South Dublin County Council, in partnership with Collate and archaeologists with Abarta Heritage, is undertaking an exciting archaeological excavation on Montpelier Hill.
Unknown to many who visit Montpelier Hill to enjoy the spectacular views over Dublin and experience the ruins of the imposing Hell Fire Club building, two prehistoric passage tombs also mark the summit of the hill.
Very little information exists for these tombs so this archaeological research project aims to help uncover the prehistoric story of the largest of the monuments, located directly beside the well-known ruins of the Hellfire Club hunting lodge.
This project is funded by South Dublin County Council under the County Heritage Plan.
Excavations are being led by archaeologist Neil Jackman of Abarta Heritage, with an experienced team of archaeologists and with additional volunteers from University College Dublin.
The project is supported by Coillte who own and manage the Hell Fire Club Woodland site and by University College Dublin, the Discovery Programme, the National Monuments Service and National Museum of Ireland.
The Story of the Hellfire Club
Montpelier Hill, near Tallaght, is a popular place for locals and visitors to enjoy spectacular views over Dublin.
It is synonymous today with the ruins of an eighteenth century building known locally as The Hell Fire Club.
It was built as a hunting lodge for the famous politician William Connolly (the ‘Speaker Connolly’) in around 1725.
To build the lodge, his workmen utilised stone from the nearby passage tombs as building material. The destruction of the tombs marks the beginning of the association of the building with the supernatural.
Local legend has it, that the devil was so enraged by the desecration that he blew off the original wooden roof of the new building in a big storm!
As one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain or Ireland at that time, William Connolly was not to be deterred by a mere phantom and had the roof reconstructed in stone, giving the lodge its unique appearance.
How It Came to be Known as the Hell Fire Club
William Connolly did not live long enough to enjoy his new lodge, as he died just a few years after its construction.
The building is thought to have been idle until 1735, when it is said that his widow, Katherine, leased the building to Richard Parsons, the Earl of Rosse.
Parsons was one of the leading figures in what was known at the time as ‘Dublin’s Hellfire Club’, ‘The Blasters’ or the ‘Young Bucks of Dublin’.
This was a group of aristocrats, described at the time by the famous Jonathan Swift as “a brace of Monsters, Blasphemers and Bacchanalians”.
The Earl of Rosse in particular was infamous for obscenity, blasphemy and for his habit of receiving guests in the nude.
The main meeting place for the Hellfire Club appears to have been The Eagle Tavern on Cork Street.
Though no direct historical records explicitly state that they met on Montpelier Hill, it was certainly a plausible meeting place given that it was leased to their leader the Earl of Rosse and that it was far enough outside the city for their debauches to go unnoticed.
What This Archaeological Project Hopes to Find
This is the third phase of a Council-funded project to help uncover the stories of Montpelier Hill.
Phase 1 was largely research based and involved the undertaking of a geophysical survey with Earthsound Geophysics to discover the archaeological potential of the site.
This information was augmented in Phase 2 by targeted test excavations to establish the nature of the archaeology.
The current phase of the project, Phase 3, involves the archaeological excavation of a portion of the large tomb.
It is believed that this was once a large passage tomb, (similar in some respects to Newgrange).
Before it was largely destroyed it is believed to have once been a large circular mound, with a stone lined passageway that led to a burial chamber.
This type of tomb generally dates to the Neolithic period, around 5,000 years ago.
We believe it is part of an extended cemetery of tombs that top a number of the mountains of South Dublin County, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and County Wicklow.
With our excavation of a portion of the tomb, we hope to discover that the eighteenth century workmen and any subsequent disturbances at the site did not destroy the lower levels of the tomb structure.
Some original features of the tomb’s construction may still therefore remain intact and, if fragments of bone or charcoal are found, it is hoped that we can obtain a radiocarbon date that will tell us precisely how old the tomb is, so we can compare it with other similar tombs in Ireland.
Where You Can Find More Information
The excavation will be carried out throughout October (Monday–Fridays).
You are most welcome to join the Abarta Heritage on site to see how they’re progressing and to hear about any discoveries that they may find.
You can also keep up with the excavation on www.abartaheritage.ie where they’ll be keeping site diaries and video blogs to show the progress of the excavation.