Europe

Hellfire club: Dublin dig uncovers ancient artwork

The Hellfire Club began life as a 18th Century hunting lodge built from stones taken from ancient passage tombs Image copyright Abarta Heritage
Image caption Dublin's Hellfire Club began life as a 18th Century hunting lodge built from stones taken from ancient passage tombs

Dublin's Hellfire Club has been a place shrouded in myth and mystery but is now giving up its secrets as a significant discovery has been made at the site.

The club's infamy stems from the fact it was built using stone from ancient tombs - essentially grave robbing.

Archaeologists who began digging up the grounds last month have stumbled across artwork believed to be 5,000 years old.

But the stone carving is so faint it is almost imperceptible to the naked eye; the team admit they almost missed it.

They only spotted the designs when a beam of sunlight shone on a rock that they had lifted and "set aside" weeks earlier in the dig.

Concentric circles

Neil Jackman, who is leading the archaeological project, said his team "did not originally notice anything particularly unusual about the stone".

Image copyright Ken Williams/Shadows and Stone
Image caption Archaeologists said they almost missed the ancient stone carving because it had been damaged by fires that were set on the site

"Early in the morning of Wednesday 19 October, the low autumnal sun hit the stone at an angle that revealed a previously unnoticed long curving line," he said.

"As we looked at the line, the changing light revealed that the line cut over the top of two faint concentric circles, one inside the other.

"This is a motif that appears in megalithic art at some of the most famous passage tombs in the country."

The discovery caused "great excitement" for the team, who immediately sent images of the carvings to megalithic art experts at University College Dublin (UCD) for examination.

Image copyright Ken Williams/Shadows and Stone
Image caption The team has highlighted the carvings which are almost imperceptible to naked eye

Unfortunately, the archaeologists were not the first visitors to the site to miss the stone's significance.

Debauchery

The beauty spot is set high in the Dublin mountains and has been the scene of many a barbeque, bonfire and hellfire over the years.

The Hellfire Club began life as a 18th Century hunting lodge but passed into folklore as a temple of intemperance for Dublin debauchery.

The lodge was built around 1725 for the powerful politician William Conolly, - Speaker of the Irish Parliament - who no doubt cut his construction costs by helping himself to the remnants of two nearby ancient passage tombs.

As bad luck would have it, Conolly died very soon after the building was completed. His widow then leased the lodge to a Dublin aristocrat, the Earl of Rosse.

The earl and his gang of young, wealthy friends earned themselves scandalous reputations for behaviour that would have been viewed as blasphemous and obscene in conservative Georgian Dublin.

Image copyright Abarta Heritage
Image caption The elevated site has been a popular picnic and bonfire spot for generations

Rosse reputedly liked to host his gatherings in the nude, and his gang became known variously as 'The Blasters'; 'Young Bucks of Dublin' and simply "the Hellfire Club'.

'Tantalising'

Whether the clubbers knew their parties were decked out with a backdrop of megalithic art is not documented.

The carved stone itself had been badly damaged by flames and Mr Jackman said that "due to the many fires that had been lit upon it, it fractured into four large fragments as we began to lift it from the trench".

Broken or not, the archaeologists still view the stone as highly significant and have given it to the National Museum of Ireland for further analysis.

"This exciting discovery helps to reinforce the importance of the tomb behind the Hellfire Club, and it gives a tantalising glimpse of what the original tomb may have looked like before its destruction in the 18th and 19th centuries," Mr Jackman added.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites