One of Ireland’s most interesting abandoned buildings is the Hellfire Club in Dublin. This article appeared last January in the North Clare Local…
While the devil can often walk among mortals, it generally transpires that the mortals in question have done something to entice him there.
Last month, I mentioned that gambling, especially late at night, can draw the devil down on the players. Sometimes he appears for no reason. On occasions, however, people can actively summon him.
This is not a solely Irish tradition. The tale of Faust, a German legend where a man sells his soul to devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and power, has been remade and readapted time and time again, even leading to 1997 cheese-fest The Devil’s Advocate. ‘Selling your soul’ is a well-worn phrase. The American blues musician, Robert Johnson, supposedly sold his soul at a crossroads in exchange for mastering the guitar. Johnson died at 27, one of the first members of the ’27 Club’. Mystery surrounds his death, and many believe he was poisoned.
Sometimes actions are so repellent, the Devil feels he has to get involved. A prime example is the notorious Hell Fire Club at Montpelier Hill, Dublin.
It is surely only a matter of time before Hollywood get a hold of the Hell Fire legend. Firstly, the house that now exists as ruins there was built over a Celtic burial site. To add insult to injury, a standing stone was used as the lintel of the fireplace. The ancient pagan spirits were said to so be incensed by this, it was only a matter of time before something spooky happened.
Indeed it did, with a huge storm blowing off the roof shortly after the building’s completion in 1725. Roof repaired, the house remained quiet, and it has to be said, largely unoccupied, for a number of years.
Meanwhile in England, the trend of Hell Fire Clubs had begun. Young gentlemen, often very rich and influential rakes, began to join together under the banner ‘The Order of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe.’ There was nothing monkish about these clubs, which were established for the purpose of ‘immoral acts’. Being the coy 18th century, it’s sadly hard to ascertain what exactly these were, but I’m sure we can take a guess.
The clubs spread to the Irish gentry. In 1737, the 1st Earl of Rosse, Richard Parsons and his friend James Worsdale founded the Irish Hell Fire Club. The club’s members, of which there were less than ten, met at a various locations in the city to drink whiskey and generally act the maggot. A place was set at each meeting for the Devil.
It wasn’t until they began to meet at Montpelier Hill that they were granted an audience with old Nick.
The historical records are sketchy and it’s possible the club may have never met there at all. But why let that ruin a good story?
The standard story of the card game and the cloven hoof is believed to have occurred here, but there are other stories unique to Montpelier Hill. One involves a young farmer, curious to see what the devil those young bucks got up, spying on the lodge one night. He was invited in by Parsons, who was dressed as Satan, and allow to spend the night in the club. The young man was found the next morning, scared witless, wandering the countryside. Such was his trauma, it was said he spent the remainder of his days mute, unable to even comprehend his own name.
The Hell Fire Club’s mascot was a black cat. One of the most famous legends concern this cat, and it all began when another young man decided to spy on the activities of the club. The boy, a visitor to the area, was found dead the next morning. Understandably upset, his host and the local priest went up to the club. When they arrived, they saw a banquet laid out and a huge black cat prowling the room. However, this was no normal cat. The priest sprinkled holy water on it and recited the prayer of exorcism, and a demon flew out. Chaos arose, and the smell of brimstone forced the priest outside as fire began to take hold of the lodge. There he found his companion bleeding from deep claw wounds. The man survived, but never fully recovered.
The Hell Fire Club remains, burnt out and abandoned, on Montpelier Hill. There are regular walking tours to the house and grounds, now owned by Coillte. Visitors are advised to be careful with their valuables, as the area attracts sinister elements of non-supernatural variety.
Will you see the Devil at the Hell Fire Club? People have reported strange smells, oppressive atmospheres and even the remnants of late-night satanic rituals.
And I don’t know about you, but I am definitely giving the late night card games a miss from now on!