The Hellfire Club
Known locally as The Devil's Kitchen or simply The Hell-Fire Club it is inextricably linked to the infamous Dublin Hell-Fire Club whose viciousness and arrogance is still remembered and whose history is recounted below.
At the beginning of the 18th century, a time of sharp contrast between the fabulously wealthy and the destitute, there lived a class of gentry called 'bucks' who spent their lives pursuing enjoyment in a most violent and eccentric manner. Their behaviour was viewed at the time as an insult to the most sacred principals of religion, an affront to Almighty God himself, and corrupting to the minds and morals of young people.
This life consisted; it is said, of gambling, blaspheming, whoring, drinking, violence and even Satanism. The Dublin Hell-Fire Club was founded by Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, and Colonel Jack St Leger. Jack St Leger, as his name suggests, had deep sporting instincts and his country house near Athy in County Kildare was the haunt of the leading gamblers and racing men of the day. Huge amounts of money changed hands at parties here, and vast quantities of liquor were consumed. It was in this atmosphere that the Dublin Hell-Fire Club was borne. Its motto was "do as you will".
The club had various headquarters around Dublin such as the now demolished Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill. On occasion at the Eagle, members would sit around a circular table upon which was placed a huge punch bowl of scaltheen, a rancid mixture of Irish whiskey and melted butter. After toasting the Devil and drinking to the 'damnation of the Church and its prelates' the bucks would pour scaltheen over a cat, especially obtained for the occasion, and set fire to the poor creature. Once a wretched animal escaped its tormentors and ran flaming into the street. This caused near panic to the public outside the tavern, as the screaming cat blazed by.
Another favourite meeting place was Daly's Club, College Green. Here the shutters were closed in the morning so that members with hangovers could gamble by candlelight. One gruesome incident occurred when a member, said to be 'Buck' Sheely was caught cheating at cards. A 'court' was convened presided over by 'Buck' English who dressed for the part in the skin, tail and horns of a bull. His verdict was that Sheely was to be hurled through the window of the third floor gaming room. When honour had been satisfied, gambling was resumed. Sheely died in the fall.
The Hell-Fire Club of Dublin really came into its own, though, when it took over Mountpelier House. According to local legend, an ancient cromlech or cairn erected to the old pagan gods of Ireland had been demolished to make way for the lodge. The house was therefore said to be ill-fated but the legend only enhanced it in the eyes of the club members. Its other attributes of its remoteness well suited the bucks and its commanding view of Dublin had a powerful appeal to their insufferable arrogance. For at least 20 years Mountpelier House flourished as a den of all kinds of vice and blasphemy. It was ruined by the bucks in around 1740.
The story of the disaster is well known. At this time the 'Principal' of the Hell-Fire club was a man of enormous wealth called Richard Chappell Whaley. A descendant of Oliver Cromwell, Whaley was a tyrant who was feared and hated by the native population. His nickname was 'Burn-Chapel' Whaley because of his fanatical hatred of religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. He used to amuse himself on Sundays by riding around the district setting fire to the thatch of Catholic chapels. His pyromania caused the downfall of Mountpelier House.
After an unfrocked clergyman had performed a Black Mass in one of the two upstairs rooms in Mountpelier House, the ceremony ending in the usual drunken revelry, a footman picking his way through the sprawling bodies spilt some drink on Richard Whaley's coat. Whaley reacted by pouring brandy over the footman and setting him alight. The man fled downstairs clutching at a tapestry hanging by the hall door, trying to douse the flames. Within minutes the whole house was ablaze. Many bucks died, being too drunk and helpless to escape. Whaley managed to leap out of a window along with a few of his more sober companions. Local people watched the blazing pyre convinced that God had taken revenge. Whaley's son, Thomas 'Buck' Whaley was to become, in his short life, the most famous and flamboyant buck of all.
Born in 1766, it was 'Buck' Whaley who rallied the Hell-Fire club from the low ebb to which it had sunk after the burning of Mountpelier House declaring his intention of 'defying God and man in nightly revels'. Black Masses and homosexual orgies were the principal features of these sessions, though Whaley himself had a mistress whom he kept well away from these meetings.
'Buck' Whaley initially squandered the fortune he inherited from his father, but then he won an even greater fortune at the gaming tables as well as in some bizarre wagers. In one wager he won £25,000 from the Duke of Leinster by riding to Jerusalem and back within a year. Needless to say, it was not a pious pilgrimage and he later boasted of having 'drunk his way around the Holy Places'. On an another occasion, for a bet of £12,000, he rode a beautiful Arab stallion in a death-defying leap from the drawing room of his father's house on Stephen's Green to the street some 30 feet below. He won his wager but killed the horse.
Contrition and remorse, however, began to enter into 'Buck' Whaley's mind and so he resolved to seek absolution for his sins. While kneeling in the darkened nave in St Audoen's Church he had a vision of the Devil creeping down the aisle towards him. Seized with terror, Whaley ran from the church and fled Ireland forever.
He lived the last few years of his life, with his mistress, in a mansion he built on the Isle of Man which is still known today as 'Whaley's Folly'. He died at the age of 34 of sclerosis of the liver. In his memoirs, a repentant 'Buck' Whaley wrote that he felt 'no trifling sensation from the prospect that this simple narrative may persuade the young and inexperienced, if the language of truth has the power of persuasion, that a life of dissipation can produce no enjoyment, and that tumultuous pleasures afford no real happiness.'
With his death the Dublin Hell-Fire Club ceased to exist.
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