A History of Montpelier Hill Dublin

Montpelier Hill may perhaps be best known for the Hellfire Club, but that is just a small part of a larger story.

‘Throughout their history, the Dublin Mountains have provided a scenic, more pastoral and unruly backdrop to the regulated world of the vale of Dublin.’  (1)

(A list of sources for this article are detailed at the bottom, the references appear numbered as (1), (2) etc).

Montpelier Hill in the Early Medieval and Medieval Periods (c.400–1600)

The Early Medieval Period on Montpelier Hill – A Monastic Hinterland?

In the early medieval period, this region was formerly part of the territory of Ui Ceallaig Cualann, which extended from Tallaght into the foothills of the Dublin Mountains.  This name was shortened to ‘O’Kelly’ in documents of the Anglo-Norman period. (2).  Montpelier Hill and the surrounding lands may have become part of the hinterland estates of the important monastic foundation of Maelruan at Tallaght, located less than 5km to the north-north west of the hill.  This monastery was an important liturgical and reform centre: three outstanding religious texts, the Martyrology of Aengus, the Martyrology of Tallaght and the Stowe Missal were compiled here.  Tallaght was also the base of the Céile Dé (the ‘Servants of God’), a reforming community of monks, who had their headquarters in Tallaght.  Such an establishment would require extensive land. (3).

Evidence of early medieval activity may be seen in the two large enclosures on Montpelier Hill (DU025-021001-) and (DU025-020002-), that may be ringforts, [enclosed farmsteads from the early medieval period], however, as these monuments have never been investigated they may equally represent an earlier phase of activity.

The Normans in Dublin

Following the Anglo-Norman conquest of the late twelfth century, the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains posed an almost ever-present threat to the colonists as Gaelic forces would routinely attack the rich low-lying lands and retreat into the difficult battleground of the mountains.  The remains of a twelfth–fourteenth century castle (DU022-023002-) were identified during excavations at the late sixteenth-seventeenth century towerhouse (DU022-023001-) at Dundrum in South County Dublin.  The original castle is thought to have been constructed by Sir John de Clahull in 1187 to help to protect the southern approach to the city (4).

Montpelier Hill in the Post-Medieval and Early Modern Periods (c.1600–1900)

Montpelier Hill in the Post Medieval Period – Protestant Ascendency and Sporting Pursuits

The main catalysts for change in the land ownership in Montpelier Hill and County Dublin from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries include the growing secularisation of property after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the insertion of English settler families, and the consolidation of the property bases of leading gentry families of the Pale (5).

From c.1615 Rathfarnham Castle and its estates (including the lands of Montpelier Hill) were the property of the Loftus family, from whom it passed by marriage to Thomas Wharton after he married Lucy Loftus (6).  When Thomas died in 1715, the estates were inherited by his son Philip, who became the 1st Duke of Wharton in 1718.  Philip was a controversial character, prone to excessive drinking and outrageously lewd behaviour.  Due to his extravagant and feckless lifestyle, Wharton became chronically entailed with debt (eventually leading to him selling his title back to the King).  In 1723, William Conolly purchased Rathfarnham Castle and its estate from Wharton for the sum of £62,000.  William Conolly is one of the most prominent figures of eighteenth century Ireland. He was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal in 1662, the son of a local inn- keeper, who rose to become the wealthiest man in Ireland by the time of his death in 1729 (7).

Rathfarnham Castle

Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin

Castletown House

Castletown House, Celbridge, County Kildare

When Conolly purchased the estate, it consisted of 3,682 acres of arable, meadow and pasture, and 2,442 acres of mountain. The rental stood at £2,171 per annum. Conolly and his assessors calculated that the previously ‘mismanaged’ estate was capable of an additional increase of rent of £1,228 per annum. By 1782, the estate’s rent was calculated at £4,084 per annum. (8).

From researching the available portion of the Conolly Archive (available to view in the Irish Architectural Archive by appointment), I have as yet been unable to discover contemporary, primary documents relating specifically to the construction of the Hunting Lodge (that would later become known as the Hellfire Club).  Such as a contract, plans or designs between Conolly and an architect, or a bill of sale for materials or similar.  However a significant portion of the Conolly Archive is undergoing conservation and was therefore inaccessible, so there is still a chance that such evidence may be found during a further phase of research.  We do know from contemporary, and near contemporary accounts that it was Conolly that commissioned the work.  This can be seen in a reference to the establishment of the deer park that surrounded the Hunting Lodge:  ‘In 1752 Roger Kendrick, surveyor to the city of Dublin, was hired to map ‘the lands of Glanasmoin’ [Glenasmole] containing fourty-four acres which had been ‘taken into Mr Connolly’s [sic] land by the stone wall which joins the road.’ (9).