The infamous Hell-Fire (Hellfire) Clubs is a fascinating and bizarre topic and has direct applications for genealogists. Trained historians have plowed through many of the same sources genealogists do in order to reconstruct the history of the Hell-Fire Clubs. This makes understanding how historians identify pertinent documents and then utilize them can provide lessons for all family historians. Plus, it’s a great story!
What Were the Hell-Fire Clubs?
So what were the Hell-Fire Clubs? They were secretive brotherhood organizations which ritually acted out and practiced anything counter-culture to their time period. They were founded by freethinking, living on the edge, Protestant elite gentry. The clubs were intended to counter the heavy hand of the established Protestant Church in every opposite way possible. Prostitution, sex, orgies, drinking, blasphemy, dark occult practices, and any other type of cultural depravity were accepted. Combine all that with rumors of Satan worship, homosexuality (illegal at the time), murder and human sacrifice and the Club’s reputation as a type of “holy other” would be solidified. By the 1770s the Hell-Fire Clubs had disbanded, but their influence remained in other groups such as the Pinkindindies and Cherokees.
Locations of the Irish Hell-Fire Clubs
The first Irish Hell-Fire Club was founded in 1735 in Dublin at Mount Pelier. There were three additional “regional” Hell-Fire Clubs in Ireland: Askeaton, County Limerick; Grangemellon, County Kildare and an unspecified location in the Midlands. However, there were other meeting places, such as Doonass, County Clare. Research shows these were rendezvous points for similar groups. The ruins of the Dublin Hell-Fire Club, is a tourist attraction. More can be found on the Abandoned Ireland website.
The Definitive Work on the Irish Clubs
The definitive work on the Irish Hell-Fire Clubs is Blasphemers & Blackguards: The Irish Hellfire Clubs, by David Ryan. An article by the author can be found on the Writing.ie website.
One fascinating aspect of this book is the author takes some of the same sources we would use in genealogy and reconstructs the history of a very secretive and forbidden society. For the family historian it demonstrates what can be done with sound logic, limited records and not being timid with controversial subject matters. Most of his research was conducted at the National Library of Ireland. His sources include private manuscripts, estate papers, print files, printed sources, newspapers and biographies. To use these sources to reconstruct a secret society is nothing short of amazing. We as family historians can learn much from such authors’ research by the manner in which they crafted their stories.
Additional Hell-Fire Club Information
To round out the story of the Hell-Fire Clubs, the English counterpart provides a rich supply of history and research. The best known is the elaborate Hell Fire Caves, which is a major tourist destination, located in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.An interesting commentary on the Hell-Fire Clubs comes from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and the Yukon website.
A Word of Warning
A word of warning on topics such as the “Hell Fire Club.” If you are looking for history, be careful what you place in the search engine. You may get more than you bargained for, as all websites are not historical!
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