The Hellfire Club Story in the National Folklore Collection
The Schools Folklore Collection is undoubtedly one of the most wonderfully rich historical resources for folklore. It is part of the National Folklore Collection, that was undertaken by the Irish Folklore Commission between 1937–1939. Over 50,000 pupils in 5,000 primary schools across Ireland took part, and gathered folklore from people in their local area. The stories they recorded are available online at www.duchas.ie.
Three tales of the Hellfire Club appear in the National Folklore Collection. The first relates the common tale about the roof being blown off by a vengeful Devil:
‘Built by Speaker Connolly in 1725 sometimes called “Connolly’s Folly” “The Kennel” “The Haunted House”. Consisted of 2 large rooms & hall on an upper floor. Underneath was kitchen where there was a great fireplace 10ft wide. Arched roof of stones built to replace slated roof blown off by wind. People said the Devil blew off roof because of the desecration of cairn the stones of which were used to build Hell Fire Club. Roof damaged in 1849 when queen was in Dublin. Tar barrels were lighted on it to make a bonfire. Heat cracked the stones.’
The second tale relates another common story about a game of cards:
‘Years ago some men were playing cards in Hellfire Club. One of the men let a card drop and as he picked it up he noticed that one of the men had a cows foot. He was so frightened that he was afraid to tell the men. After playing for some time he lost his nerve and shouted out what he had seen. One of the men then jumped out of his chair and vanished. Then the man that had seen the foot dropped dead.’
The third tale recounts the rather harsh punishment meted out to anyone who would dare to cheat the noble gentlemen of the Hellfire Club:
‘About six miles from Dublin the Hell Fire Club is on a hill. It is a medium size old castle. When the owner of it died nobody else claimed it. All the men of the district came to play cards in it every night. One night when all the men were playing their nightly game one of the men cheated. The men rushed upon him over-powered him. They bound him hand and foot and put him in a barrel of whiskey. Then they set fire to it burning him alive. That was a cruel thing to do but then men did not care. From that day on that old castle was called the Hell Fire Club’.
(Source: National Folklore Collection: NFC 0797, p202. Informant: Mr Sommerville. Collector: Stewart Sommerville. Dundrum Boys School. Dundrum, County Dublin. Teacher: A. Breathnach, Andrew. T. Walsh)
Please continue on to the next page to discover more myths, legends and folklore of the Hellfire Club