There are, according to Eddie Cochran, three steps to Heaven, which is a comforting thought when you consider the Irish aren’t sure how many steps there are to Hell.
Ask any Dubliner where you’ll find the 40 Steps and there’s a chance you’ll be given just as many answers. The most likely candidates though will be the 40 steps beside Dublin Castle, the steps of Murdering Lane or, finally, the 40 steps of St Audeon’s Church on High St.
Let’s start with the steps beside Dublin Castle, a narrow, steep laneway flanked by the Castle walls on one side and the derelict remains of its former existence on its other side. Tour guides lazily (and mistakenly) call it Dean Swift Alley, its real name is Hoey’s Court and was where Swift was born.
This is my favourite laneway in Dublin and for many years I’ve called it Story Lane as a walk, up or down the steps, rain, hail or shine, has always helped me shake a story loose from my imagination. There aren’t 40 steps, though, there are 39.
Murdering Lane or Cromwell’s Quarters as it was cynically renamed 140 years ago doesn’t have 40 steps, either. This is another 39 stepper.
So I was holding out for St Audeon’s Church on High St to carry the select and correct number of steps because to descend through them leads to the gates of Hell, according to local legend. These steps are also known as the haunted steps since there have been many reports of a ghostly green lady being frequently spotted, thereabouts.
The green lady in question was one Darkey Kelley who, by different accounts was a brothel owner, a whore or an innkeeper but, given the circumstances of the day and the locality, it’s likely she was a bit of all three.
Kelley, it is said, became pregnant by Simon Luttrell, then Sheriff of Dublin and a prominent member of the Hellfire Club, a loose gathering of Anglo-Irish Ascendancy with more money than good sense and a penchant for high living, hedonism and debauchery.
She was then accused of the murder of the child and witchcraft for which crimes she was burned at the stake in St Stephen’s Green in 1746. Since then her ghost has been seen at the gates to the Church, below High St. Unfortunately, I counted just 39 steps. But if that’s the gates to Hell, at least we know how many steps it takes to get there.