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Hellfire Club Archaeological Project

/Hellfire Club Archaeological Project
Hellfire Club Archaeological Project 2017-06-27T11:57:22+00:00

Welcome to the Hellfire Club Archaeological Project

The Hellfire Club Archaeological Project was carried out through the month of October, and is now complete. The Hellfire Club Archaeological Project aims to help to uncover the story of Mountpelier Hill, where you can find the famous ruins known as the Hellfire Club.  The project is led by Neil Jackman of Abarta Heritage, with an experienced team of archaeologists alongside volunteers from University College Dublin.  The project is supported by South Dublin County Council, Coillte, Dublin Mountains Partnership and Abarta Heritage, with kind support from University College Dublin, the Discovery Programme, the National Monuments Service and National Museum of Ireland.

Hellfire Club Archaeological Project News

The Story of the Hellfire Club

Montpelier Hill, near Tallaght in South County Dublin, is a popular place for locals and visitors to enjoy spectacular views over Dublin.  It is synonymous today with the ruins of an eighteenth century building known locally as The Hellfire Club.  It was built as a shooting lodge for the famous politician William Conolly in around 1725. To build the lodge, his workmen destroyed two large tombs, and utilised their stone as building material.  The destruction of the tombs is said to mark the beginning of the association of the building with the supernatural.  Legend has it, that a devil was so enraged by the desecration that he blew off the original wooden roof of the new building.  As one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain or Ireland, William Conolly was not to be deterred by a mere phantom, and had the roof reconstructed in stone, giving the lodge its unique appearance.

How it came to be known as the Hellfire Club

Conolly did not live long to enjoy his new lodge, as he died just a few years after its construction.  The building is thought to have been idle until 1735, when it is said that his widow, Katherine, leased the building to Richard Parsons, the Earl of Rosse.  Parsons was one of the leading figures in what was known as ‘Dublin’s Hellfire Club’, ‘The Blasters’ or the ‘Young Bucks of Dublin’.  This was a group of aristocrats, described at the time by the famous Jonathan Swift as “a brace of Monsters, Blasphemers and Bacchanalians”.  The Earl of Rosse in particular was infamous for obscenity, blasphemy and for his habit of receiving guests in the nude.  The main meeting place for the Hellfire Club appears to have been The Eagle Tavern on Cork Street.  Though no direct records explicitly state that they met on Mountpelier Hill, it was certainly a plausible meeting place given that it was leased to their leader the Earl of Rosse, and that it was far enough outside the city for their debauches to go unnoticed.

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What We Hope to Find

This is the third phase of a project to help uncover the stories of Mountpelier Hill.  Phase 1 was largely research based, during Phase 2 we carried out a geophysical survey with Earthsound Geophysics to discover the archaeological potential of the site, this was augmented by targeted test excavations to establish the nature of the archaeology.
This third phase involves the archaeological excavation of a portion of the large tomb.  It is believed that this was once a large passage tomb, (similar in some respects to Newgrange).  Before it was largely destroyed, we believe it would have once been a large circular mound, with a stone lined passageway that led to a burial chamber.  This type of tomb generally dates to the Neolithic period, around 5,000 years ago.  We believe it is part of an extended cemetery of tombs that top a number of the mountains of South Dublin and Wicklow.
With our excavation of a portion of the tomb, we hope to discover that the eighteenth century workmen did not destroy the lower levels of the tomb, and that we might find some of the original features intact.  We also hope that we find bone or charcoal, so that we can obtain a radiocarbon date that will tell us precisely how old the tomb is, so we can compare it with other similar tombs in Ireland.

After the Excavation

After the excavation is complete we will backfill the cutting and return the site to its original condition.

Where you can find more information

The excavation was carried out throughout October (Monday–Fridays).  We were delighted to welcome a large number of visitors and schools who came to see the excavation unfold.  Now the dig is complete, we have backfilled our trenches and we are carrying out the post-excavation analysis.

You can also keep up with the unfolding story of the Hellfire Club here where we’ll be keeping site diaries and video blogs to show the progress of the excavation.  Consider signing up to our newsletter to make sure you never miss an update.

Map of the Hellfire Club