose the location as he believed it would be possible to see both his great estate at Castletown and his newly acquired Rathfarnham Castle. To construct the building, he ordered his workmen to demolish an ancient tomb in order to use the stone from its cairn as building material. Folklore describes how the devil was so enraged by this desecration that he blew the roof off the newly constructed building. The story has it that Conolly was undeterred and had the roof reconstructed in stone, giving the building its unusual appearance. Conolly died in 1729, just four years after the construction of his hunting lodge.





The story of the tomb’s destruction was proven by an archaeological excavation that was carried out in 2016. The archaeologists discovered the badly damaged remains of a Neolithic passage tomb, that dated to around c.3,500 BC. A number of artefacts were discovered, including flint tools, megalithic art, a polished stone axehead and a small bone pin. Geophysical survey also revealed a second, smaller tomb on the summit of the hill. Whether that tomb was also demolished by Conolly’s workmen or in antiquity is uncertain.


Following Conolly’s death, the lodge is believed to have stood empty until 1735, when tradition suggests that it was rented by members of The Hell Fire Club. The Irish Hell Fire Club was founded by Richard Parsons, Earl of Rosse in the 1730s. He was a notorious character who was infamous for obscenity, blasphemy and receiving guests in the nude. This group of characters were derided by the establishment of the time. The famous satirist Jonathan Swift complained of a ‘brace of monsters, blasphemers and bacchanalians’. The young men who were members of the Irish Hell Fire Club were often referred to as the young ‘Bucks of Dublin’, and accounts from the time paint lurid pictures of debauchery and gambling, and intoxication on their special drink, a potent mix of hot butter and whiskey known as Scaltheen. The group scandalised society until the death of Richard Parsons in 1741.




In 1749, the hunting lodge was purchased by Charles Cobbe, son of the Archbishop of Dublin. Charles was reported to have died inside the building in 1751. After this it appears that the building was left abandoned. By 1779, just 54 years after its construction, the antiquarian Austin Cooper, noted that it was derelict and ‘entirely out of repair’ and it remained in this condition until the conservation works of the 1960s.


Due to the associations with both a prehistoric passage-tomb and a notorious, but secretive group, the Hell Fire Club has become deeply engrained with mythology and folklore surrounding both the group’s activities and the building itself. One of the well-known tales concerns a card game in the Hell Fire Club. As usual the game ran for hours, and involved drinking copious amounts of scaltheen. One of the younger players, intoxicated by the potent drink, dropped his cards. As he bent down to pick them up, he noticed the red coats and socks of all the fellow members except one, who had legs like a goat with cloven hooves. To his horror, the young man realised that the member was the Devil himself, and according to the story, the young man was never seen on Montpelier Hill again.


Text and Photos: Abarta Heritage

Useful Resources

National Monuments Service

NMS Historic Environment Viewer

South Dublin Libraries Local Studies Resources

South Dublin Historical Mapping

South Dublin County History

South Dublin Libraries SOURCE  - a digital archive of local studies material relating to South Dublin County


[last updated: 24.07.20]

Archaeology Sites in the Dublin Mountains

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