Source: Irish Freemasonry
He has been active in the field of Masonic research from the mid 1980s presenting his first paper in 1984. His work for the Lodge was acknowledged in 2009 with the presentation of the Lodge of Research Jewel of Merit for his work. In recent years he has spoken at Lodge Hope of Kurrachee and the Manchester Association of Masonic Research, on top of a heavy schedule of Lodge presentations throughout Ireland.
One of his most satisfying achievements was his involvement in the formation of the Younger Master Mason's Committee of Antrim, which was established in 1986 to carry out an indepth study of how Freemasonry worked in the Province and how it could be improved to encourage new members and retain existing members. He was one of a team of 12 young Master Masons who between them visited every lodge in the Province and formulated their Younger Master Mason's Report. This document was well received at both Provincial and Grand Lodge level and led to the publication of 'The Way Forward' document by the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1989.
In October 2010, he received an invitation to participate in a worldwide lecture series endorsed by the Grand Lodge of Indiana. The endeavour aimed to raise Masonic awareness and inspire discussion and debate across the world.
The Gift of Irish Freemasonry
Most Wor Grand Master of Indiana, Rt Wor Grand Officers and Members of The Rt Wor Grand Lodge of Indiana, I greet you well, and wish you every success in your current initiative to bring Freemasonry to the masses by means of skype and the internet. You are the current representitives of an organisation that can trace its roots back to the period 1795, when Freemasonry was represented in the territory, only by members of the various military Lodges active at that time. The Grand Lodge of Kentucky issued the first formal Warrant to hold a Lodge ( number 15 ) in the town of “Vincennes” in the territory in the year 1808. It would be a further ten years ( 1818 ) before the Grand Lodge of Indiana was formally Constituted. And from those early beginnings, your predecessors and You have continued to develop and enlarge the influence of Freemasonry on the world at large.
We, Members of The Rt Wor the Grand Lodge of Ireland send you “Cead Mile Failte” and thank you for this opportunity to bring you good tidings from the Land of the Solstice Square. In our land, the arts of stone masonry are long established; tracing their roots back approximately five thousand three hundred years ago to the magnificent sun temple complex at New Grange, probably the earliest surviving stone built structure in the world. This is a building that was in existence for five hundred years before the Stonehenge monument was constructed in England and a thousand years before the pyramids came into existence in Egypt.
Mythologically, our story today, starts in the mists of time, in a period when the Red Branch Knights ruled Ulster and amongst their number is the mighty figure of Cuchulain, a legendry warrior known as “The Hound of Ulster. As some of you know, Cuchulain was based in Dun Dealgan, one of the old Irish names for Dundalk and his entire tale is written around that part of North Louth. At the turn of last century Lady Augusta Gregory, in conjunction with and at the inspiration of W.B.Yeats completed a translation and study of Cuchulain which was published in 1902 as “Cuchulain of Muirthemne”.
The entire Cuchulain story is full of Astronomical and Masonic references, too many to record at this time. Most importantly the death of Cucuhulain is exactly similar to the death of Hiram, when it took three attempts to finally kill him. He too was quickly buried, before finally being disinterred and his remains being returned for proper burial at Emain Macha,better known to us all today as Navan Fort just outside the city of Armagh. And as for his killers, they fled southward, were quickly caught and dispatched with the rude justice of the day.
As an active member of the Irish Constitution in Ireland, it is my intention today, to brief you all on the factual origins and development of Irish Freemasonry over the past two hundred and eighty five years of its recorded history, and highlight the many contributions that Irish Freemasonry has given, not only to the other two home Constitutions, but to Freemasonry where so ever dispersed over the face of the globe.
I’m always amazed, as I attend the various Masonic Symposia or read the latest Masonic research, that without exception modern Masonic Researchers rarely consider Ireland’s claim to a proud Masonic past. The Irish are usually considered to be troublesome, rebellious and of course mouthy, and I’m sure that I will manage to live up to those particular labels of honour. What is rarely acknowledged is the important role that the Irish Constitution, in conjunction with the Scottish (Scotia Minor) played, in maintaining “Regularity”, for example, when our Brethren in the Grand Lodge of Westminster, strayed off the path, at the time of Prichard’s infamous exposure in the 1730’s. However, I shall be coming back to these thoughts shortly
I know that all of you will be familiar with the many surviving early links which tantalisingly tell us that our order has descended from the purely operative Lodges found throughout Scotland, or that Freemasonry originated in London with the four old Lodges, which met in the Goose and Gridiron In 1717. I of course hold a different view, in that I see many early references in the oral traditions of Ireland, where we too have our old council muniment books from cities such as Dublin, Cork & Kilkenny, and surviving records of our Operative’s Guilds from Kilkenny and Limerick.
Much is made of the fact that no old English language rolls or MS survive in Ireland, yet we have a tradition of Masonry dating back before the Druids. Our land is covered with a plethora of round towers, beehive huts, church buildings, ringforts and other more esoteric examples of the Stone Mason’s craft. Current Irish Language researchers such as Bob Quinn ( The Atlantean Irish ) are looking into the existence of a unique secret language used by the
Stone Masons of Ireland
Stone Masons of Ireland using words and phrases which derive from Hebrew, Phoenician and Ancient Irish. Could it be that our long sought for “Irish Constitution Rolls” will be found amongst the rich store of early Irish manuscripts meticulously being investigated by the Irish Language Commission in Dublin.
Suffice to say, at this point that the known roots of the Masons tongue from Hebrew, Phoenician and Ancient Irish fits well with the long held beliefs of some of our better informed Irish Brethren on the kernel of truth hidden amongst our many folk tales about the existence and travels of the Tutha de Dana, that magical tribe, who play such a prominent role in the mythology and spirituality of the Irish people.
The origins of Freemasonry remain in obscurity, despite the many theories being put forward on a regular basis, by researchers around the globe. One interesting new thesis, researched and published in Ireland by Wor Bro Chris McClintock is explained in great detail in his new book entitled “The Craft and The Cross”, which takes a radical and refreshing look at our history. His conclusions are certainly thought provoking, and will eventually have to be considered by other academic researchers, as these theories continue to advance and evolve.
Some definite points that we can however note are the many similarities between Freemasonry and the famous Eleusinian Mysteries and indeed the Essenes of Jerusalem. In the latter Fraternity the obligation of secrecy was most solemnly imposed upon the Candidate; admission was denied to females; the Essenes used distinctive signs, and tokens of recognition; and during the formal rite of admission into the mysteries, the Candidate was invariably clad in white – as being emblematic of innocence and purity. And of course, Bro William A. Laurie in the 1850’s was of the view that the Essenes were descended from the Kasideans, an ancient association of Architects connected with the building of King Solomon’s Temple.
You may well be interested to learn that similar requirements were imposed on Candidates in Ireland, wishing to be trained as future Druids andalso by the Irish Culdee Church, throughout its many monestries located across Ireland where future missionaries were trained, before being dispatched to Iona, Northumberland, Scotland and of course the rest of Europe. So even back in those early days, the monks from Scotia Major, as Ireland was then known, travelled the length and breadth of the known world.
However, of particular interest to me, is the fact, that in Ireland, church history suggests that many of these Druids had no difficulty in adopting the new faith of the Culdees,and indeed many from a druidical background converted and enthusiastically adopted the new faith , which apparently lay so close to their original belief.
Staying on the Masonic theme, we find many references in AQC and elsewhere to the links with the Roman College of Artificers, who in turn were attached to the various Roman Legions, and in this way building skills were said to have been brought to England and Scotland. We, in Ireland never bent the knee to the Romans and our traditions of building in stone predate the arrival of the Romans in England by thousands of years. However, if we follow the Collegia trail, we eventually arrive at York in the year 926A.D. when King Athelstan’s son Prince Edwin held a general assembly of Masons at York, wherein the great traditions of symbolic and operative Masonry were constituted, revived, or organised and a new code of laws for the governing of the craft were instituted. Sadly records of these events including the original Charter were kept in the archives of the old Lodge at York, and were destroyed during the War of the Roses.
Scotland, of course, developed similar but different General Assemblies under the auspices of the Earls of St Clair of Roslin, who reputedly acted in a supervisory role over Scottish operative masons, adjudicating on any trade disputes that might arise. Sadly, we in Ireland, currently have no surviving English language records of General Assemblies, belted Earls or indeed the guiding hand of Kings or Princes. We do however find early records of Masons and their records in the town books of Dublin, Kilkenny, Galway and Cork. One of our earliest surviving Masonic artefacts, the Baal’s Bridge Square, was recovered in the year 1830, from the foundations of the Baal’s Bridge. It was located under the eastern corner of the foundation of the northern land pier on the King’s Island or English Town side of the river Shannon running through the centre of the city of Limerick. This fascinating old artefact bearing the date 1507, bears the following inscription :-
“I will strive to live with love and care, upon the level, by the square”. Certainly suggestive to the Brethren of today. On a similar vein, in the year 1921 in AQC Volume 34 part 2 record the discovery of a bog-oak medallion located in the ruins of an old cottage just outside the village of Dromore in Co Tyrone. The discovery appears to have been well documented at the time with formal statements from a number of local Brethren from Trillick, Lisnahanna, Enniskillen, and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Tyrone and Fermanagh. This medallion purports to have been dated from 1517 and bears, on both faces, a plethora of Masonic symbols including the usual symbols of mortality. Again Brethren, more interesting material to mull over in our minds.
In Trinity College Dublin, records still survive of a 1688, students Tripos – a harangue prepared in latin, by one of the candidate Batchelors, which pokes fun at university life at the time. Of particular interest to us, today, are the references to the Order of Freemasonry, its Speculative membership, and the fact that, at that time there appears to have been two varieties available – the Old and the New Way. This may well be a reference to the evolution from Operative to Speculative, or indeed may even refer to the ongoing political scene at the time leading up to the “Glorious Revolution” in 1690. Either way, it is an important affirmation of the long establishment of Freemasonry in one of our oldest Irish Universities, as quite clearly, it would be pointless to poke fun at an organisation that no-one else had ever heard of.
One area that is indisputable is the existence of a developed three degree system in Ireland around the year 1711. Documentary proof wasfound in the collections of Trinity College, Dublin and was subjected to detailed inspection by the Brethren of QC Lodge in the early part of the 20thcentury. Here one will find many matters that only appeared in English andScottish ritual at a considerably later date. Knoop, Jones & Hamer in their seminal work “The Early Masonic Catechisms” published in 1943 give a complete copy of this short catechism at pages 63/64 of their work. This catechism had been previously published in its entirety in the Transactions of The Irish Lodge of Research No CC for the year 1924.
Whilst on the question of “Constitution Rolls” it is worth noting that the esteemed Dr Anderson, in the preface to the 1723 “Laws and Constitutions” makes claim to the fact that he used some of the old Irish records in the preparation of his new book. As many of you know Dr Anderson’s claims have not always been bourne out by subsequent facts, however it is of greatinterest that he would feel the need to mention Ireland as an early source of Masonic Regularity, if in fact Freemasonry was not already well known in Ireland at that time. Ireland is always credited with the introduction of Warrants, the properly Constituted written authority of a Grand Lodge issued to a group of Brethrenpermitting them to assemble as a Lodge and conduct the business of a Lodge. Strictly speaking, this is not quite true, as we know that Mother Lodge No “0”, Kilwinning was in the habit of issuing some form of Charter to its daughter Lodges in the latter half of the 17th century authorising themto assemble and meet as a duly Constituted body. However Kilwinning didnot issue Laws & Constitutions or provide any of the other support functions of a Grand Lodge, and it then fell to the Grand Lodge of Ireland to formalise the requirement for Warrants and enforce the use of same throughout its area of control. Warrants were usually of two set types being either Stationary, issued to a specific town or village or Travelling, attached to an Army or other military body. It was from this starting point in 1731 that the Grand Lodge of Ireland spearheaded the spread of Freemasonry throughout the known world.
In 1730 John Pennell, Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Ireland published his Laws and Constitutions. Interestingly, these follow Andersons 1723 edition in many ways, but in some quite particular issues they differ very substantitavely and reflect the actual Masonry worked in Ireland at that time Irish Freemasonry was then largely Roman Catholic and our Charges reflect that point. The prayer said at the making of a Brother, omitted by Anderson, is found at page 52 of Pennell’s work. In 1723 it is clear that the grade of Fellowcraft is the highest Craft Degree then in use in London. For example in Anderson we note :
- 1/. No Brother can be a Warden till he has passed the part of Fellowcraft (Charge 4 )
- 2/. The Treasurer and Secretary shall each have a clerk, who must be a Brother and Fellowcraft. ( General Regulations 13 )
- 3/. In the absence of the Grand Wardens the Grand Master shall
- Order private wardens to act as Grand Wardens (pro tempore) whose
- places are to be provided by two Fellowcraft of the same Lodge, called
- forth to act.
Now lets look briefly at Pennell :-
- 4/. In the 4th Charge - . . . of being made a Brother ( entered apprentice),
- and a fellowcraft and in due time a Master; and when qualified he may
- arrive to the honour of being a Warden, then Master of his Lodge.
As we noted previously Anderson only refers to a Brother and Fellowcraft. So it would appear that the third degree, noted in the Trinity College manuscript of 1711, was by 1730 recognised by The Grand Lodge of Ireland, and in general use by the Brethren at large. I would just take a few moments to reflect on the early records of the issue of Warrants by the Grand Lodge of Ireland. In 1732 Warrant No 11was issued to the First Battalion Royal Scots, beginning our links with this regiment which would continue until the year 1847. In the same yearWarrant No 12 was issued to Major General Dalzeel’s Regiment of Footwhich later became the 33rd Foot. One year later in 1733, Warrant No 23was issued to Colonel Hamilton’s Regiment, which later came to glory as the 27th Foot Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Then in 1734 Warrant No 33 was issued to the 21st Foot, better known today as the Royal Scots Fusiliers. By this means, the leading edge of Irish Masonry travelled in the van of the British Army as it ensured the safety of England and her many Colonies throughout the world. We in Ireland still have a proud boast today, in that “The Sun never sets on Irish Freemasonry”. We have active Lodges in places as diverse as The Caribbean, Gibraltar, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In the past we had outposts in Europe, the America’s, Africa and Australasia.
Now Brethren, I can see that some of you are ready to say, So What, All of the Home Constitutions, have travelled throughout the World. My point is merely, that thanks to the introduction of written Warrants, we in Ireland led the way in the introduction of a formal structure, by which the“Art of Freemasonry” could successfully be spread worldwide on the backs of our Military Brethren, who were able to point the local populace in the right direction to acquire Regularity, by applying to the Grand Lodge of Ireland for their own local Warrants. And we should not forget the Irish Diaspora, who for political, religious & economic reasons spread throughout the World. These Brethren too, took their beloved Craft with them, and on arrival in their new homeland, they would band together with their new neighbours and begin the Work afresh.
Such a case has recently come to light, buried in the midst of an old Czech manuscript, auctioned in New York in 2004. This document known as the Rodomskoy Manuscript contains the details and Masonic coats of arms of the eighty seven Members of the Rodomskoy Prefecture, which metin the city of Prague in the 1780’s. This Lodge, operating under the Strict Observance rite had no less than eight Irish Masons amongst its members, with details of some eleven other occasional Irish visitors from Vienna.
Thanks to the kindness of Rt Wor Bro Jaap Sadelik, the then, Deputy Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia, I enjoyed a visit to Prague to examine this document, and subsequently was able to shed some light on the family histories of the Irish Brethren named therein.
However, this story is by no means unique, for it was a group of Irish Masons, residing and working in London in the 1751 who banded together and formed that famous English Grand Lodge, which came to be known as “The Ancients”. For many years the considered wisdom was that the body known as “The Ancients”, broke away from the Grand Lodge of England in a schism, over the ritual changes implemented by that body in response to the publication of a number of Masonic exposures.
Bro Henry Sadler, Past Grand Librarian of The United Grand Lodge of England finally dismissed that theory when in the year 1887 he discovered the Minute books belonging to the Ancients Grand Lodge, and published a summary of same in his excellent book “Masonic Facts and Fiction”. However, it was thanks to the writings and actions of one man – the Irish Immigrant Laurence Dermott that we still pay great regard to “The Ancients” today. Dermott laboured in troubled times, and was a staunch supporter of Masonic discipline. He was often attacked and vilified by his enemies, but thankfully he was himself, a fighter, and an administrator extraordinaire. It is thanks to him, that in so many ways, English Masonry has developed, as it has, and his mark can still be seen today.
One simple example of this influence was his introduction on the 14th September 1752 of the resolution which directly led to the issue of Warrants by an English Grand Lodge. He was the man, who on the back of his experience in Dublin introduced the legislation which led to the formation of a Grand Master’s Lodge under the Ancients in line with Irish Working.When the Grand Committee of the Ancients met to consider the question of Bylaws it was Dermott who produced a copy of the Bylaws of his mother Lodge No 26 Dublin, which were found by all present to be correct and were thus adopted by The Grand Lodge of the Ancients. He was a great promoter of the Royal Arch degree, which he brought over from Ireland, and it was the introduction of this degree which would prove to be a great point of dissention for many years with the “Moderns”.
Dermott spent some time in the drafting, editing, printing and publishing of his opus – “Ahiman Rezon” which came to be the Book ofConstitutions of The Grand Lodge of the Ancients. One cannot overstress the importance of this work which ran to several revisions and was adopted and used by nascent Grand Lodges throughout the world. But surely his greatest gift was his oft stated wish that he might “live to see a general conformity and universal unity between Masons of all denominations”. Sadly this wish was not to be fulfilled and Dermott passed to The Grand Lodge above in June 1791. However when the Articles of Union were finally signed in Kensington Palace on the 25th November 1813, it was Dermott’s legacy which won the day, providing the form and administration which would serve the United Grand Lodge of England so well in the years thereafter.
I would now like to spend a few moments and consider matters of ritual and custom in subordinate Irish Lodges. Our original ritual, as practised in Ireland, may once have been shorter and simpler than we know it today; but by the year 1760, at the very latest, it had assumed the form still performed in our Lodges to this day. There is no other Constitution in the world possessing such a venerable rite or one so uniformly accepted by the subordinate Lodges.
Another point worth noting is that the Chair Degree with its esoteric ceremony has been worked in Ireland from Time Immemorial. It was reintroduced into England by the Grand Lodge of the Ancients in 1751, having previously been discarded by the Moderns about 1739. In Ireland, it was established custom that Irish Lodges installed their Master’s twice a year on the two St John’s days on the 24th June and 27th December each year.
It was not until the year 1875 that this rule finally changed and now we only elect our Lodge Master’s once a year. This fixed period of election in Ireland, Installing the new Master on the next meeting after St John’s day the 27th December each year is at variance with both the Scottish and English practice of electing and installing their Lodge Officers, as and when the Lodge so wishes. In Ireland the Lodge Officers are elected on the votes of the Master Masons, members of the Lodge, whereas in England the usual form is that all, except the Lodge Treasurer are appointed by the Master. Next, I would make mention of the Lodge Deacons, an integral part of Irish Masonry from its earliest times and again only introduced into England by Dermott via the Grand Lodge of the Ancients.
Approved of, and recommended by the Grand Lodge
Finally, I would draw your attention to the Charge to the Candidate, given after the ceremony of Initiation, which in one form or other is given in nearly every Masonic Constitution around the World. This Charge is of Irish origin, having been initially presented to the world in “Smith’s Pocket Companion” published in Dublin in 1735. This work had the approbation ofthe Grand Master “Kingsland”, his Deputy Brennan and the Grand Wardens and was sold to the Brethren under the banner :-
“ Approved of, and recommended by the Grand Lodge”
If an Irish Mason today were able to visit his Mother Lodge at labour in the first half of the eighteenth century, he would have no difficulty in proving his right to be there to the satisfaction of Brethren like Pennell, Griffith orSmith, yet he would observe certain customs that might seem strange to modern eyes. He would probably find the Brethren seated at a long table, with the Master at the top, wrapped in a scarlet cloak and wearing his hat; bottles and glasses might seem to be too prominently displayed; the Junior Warden might appear as a person who did not know his place and the aprons would probably appear to be too large and very roughly made.
It would become apparent to our modern visitor that Dues were collected from every Brother present on the night of the meeting, and these meetings take place twice a month. Every three months an additional “Quarterly Meeting” would be held, which could only be attended by those Brethren who were “Past the Chair” or who had served as Master of theLodge. Strangely enough, if a Brother failed to attend after being duly summonsed, he would be fined, and if he failed to pay the fine he would besubject to suspension, or even Expulsion. In one famous case in Mid Antrim in the year 1809, a Brother was Expelled from the Order for a period of 999years for crimes against his Brethren. This sentence, was then published in the local newspapers of the day.
We have previously made passing reference to Royal Arch Masonry, and at this point I would like to draw your attention to its earliest history in Ireland. We first find mention of the Arch in Pennell’s 1730 volume of Constitutions. Here we find the well known phrase “ And let the cement of the Brotherhood be so well preserv’d that the whole body may remain as awell built Arch” . This statement has to be considered in conjunction with the frontis piece used by Pennell ( and Anderson ) which shows the GrandMaster’s standing beneath an Arch and the vista of columns supporting the Masonic edifice terminates in a “Well Built Arch,” ornamented with an unmistakable keystone. It was Pennell who also exhorted his Brethren to :-
“ quit themselves like men, walk by the line, stand by the plumb, live upon the square, and level their friendship to the end of time:” and that “while here, they build to themselves, and dwell in earthly tabernacles, they will make sure of an everlasting Habitation not made with hands”
It is my view that this choice of wording, and associated symbolism was quite deliberate in the case of Pennell in that he was laying out a clear road map for those in the know, pointing them to the goal of a well built Arch. Bro Philip Crossle has written extensively on the Royal Arch degree, and it was his contention that Irish Masonic workings always contained an element of what we now call Royal Arch Ritual, In its earliest form, it was worked in Ireland as the Master’s Part, allowing the Master an opportunity torecover what was lost. However by the time that we find further reference to“Excellent Masons carrying the Royal Arch” in a newspaper report from Youghal in 1743, matters had clearly progressed to a position where the Royal Arch working were then a totally separate degree.
The following year 1744, Dr Fifield Dassigny published his “ Serious and Impartial Enquiry” in which he clearly states that Brethren have no right to the benefits of Royal Arch Masonry until such time as they are duly qualified ( having past the Chair )and make application in the proper manner, and only then, are they entitled to progress further towards the rank of Excellent Masons. I hope that in the foregoing remarks you fully understand my contention that the Royal Arch, unlike any other so called“Higher Degree” was in fact an integral part of Craft Masonry from the earliest times. Its current position, in Ireland has evolved from this intimaterelationship with the Craft, and in part explains why the historical part of our Irish ritual is different from that worked either in England or Scotland.
Brethren, some aspects of Irish Masonry are unique to the Irish Constitution.Thanks to the work of the Augustus Frederick 3rd Duke of Leinster and his faithful Grand Secretary, John Fowler, the Irish Constitution now have a body called “The Grand Council of Rites for Ireland” which has overall control of the recognition of Masonic rites under the Irish Constitution. This is a very tightly controlled body which only recognises the following five rites :-
- 1/. Grand Lodge of Ireland.
- 2/. Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland.
- 3/. Grand Council of Knight Masonry.
- 4/. Great Priory of Ireland.
- 5/. Supreme Council 33*Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite.
Within each of these groupings Ritual is controlled by bodies known as The Grand Lodge / Grand Chapter of Instruction which have overall control of the ritual within their own particular rite. These Instructional bodies comprise of Elected Members from Brethren skilled in Ritual throughout the Irish Constitution and nominated representatives from both Grand Lodge & Provincial Grand Lodges, whose duty was to keep these bodies appraised of all current decisions and ruling in respect of ritual. Irish Workings for some three hundred years were a completely oral tradition with no official printed ritual.
It has only been in the last few years that this tradition changed and Grand Lodge, with the approval of The Grand Lodge of Instruction, finally issued printed Ritual workings. In this way, up until modern time Irish ritual has been kept vibrant and alive, by the constant process of checks and balances imposed by the Grand Lodge of Instruction. Indeed the pinnacle of many Masonic careers, after years of Ritual work including participation in Degree Exemplifications in front of the Grand Lodge of Instruction is the invitation to become an Elected Member of this body, entitled to participate in both open and closed session.
This particular body is so well suited to the Irish temperament, where there is a great love of language, debate and the old oral traditions of the Irish bards and story tellers. In this way, the complex rituals of the Irish Craft survived and thrived from the earliest of times.
The Irish love of conviviality, fellowship and companionship was one of the main driving forces in the spread and development of the Irish Craft. Sadly few records survive that can tell us much about the early spread of Freemasonry throughout Ireland. We can say with certainty that written proof survives showing that Lodges existed in both Dublin and Munster inthe period 1725 -1726. By the year 1731, Lord Kingston, Grand Master of Ireland, used the local newspapers and appealed to the Lodges :-
“congregated in the several Cities and Towns in this Kingdom ( Ireland ), without a Warrant to take out regular Warrants”.
The Lodges must have been many and scattered, otherwise it would not have been worthwhile to publish such an appeal generally in the press of the day. By 1797 there was scarcely a village in Ireland without its Masonic Lodge. You may be interested to learn that official Grand Lodge records for the year 1805 show that in England, Scotland and Ireland the make up of Lodges in each Constitution were as follows :-
- England ( Moderns ) British Isles: 355 Lodges. Abroad: 196 Lodges. Total: 551 Lodges.
- England ( Ancients). Total: 258 Lodges.
- Scotland. Total: 284 Lodges.
- Grand Total: 1093 Lodges.
Whereas in Ireland there were some 815 Regular Lodges in existence. Clearly one can see that in Ireland, Freemasonry was very deep rooted, an integral part of the activities of the Celt and clearly not some new fangled development brought in by English and Scottish settlers. This fact would become even clearer in the 1840’s when the Papal Bulls against Freemasonry were finally enforced by Archbishop Troy in Dublin, and nearly led to the decimation of the Order in Ireland. It was to be many more years before this great loss of membership was to be overcome, only a result of the surge in Lodge members after the end of the First World War, when many new “Pals” Lodges were formed.
What may not be widely known is the fact that the Grand Lodge of Ireland has, in the past issued a number of Warrant’s here on the mainland. In 1745 Irish Warrant No 148 was issued to a number of Brethren to hold a Lodge in Norwich. This Lodge remained in contact with The Grand Lodge of Ireland right up to the year 1813. Warrant 247 was issued to a number of Irish Brethren in the Middle Temple, London in 1754. Similarly in Scotland Warrant 252 was issued to a group of Brethren in Paisley in 1754. This Warrant also kept working up until 1810-1813.Finally at Dunse, in Scotland Warrant No 520 was issued in the year 1809. This, of course is to say nothing of the Warrants three number issued in the Channel Islands and five number issued throughout The Isle of Man.
Having now made many claims for the strength, perseverance and impact of Irish Masonry, it would be very remiss of me, not to credit the first written pamphlet on the subject of “ The Old Constitutions belonging to the Ancient and Honourable Society of free and accepted Masons”. This rare old pamphlet was published in London, in 1722 during the GrandMasterShip of The Duke of Montague, and purported to be a copy of those old regulations read by the Duke to the assembled Brethren on St John’s day 1721, immediately after his lordships Installation. The introductory text goes as follows :-
“Good Brethren and Fellows, our purpose is to tell you how, and in what manner, the Craft of Masonry was begun, and afterwards, how it was founded by worthy Kings and Princes, and other wise men, hurtful to none, and also to them, that be true, We will declare ( what ) doth belong to every Free Mason, to keep firm good faith, if you take heed thereunto, it is well worthy to be kept, which is contained in the seven liberal sciences.”
Brethren, I have not brought you news of Kings or Princes, but hope that you now have a better understanding of the role played by Irish Masons in the spread and development of Freemasonry throughout the Globe. Irish Masonry is where it is today,thanks to the curiosity, determination, erudition and enthusiasm of its Brethren throughout the ages. At this point, I would record the great debt that I owe to many of my Masonic fore-bearers who have trod this way before. Masonic giants such as The 1st Earl of Rosse, John Pennell, Lord Kingston, Ffield Dassigny, The Donoughmore family who between them have been in charge of Irish Freemasonry for a quarter of our recorded history – governing the Craft in Ireland for some seventy years in total.
Lawrence Dermott, who single handedly returned English Freemasonry to regularity in the mid 18th century, Chetwode Crawley our first authentic Masonic Researcher, Philip Crossle and John Heron Lepper, authors of Volume One of The History of The Grand Lodge of Ireland, and of course last but by no means least, Rt Wor Bro Michael Walker MA, past Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Ireland, whose role and importance in the upper echelons of world Freemasonry has been acknowledged by both U.G.L.E. and The Grand Lodge of Scotland
I thank you for the attention that you have paid to my remarks, most of which have been extracted from the detailed researches of the Brethren named above. It has been an honour indeed, to participate in this most novel event, which uses technology so beneficially to bring us all together in this shared space in the internet. I hope that you will all have been able to understand my Ulster Scots accent and have enjoyed the paper and its contents. And I can but hope that you will find some small nuggets of knowledge buried within.
Rt Wor Bro Robert T. Bashford.
- Representative of The Grand Lodge of Portugal at The Grand Lodge of Ireland.
- Past Gd. Master’s Standard Bearer 1996.
- Provincial Grand Librarian of the P.G.L. of Antrim.
- Editor and Millennium Master of Lodge CC Ireland.
- Provincial Grand Librarian of the P.G.L. of Antrim.
- Past Gd. Master’s Standard Bearer 1996.
- "The Gift of Irish Freemasonry" on Vimeo (48Min.)
- About Robert T Bashford http://www.irishfreemasonry.com/index.php?p=1_115