THE HELLFIRE CLUB
Stephen Brandes / Diana Copperwhite / Tom Fitzgerald
Askeaton Contemporary Arts commissioned a selection of prominent Irish artists to produce new artworks based around the town’s Hellfire Club legacy.
Upon an island in the middle of Askeaton, the remains of a Hellfire Club can be seen. Set up in the mid 1700s by the Duke of Wharton throughout the UK and Ireland, most Hellfire Clubs were soon outlawed and shut down. However, the Askeaton club, founded in 1740 and the most westerly branch of the organisation, probably stayed in existence until the end of the century and received visitors from near and far. Known as a satirical gentleman’s club, those who met there considered it as a way of shocking the outside world. The supposed president was the Devil, although the members themselves did not apparently worship demons or the Devil, but called themselves devils. Ceremonial feasts took place, all washed down with alcoholic punch. While lurid tales are often recounted in local folklore of other outrageous rituals enacted, very little remaining information or evidence exists of the activities of the Askeaton Hellfire.
Today, the club building is inaccessible to the public, as the OPW currently tries to stabilise the building from continued collapse since its abandonment in the 1800s. Around this site of physical decay, featured artists have considered the Hellfire history, its non-conformist allusions to the society of the 1700s, and its material presence as a crumbling ruin in the middle of a small Irish countryside town.
Exhibition research and new commissons are detailed in the publication, alongside texts from Michele Horrigan, Padraic E. Moore and Brian O’Doherty.