Northern Ireland

Dublin's Hellfire Club: Ancient tomb uncovered at site known for supernatural

Hellfire Club excavation Image copyright Aberta Heritage
Image caption The circular outline of the tomb at the Hellfire Club can be clearly seen from the air

Anyone who's watched a horror film knows you never build a house over sacred burial ground.

But, it's been confirmed that an infamous 18th-century hangout for rich, young Dublin men with a taste for dark deeds and blasphemy broke that rule big time.

The notorious Hellfire Club in the Dublin Mountains was built on an ancient tomb.

The destruction of the tomb, to provide stone for the club's building, kick-started a local belief that the club was tangled up with the supernatural.

Excavators said the "exciting discovery" was made as part of a dig delving into the history of the site.

They believe it was an ancient passage tomb, similar to the 5,000-year-old Newgrange in County Meath.

Located on Montpelier Hill, near south Dublin, the site is home to the ruins of the Hellfire Club, a building first built in 1725 by politician William Connolly as a shooting lodge.

The lodge was built using stone from two large tombs in the area.

It is said locally that the destruction of the tomb enraged a demon who blew the wooden roof off the original building.

Image copyright Abarta Heritage
Image caption Archaeologists are excavating the site of the old hellfire club in the Dublin hills

After Connolly died, the lodge became home a group of young aristocrats known as the Hellfire Club or 'Young Bucks of Dublin'.

Jonathan Swift, satirist and writer of Gulliver's Travels, famously described the group as a "brace of Monsters, Blasphemers and Bacchanalians" - helping to further enhance the site's reputation for devilish goings on.

Recently, archaeologists have turned to the ground in order to discover more secrets of the Hellfire Club's history and origins - and they have not been disappointed.

Neil Jackman, from Aberta Heritage who are running the dig with South Dublin County Council, said the tomb is one of a number found in the Wicklow Mountains but that the remnants discovered here pointed to it being "by far the largest".

Image copyright Aberta Heritage
Image caption Other objects have been discovered in the dig including a polished stone axehead

"We knew one was here as it was recorded that there was two potential passage tombs, but it's great to say definitively that this here," he said.

"It's exactly like Newgrange - a large mound of stones, with a stone-lined passage.

"Inside you would find cremated remains. The tomb might have been used for the community, or it might have been hierarchical. But, it would've been for a large community.

"It's an extremely rare find. The last one was discovered in County Kilkenny about 20 years ago."

According to Neil, the dig represents an opportunity to learn more about the superstition that surrounded the Hellfire Club.

Image copyright Aberta Heritage
Image caption Archaeologists at the beginning of the dig at the Hellfire Club

"The original folklore about the site is very interesting. Folklore tends to reflect what society is afraid of.

The tomb or cairn being destroyed would have made people fearful. They would have treated it as sacred and it would have made people uneasy."

He also said the dig was a great opportunity for the public to come and see archaeology at work.

"It's an open excavation so people can come up to the site and chat to us. They've been telling us about their memories and family stories of the Hellfire Club.

"It's a real opportunity to see us digging in the field.

"It's been absolutely brilliant - and the weather has been good, so that's helped too. We've been incredibly lucky."

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