Happy St Patrick's Day & a Glimpse at Irish Freemasonry

From WBro Damien of Lodge Devotion 

The Irish Freemasons were strong in the state of Victoria, and members from Grand Lodges Ireland, Scotland and England all came together to form the United Grand Lodge Victorian in 1889. An earlier Grand Lodge of Victoria (1883) folded into UGLV but had comprised Irish and Scottish Lodges. Hence the Irish had a role in the formation of both of Victoria’s Grand Lodges. In Lodges with a strong Irish heritage, St Patrick's Day on the March 17 is often a big deal and celebrated both formally and/or informally. Ireland had “The Troubles” (c 1968 – 1998) seeded in the Norman invasion with Henry II being the first English King to set foot on Irish soil (1171) and the later the Tudor (1550’s, Henry VIII) and the Cromwellian invasion (1649). Historical conflict in Ireland is often conceived as a struggle between Protestant and Catholic – and religion is a good prism in the post Reformation world to examine Irish History. But it’s also simplistic. Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), father of modern Irish Republicanism and an early advocate of Catholic emancipation was Protestant. The historian knows these conflicts were more about the history of identity, “race”, economics, conquest, invasion, and then repression, as they were about religion which was later used to polarize. Roddy Doyle’s novel “The Commitments”, made into a movie with the same title in 1991, has that famous line “The Irish are the blacks of Europe”; perhaps an apt description about repression based on racism and consequent disadvantage experienced by Irish Catholics. “No Irish”, “Catholics Need Not Apply” stood in the way of many people in the societies Europe, the US and here.

Freemasonry is sometimes mistakenly seen as an anti-catholic organisation, but we know we don’t talk about religion or politics in lodge – and they, with economics, tribalism, and imperialism are core to “The Troubles”. We also know organisations ebb and flow, and while we have rightly have lofty ideals and values, they have not always been practised by all our members, but also that Freemasonry should, and does, accept any man of good character with a belief in a Supreme Being. Sectarianism drove some Freemasons in 1795 to participate in establishing the Loyal Orange Order – because that orders’ focus on Protestantism would have been unacceptable in Lodges themselves. It is often described as the “Protestant Masonic Orange Order” which confused some to think it is part of Freemasonry, but while it adopted and adapted many of the symbols and mechanisms of the Craft, most obviously the word “Lodge”, and the Square And Compass, however the Orange Order stands outside Freemasonry. Even if many gave the Orange Order a friendly nod, it’s specific values must to stand outside Freemasonry because of its religious nature and I could suggest also because of the nature of its obligations, and it’s very purpose. (And I’m being careful, I know members of Order and while I think it played a strong role in sectarianism, those members meet Freemasons of the Catholic Faith as Brothers). The conflict between Catholic Ribbonmen and Protestant Orangemen should be left in the past and are irrelevant in Freemasonry; my interest in them is as amateur historian fascinated by a complex and nuanced subject often simplified into fictions.. Sometimes people just get caught up and indeed trapped by the pressures of the day, but Lodges should consciously and rightly stand outside religious and political events – it’s a landmark of recognising a GL as regular.. It’s a droll fact that in Sectarian Marches, Catholics attacked Protestant marches, Protestants attacked Catholic marches,  and on more than one occasion both groups attacked Freemasons marching. “From Riots To Rights, Nationalist Parades In The North Of Ireland”, Jarman & Byan 1997 is one source that mentions that and it’s an interesting read.

Lodge St Patrick Number 295’s 250th Anniversary Jewel.

Lodge St Patrick Number 295’s 250th Anniversary Jewel.

Grand Lodge Ireland is the Second Oldest in the world.


The Premier Grand Lodge of England (now UGLE) was founded on the feast of St. John the Baptist 24 June 1717.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland is the second most oldest and the oldest in continuous existence. No specific record of its foundation exists but 1725 is the year celebrated for its foundation as the oldest reference to GLI comes from the Dublin Weekly Journal of 26 June 1725 – two days after St. John the Baptist 24 June feast day.

The Grand Lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland was founded in 1736

Square and Compass with Shamrock

Above, Square and Compass with Shamrock

However in this brief piece, we can observe that we know post WW2 Freemasonry in Victorian had/has many Catholic members, but so did Freemasonry in Ireland of the 1700’s and 1800’s –and beyond for that matter. The great Irish Catholic Hero, Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) , known as The Emancipator or The Great Liberator, championed the removal of substantial civil, religions and economic restrictions on Roman Catholics in Ireland. This charismatic Catholic lawyer and orator turned parliamentarian and champion of the Irish Catholic Cause, was also a Freemason. This often shocks those who throw Freemasonry into the mix as part of the “Protestant Ascendancy” or as “anti-catholic”, but his membership of our fraternity makes perfect sense... Irish Freemasonry was not closed to Catholics but they withdrew in force under pressure of bishops, particularly after the 1826 the papal Bull of Leo XII against secret societies began to be enforced in Ireland with vigour in the 1840’s (one of several relevant Bulls but let’s keep it “simple”). The events of  the Italian Revolution which challenged the temporal status of a Pope King, saw the Italian Grand Master and Giuseppe Garibaldi, identifying themselves as Freemasons, challenge Pope Pius IX, eventually in war and then in the defeat of the Papal States. This left a Pope who was also a defeated temporal king less than happy, and assists in understanding why the Catholic Church is not a fan of Freemasonry, sometimes openly hostile towards it; hence driving forces were as much “political” as they were “religious”. Today, The Grand Orient of Italy is an Irregular Body, partly reflecting certain sections of Italian Freemasonry’s participation in Italian politics being unacceptable to a regular Grand Lodge (masons can participate in politics, many political leaders have been Freemasons, but the organisation itself should be non-political). I know of about 7 Italian Grand Lodges, the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy the only one being “regular”. Anyway, O’Connell was once such resignation supposedly under pressure from the “particularly zealous” Bishop Troy of Dublin. I’m not sure of the exact date of his resignation, be he was certainly an active Freemason. Dan O'Connell was Initiated in 1799 in Masonic Lodge No. 189, Dublin. O’Connell’s name was entered on Grand Lodge Ireland's roll with 25 others on the 2nd April, 1799, but the exact day of his initiation is unknown. He was the W.M. of No. 189 in 1800, an affiliate member of Ancient Union Lodge No. 13, Limerick City and the Founding Senior Warden of Lodge No. 886, Tralee, County Kerry. Irish Rolls bears his signature under date of 24th July, 1813, as Counsel representing the Grand Lodge of Ireland. On 19th April, 1837 he wrote a letter to the newspaper the "Pilot" acknowledging his past membership and that he had left Freemasonry after becoming aware of ecclesiastic censure of our Fraternity also saying Oaths on the Bible were not compatible with his faith. In that letter he writes he “unequivocally renounced Freemasonry” also saying “Freemasonry in Ireland may be said to have, apart from its oaths, no evil tendency, save as far as it may counteract, in some degree, the exertions of those most laudable and useful institutions— institutions deserving of every encouragement — the Temperance Societies.” Hmm. Lucky Bro O’Connell was unavailable to attend our recent table lodge meeting where we had to go out shopping midway through the evening because we’d drunk our three bottles of scotch. We would need to direct Bro O’Connell to one of Victoria’s “dry” lodges methinks.

Daniel (Dan) O'Connell 1775-1847

Freemasonry Daniel (Dan) O'Connell 1775-1847

Above: statue of Daniel O'Connell at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral

Dan O'Connell Hotel in Carlton in Melbourne.

Dan O'Connell Hotel in Carlton in Melbourne.

O’Connell also described Freemasonry as an Order as based on "philanthropy unconfined by sect, nation, colour or religion".

May it always be so.

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit! (Happy St Patricks Day)

Sláinte! (Cheers!)