Walk for the weekend: Hellfire Club a favourite haunt

Step into a deep, embracing deciduous forest, full of great splashes of sunlight, cool forest air and of birdsong

General Holt, on the run during the 1798 Rebellion, took time out during his slightly nervous overnight sojourn at the "haunted" Hell Fire Club to admire a spectacular sunrise over Dublin Bay. Though the city has filled out a bit since, and the Bull Island and the ESB chimneys were yet to appear, the view from this wonderfully atmospheric place is now just as good, day or night, winter or summer. And by great good fortune, just below it is a semi-wild mature, woodland space, Massy's Estate, a delightful contrast and sometimes inclement weather alternative to the airy summit of Montpelier Hill.

Recently one sunny morning, I walked both the Estate and the Hell Fire Club – in that order. There's about a three-minute walk from the Club's car park on the R115 to the Estate entrance and the start of the 1.5km orange-marked "Nature Trail". Then it's a step into a deep, embracing deciduous forest, full (for me) of great splashes of sunlight, cool forest air and of birdsong carried as if from everywhere. The trail soon took me close to the site of the old Kilakee House, sadly demolished in 1941, and past an old Sequoia with its characteristically soft fire-resistant bark. I stopped to admire a huge spreading sessile (Irish) oak on my left, and progressed on down to the river turning right onto a lovely, very atmospheric riverside path. Soon I was guided through an attractive arch and into the chaos of the ruined walled "garden", once very beautiful and graced with a conservatory designed by Richard Turner of Botanical Gardens fame. Ironically, this "garden" is perhaps the least attractive section of the walk and I was glad to regain the lovely riverside path as it wound up past a disused "ice-house" and over an ornamental "fairy bridge", and eventually curving back to the entrance along a beautiful, wide avenue.

Now back in the Hell Fire Club car park, I set off clockwise around the blue-marked 4km Montpelier Loop. Soon Coillte's commercial mandate to fell and sell was sadly in evidence all around me. Further along a wide forestry track, I was conscious that birdsong in the predominantly conifer woods was nearly absent, while shy Sika deer peered at me from the forest cover, and lovely views of Glenasmole opened up at the western end of the loop. The sunshine of the day banished any ghosts from the Golgotha-like Hell Fire Club, and instead encouraged a long lazy hangout on the green summit meadow; here I shared with a multitude of enthusiastic dogs and families and mountain-bikers the never-failing, wide vistas of Dublin and its coasts and islands – and even the Mournes.

Plans are afoot to “develop” the Hill and the Estate; overflow weekend parking on the R115 is currently chaotic and dangerous, and needs to be urgently addressed. But otherwise, my hope is that the fragile ambience of these special places will not be damaged.


Walk for the Weekend: Hell Fire Club and Massy’s Estate, Co Dublin

Maps and Info: dublinmountains.ie for all walks or see panel in CP of Hell Fire Club

Effort: about 6km, 150mts of ascent, 2hrs

Start/Finish: Hell Fire Club car park on R115

Suitability: easy

Amenity: nearby Country Store & Cafe (Timbertrove)