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Making History
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Listen to this editionTuesday 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook presents the series that examines listeners' historical queries, exploring avenues of research and uncovering mysteries.
The Hellfire Club of Dublin - a notorious 18th-century meeting-place

Listener's query
"There's an old shooting lodge just outside Dublin called the Hellfire Club. What was the Hellfire Club and what happened there?"

Brief summary
The Hellfire Club was founded in 1735 by Richard Parsons, the 1st Earl of Rosse, with members among his friends and colleagues. Mainly they met in the Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill in Dublin. Occasionally they met in the old shooting lodge outside Dublin, which is now known as the Hellfire Club. It was a drinking and gambling club, and all sorts of debauchery and vice went on there. The members were young bucks from an upper social background, who thought they could get away with outlandish behaviour and buy themselves out of almost any scrape. They were privileged, well-connected, wealthy young men out to raise hell.

Satanic rites are reported to have taken place. The much-told tale about the club is that a stranger appeared at a card table. A card was dropped and when one of the members bent down to retrieve it from under the table, he saw that the stranger had a cloven hoof. The black magic element was something which the club liked to project about themselves, whether or not it was true.

There were other hellfire clubs too. There was, one, for instance, in Limerick at about the same time, and during the century there were three or four, including at least one in England. There was another in the 1780s in Dublin which centred on Daleys Gambling Club in College Green.

These clubs stretched things as far as they could. Murder, even, was an occasional outcome. The clubs did come up against the law in Dublin. One, the Blasters, had one of its members pursued by the bailiffs because he was a "votary of the devil".

Sometimes the members grew out of it, but sometimes the lifestyle caught up with them, which is what happened to the Earl of Rosse. He died in 1741 and then the whole thing began to fizzle out, not to re-emerge for another couple of decades.

Expert consulted
Dr Máire Kennedy of Dublin City Libraries

Further information

Dublin City Archives
Pearse Street Library, 138-142 Pearse Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 00 353 1 674 4999
Fax: 00 353 1 674 4881

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    Making History

    Vanessa Collingridge
    Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

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    Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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