Irish Eyes looking for Light
March in most parts of the US mean the end of winter and the heralding of Springtime. Many especially in the New England, NY & NY and all over the US, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This day we’re all Irish.
In this post we’ll take a look at Freemasonry in Ireland and Irish Freemasons. We’ll start with the basics and a quick historical summary.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland is the second most senior Grand Lodge of Freemasons in the world, and the oldest in continuous existence. Since no specific record of its foundation exists, 1725 is the year celebrated in Grand Lodge anniversaries, as the oldest reference to Grand Lodge of Ireland comes from the Dublin Weekly Journal of June 26, 1725. This describes a meeting of the Grand Lodge to install the new Grand Master, the First Earl of Rosse, on June 24th . The Grand Lodge has regular Masonic jurisdiction over 13 Provincial Grand Lodges covering all the Freemasons of the island of Ireland, and another 12 provinces worldwide.
There is considerable evidence that there were Masonic Lodges meeting in Ireland prior to the eighteenth century, for example the manuscript known as “the Trinity Tripos” dating to the 1680s, and the Baal’s Bridge Square, discovered in Limerick in the early nineteenth century, which dates to the early sixteenth century. There are a number of Masonic lodges in Ireland that lay claim to have met prior to the formation to the Grand Lodge of Ireland. These are known as ‘Time Immemorial’ lodges.
There are, of course, records of Time Immemorial Lodges going back much earlier in Ireland. The first definite clue we have is that when Ball’s Bridge was being rebuilt in Limerick in 1830, a brass square was recovered from the foundations on which is engraved;
“I will strive to live with Love and Care, Upon Ye Level By Ye Square, 1507”. We are arguably, within sight of a 500th Anniversary of Speculative Masonry. Click here to read more about the Baal Bridge Square and Compass that was found here.
Freemasonry in Ireland flourished and spread rather rapidly as it did in London. By 1768 it was firmly established and well recognized, as in this image and modern translation of a local irish Newspaper report confirms.
Political Strife invades the Lodges of Ireland
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the number of new Lodges being founded increased dramatically at the same time as the popularity of the Volunteer Movement expanded. Several Lodges were associated with Volunteer Regiments, and in Dublin, the First Volunteer Lodge of Ireland No. 620 was founded by the Officers of the Independent Dublin Volunteers in 1783. The Ballymascanlon Rangers were associated with Lodge No. 222, Dundalk, and in Fermanagh there was a regiment known as the Lowtherstown Masonic Volunteers.
The political influence of the Volunteers combined with the success of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution created new ideals of democracy in Ireland. Following the founding of the Society of United Irishmen several Lodges, particularly in the north of Ireland, made public proclamations in the press about the need for reform of the Constitution. Whilst the vast majority of Lodges that did this disavowed violence as the means to an end, some were quite rebellious in their proclamations. Other Lodges, it must be said, publicly dissociated themselves from their more revolutionary Brethren.
Government pressure was brought to bear on Grand Lodge and notices were sent out reminding Lodges of the Grand Lodge Law forbidding quarrels of a religious or political nature to be brought within the doors of the Lodge. However, several well-known United Irishmen including Henry Joy McCracken, Henry Monroe, and Archibald Hamilton Rowan were also Freemasons.
Irish Freemasons in America
The Grand Lodge of Ireland was five years old, at least, when the first record exists of a Time Immemorial Lodge—St. John’s Lodge-in Philadelphia. This was, of course, followed by the first Regular Warranted Lodge in America, three years later, in Boston.
In Ireland there is evidence of skilled Operative Masons very far back in time. We can state with pride that Irish Freemasons were involved before “Warranted Masonry”, and subsequently, in promoting and developing the Craft in, what were then styled, “The Colonies”.
Irish Lodges were warranted in many “British” Regiments, though often mainly manned by Irishmen. The Ist Irish or Blue Horse, later the 4thRoyal Irish Dragoon Guards had its Warrant issued by Grand Lodge on June 24th, 1758. This Warrant is still held in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and the Lodge is working in West Germany, where the Regiment is stationed as part of the NATO Defence Forces. This is our last truly Travelling Warrant which remains of 185 Warrants issued in Artillery, Cavalry and Foot Regiments of the Line, as well as 43 Warrants in Irish Militia and Fencible Regiments. Our only other survivor, Glittering Star Lodge No. 322 originally warranted in the 29th Foot in the following year, 1759, was working in Boston in 1765 where on St. John’s Day, December 27th, 1769, it helped form the “Ancient” Grand Lodge of that State, and some years later it was in Quebec. These contacts, no doubt later on when the Regiments moved away, led to applications for Regular Warrants from the local Freemasons, made in those Lodges, who were left behind; and so the Craft spread.
In the years between the early 1730’s and the eventual, and inevitable, War of Independence, many of the leading and influential Colonists became Members of the Order so that the history of the gaining of Independence and the Craft is inextricably entwined. We must not, however, fall into the trap of imputing a revolutionary or political aspect to Freemasonry because of this.
The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has deep connection to Irish Masons. Leaving aside the obscure early Masonic History of this State, when it would appear that English and Irish Masons held meetings by Time Immemorial right, the foundation, in 1759, of the Provincial Grand Lodge after the Antient forms, which subsequently budded into the Independent Grand Lodge, “was primarily due to an Irish Mason who had been made in a Belfast Lodge.
” I regret the author does not elucidate further and I am not sure to whom he refers, or the Lodge in question, but I bow to his erudition. You may or may not agree according to your point of view, but ties there certainly were. Springett Penn, great grandson of Admiral Penn, and grandson of the Founder of Pennsylvania, apart from owning an extensive property in Pennsylvania also had an estate at Shanagarry in County Cork; his father, grandfather and great grandfather having been landlords before him. He was an ardent Freemason and was Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Munster in 1726/27 before its amalgamation with the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1731. It is not improbable that he encouraged Brethren from Cork to colonize on his Pennsylvania estates.
For instance, in 1734, in Benjamin Franklin’s Account Book which he began on July 4th, 1730, appears an entry “Mr. Newinham Dr. for Bindg. of a Mason Book gilt 4/= “. The old and distinguished Newenham family still thrives a bare 10 miles from Shanagarry as the crow flies, and several of whose members are Brethren of our Lodge No. 1, the “First Lodge of Ireland”, which had been a Time Immemorial Lodge before Grand Lodge was constituted.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland – Today
The Grand Lodge of Ireland, independent and autonomous, is the governing body of Irish Freemasonry which consists of hundreds of Lodges located throughout Ireland and in many places around the world where Irish Freemasonry is held in high esteem.
Freemasons and Lodges are strictly regulated by the published Laws and Constitutions of The Grand Lodge of Ireland and the times, dates and places of meetings are published in the Annual Calendar.
Most Lodges meet once a month for nine months each year. Freemasons’ Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin, is the headquarters of Irish Freemasonry. This fine building, erected in 1865, includes a Museum which displays documents, artefacts and regalia providing an insight into Irish Freemasonry. Conducted tours of Freemasons’ Hall and Museum are given each year during the summer months, when the Hall is open to the public.
The Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland is the governing body, within the island of Ireland and it, like the Grand Lodges of England and Scotland, administers Lodges under its jurisdiction across the globe. There are many other Regular Grand Lodges around the world practising in a similar manner and these enjoy a happy and fraternal relationship with the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
I leave you with a few words of Irish:
“Co m’beannaigh Dhia dibh, go n’eiri an t-adh is an bothar libh, agus go m’beirimidh beo ar an am seo aris”—which translates as “God bless you, may your good fortune increase and your way be made easy, and may we all be alive this time next year”.