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Blasphemers and Blackguards-The Irish Hellfire Clubs by David Ryan

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Non Fiction

By Paddy Reid

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This book is extremely rich in historical detail and an excellent and easy read. It takes us back to middle of the 18th century, where a group of titled, mostly young men and artists set up the first Hellfire club in a remote area of the Dublin Mountains.

The hellfire clubs soon found fame and notoriety for the licentious behaviour of the wealthy in Irish society who thronged there.  Because of their privileged background and their contacts with the ruling classes of Ireland, these men were in every sense beyond the rule of law.  Hellfire club members dabbled in the occult, setting up Satan as their mentor. They took pride in leading an utterly depraved life.  In such clubs, for example, young maid servants were frequently enslaved, tortured and raped. Alcohol was consumed in vast quantity. Lord Santry, who had brutally murdered some of his servants, was finally persuaded to retire to his vast estate in England and that was the full extent of his punishment. An example is given of a poor working class man who had large amounts of brandy forcefully poured down his throat and was then set alight, much to the amusement of members. As word of such atrocities spread throughout Dublin, Dean Swift was one of the few who spoke out publicly against these outrages. Yet because of the royal titles of these members, they carried on with impunity.

Written in a very accessible manner, this book is a fine study of the baser activities of the ruling classes in 18thcentury Ireland.  Extensive footnotes are provided and Ryan’s depth of research is both outstanding and comprehensive.


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