This ‘World Heritage Site’ is among the most visited tourist attractions in Ireland with busloads of visitors from every corner of the globe making the trek to the County Meath location where the fine Visitor Centre interprets the site before the short bus-ride to the actual burial mound and the visit into the chamber itself.
What is less well known perhaps is that there are hundreds of these burial tombs around the Irish countryside, most lying idle or unexplored.
What treasures may lie within!
One such site in the Dublin mountains is beside the building known as the ‘Hellfire Club’. These now derelict ruins on Montpelier Hill were built as a shooting lodge in 1725. The lodge was built by William Connolly who at the time was the richest man in all of Ireland. The construction of the building disturbed and damaged the nearby passage tomb and is said that this is the reason the site became associated with the supernatural and the occult.
The lodge was later leased to Richard Parsons who was the Earl of Rosse. Together with some of his associates they formed a wild drinking club where dabbling in the occult led to the group being labelled as ‘Dublin’s Hellfire Club’ or alternatively as ‘The Young Bucks of Dublin’. It is believed that black masses were held at the site with animal sacrifices common. The club’s mascot was a black cat and it is said the membership always left a spare chair vacant should the devil wish to attend their gatherings!
Richard Parsons was a notorious prankster who once presented himself naked when the prominent visiting clergyman Samuel Madden arrived at his home. Another member of the group was James Worsdale who was also an infamous womanizer and drinker. Perhaps the most dangerous member of the Hellfire Club was Henry, fourth Baron Barry of Santry, who is reported to have murdered and burned a servant, only to escape punishment by buying off witnesses. He was eventually sentenced to death after murdering another servant in a drunken frenzy. Of course his friends intervened and secured his release and exile to Nottingham in England.
The legend of the Hellfire Club lived on after this era, even when the original band of members had dispersed. They were associated with debauchery and devil-worship although it is likely that, philosophically, the group were free-thinkers or agnostics. Their outrageous pranks and crimes were symptomatic of the era of enlightenment when sections of society attempted to throw of the yoke of the oppressive religious and political atmosphere of their day.
The damage that was caused to the passage tomb On Montpelier Hill however was permanent and it is only after recent excavations that the full site was finally revealed.
Passage Tombs in Ireland are often about 5000 years old, making them among the oldest structures on the planet, pre-dating the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. The investigative team is being led by Neil Jackman from Abarta Heritage and volunteers from the UCD School of Archaeology. They hope to find bones and other remnants that can accurately date the location. It is acknowledged that the site is just one of many such tombs in the Dublin mountains.
It is estimated that there are at least 200 Court Tombs, perhaps hundreds of Passage Tombs, at least 500 to 550 Wedge Tombs, and 163 portal tombs found so far in Ireland.
With the vast majority unexplored, many lying boarded up or derelict it is easy to agree with the notion that the history of Ireland has not yet been written.