A Sketch of the History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland

"Adhuc Stat"

By Bro. John Heron Lepper, W.M.

Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, England

THE eastern seaports of Ireland having been constantly affected by English influence from the year 1173, when Henry II granted the City of Dublin to the subjects of his City of Bristol to inhabit, it is not surprising to discover traces of phenomena identical with those that preceded the establishment Freemasonry as a social institution in England, also appearing in the smaller island. Thus we find the Gilds of Dublin as late as 1541 indulging in annual Corpus Christi plays [1], the term "Freemason" occurring on monuments at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Masonic Ritual a subject for the mirth of the uninitiated by 1688 [2], and, apparently, Speculative lodges established in country districts, remote from any town, prior to the accession of George I [3].

When, therefore, the Freemasons of London and Westminster decided, in 1717, to form a central body to regulate their general interests, much as the Independent States of America evolved their Federation in 1788, it might be expected that the idea would cross the sea and be copied by the Freemasons of Ireland: and so it happened.


It is impossible to say, in default of early official MS. records, the exact date at which a Grand Lodge was first established in Dublin. That such a body was in existence in 1725 is certain, thanks to a long and curious account given in a Dublin newspaper [4]. From this we learn that about one hundred brethren belonging to the six lodges of "Gentlemen Freemasons who are under the Jurisdiction of the Grand Master" assembled at 11 a.m. on June 24, at the Yellow Lion in Werburgh Street, and proceeded in coaches to the King's Inns [5], wearing "Aprons, White Gloves, and other parts of the Distinguishing Dress of that Worshipful Order."

After a procession round the great hall of the Inns "with many important ceremonies," the Grand Lodge "retired to the Room prepared for them, where after performing the Mystical Ceremonies of the Grand Lodge which are held so sacred, that they must not be discovered to a Private Brother; they proceeded to the Election of a new Grand Master &c." The election resulted in the Earl of Rosse being declared G.M., Sir Thomas Prendergast and Mark Morgan, Esq., Grand Wardens, and the G. M. was pleased to appoint Humphrey Butler, Esq., his Deputy. The G.M. was then conducted to his place, and invested with the jewel of his office, a gold trowel hung on a black ribbon; after the brethren all dined together sumptuously, and later attended a play in full Masonic costume [6].

This is the earliest account we have of the meeting Grand Lodge in Dublin, and though apparently it had then been in existence for some time, it cannot have contemplated any authority over lodges remote from the metropolis, because, in the following year, a similar body was established in Cork City, and assumed the style of the Grand Lodge of Munster, having as its Grand Master, the Hon. James O'Brien, and as Deputy G. M., Springett Penn. Both these Masons were members of English lodges [7].

But a more famous Irish Freemason of the day, who also had received his degrees in an English lodge, was James, fourth Lord Kingston. In 1728 he had been elected and served as G. M. of England; and, in 1730 [8], became G.M. of Ireland; and in August, 1731, G.M. of Munster. His tenure of the dual office in Ireland apparently led to the fusion of the two Grand Lodges into one that since that date has been truly national [9].

Lord Kingston's tenancy of these three chairs in Masonry is important, as showing that at this date the Ritual innovations, that afterwards led to estrangement between the Masonic jurisdictions of England and Ireland, cannot yet have come into being. His tenures of office should also serve to remind Irish Masons that while the existent Irish Rite is probably the most unaltered version extant of early eighteenth century Masonic Ritual, yet its well-head was no other than the primitive English Rite, as practiced before 1730, possibly with a few additions of Anglo-Irish phrases or ceremonies—distinctions without any real difference.


At some time during 1731, the Grand Lodge of Ireland determined to bind closer to the central authority all the lodges in Ireland that would acknowledge its supremacy, by issuing to them a document that should be the warrant for their Masonic proceedings; and accordingly on Feb. 7, 1732 (N.S.), the first of these authorizations to hold a lodge and make Masons were issued. This was a purely Irish invention that was copied later by the Grand Lodge of the Antients in England, and later still by the Grand Lodge of the Moderns, the title willingly assumed in the eighteenth century by the Mother of all Grand Lodges. It is by no means certain that every existing lodge in Ireland applied at once for one of these new warrants [10]. In fact, the evidence tends to show that a good many, particularly in remote parts of the country, were content to go on working in the "time immemorial" manner; but these recalcitrants were not treated as regular Masons by those who adhered to the Grand Lodge, and in time they died out [11].

The effect produced by the issue of these warrants was universal, not merely local. It was some time before the law crystallized that a warrant should be anchored to one place, and at first the idea prevailed that any band of Masons possessing one of these charters was legally entitled to make initiates wherever it took the warrant. This procedure was checked by a new law made June 24, 1741 [12], but in the beginning the Grand Lodge seems tacitly to have assented to the practice, particularly as it had issued warrants as early as 1732 to military lodges, enabling them to hold regular meetings all over the inhabitable globe. The great spread of Masonry in the American Colonies is attributable in a great part, no doubt, to this practice. But the influence of the Grand Lodge of Ireland on America did not end with this: the fact that the native American lodges would naturally be impressed by the working they observed under the ambulatory Irish warrants, during a period when the only ambulatory warrants were Irish, led them to mistrust those alterations in the Ritual that the Grand Lodge of the Moderns saw fit to adopt for well nigh eighty years. The enormous emigration from Ireland to America during the eighteenth century also helped to cement the Masonic ties between the two countries; indeed, it is quite likely that some of the earliest Irish warrants whose original bailiwicks and ultimate resting places are unknown may have helped to lay the foundations of those great Masonic Constitutions whose extent and vitality seem so marvelous to us today.


If we are to measure the growth of the Grand Lodge of Ireland during the eighteenth century by the number of warrants it issued, we find that it increased from 36 lodges in 1734 to 195 in June, 1749; by 1758 the number had risen to 300; by the end of 1782 it was 610; and in 1804, when Downes' famous list was published, the Grand Lodge of Ireland had well over 700 lodges on its roll. But at none of these periods could those numbers be taken au pied de la lettre, for there were always some lodges either moribund or dormant, as an analysis of the lists would show, did space permit. During the nineteenth century the number of lodges varied, the high water mark being reached in 1815 when 1020 subordinate lodges were in official existence. The number at present working approaches 600.

The members of the Grand Lodge at its formation consisted of the Grand Master; his Deputy, whom he nominated; the Grand Wardens, elected by Grand Lodge; all Past Grand Officers; and all Masters and Wardens of subordinate lodges. In 1749 the Grand Master's Lodge was formed, and all Master Masons raised therein were given the privilege of sitting and voting in Grand Lodge. This privilege continued down to 1837, when it was rescinded and extended instead to all properly certificated Past Masters. The number of the Grand Officers has been increased from time to time, and at present includes the representatives of all foreign Grand Lodges with whom fraternal communication exists, an excellent tribute paid to the universality of the Craft, and a constant reminder that our Masonic duties and interests are not bounded by the limits of any one particular Constitution.


Space does not permit the inclusion of much detail about such important matters as the development of the Irish Masonic charitable organizations and the evolution of Masonic jurisprudence. But both must be mentioned. In regard to the former, it will be enough to say that the first successful attempt to deal on an adequate scale by the children of deceased brethren dates from 1792. In that year the liberality and energy of some members of Royal Arch Lodge, No. 190, Dublin (1749-1815), launched the Masonic Female Orphan School, whose record since then has been one of increasing success and blessing. It has been followed by the Masonic Orphan Boys' School (1867), and by such splendidly administered pieces of provincial emulation as the Belfast Masonic Charity and Widows' Funds, and the Down Masonic Widows' Fund.

In the matter of the evolution of Masonic jurisprudence, the most interesting development took place as early as 1768, when the Grand Lodge created an Inspection Committee to decide upon the eligibility of candidates for Freemasonry in the metropolitan district. Since that year no man has been initiated in a Dublin lodge till his name has been approved by the Grand Lodge Committee, and the same provision has since been adopted in other important Masonic provinces in Ireland. This is, of course, not an infallible method of securing the admission of none but worthy men, but it does tend to exclude undesirable members and is yet another way in which the Grand Lodge of Ireland has set a good example.

Other minutiae of changes that have accumulated during almost, perhaps quite, two centuries of government, while they would loom largely in a complete history, must be discarded in a short sketch; but mention should be made that since 1829 the Royal Arch Degree has had a central governing body of its own, known as the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland; since 1836 the Knights Templar have been ruled by a supreme body now known as the Grand Preceptory; and since 1826 the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite has exercised jurisdiction over all degrees in its system superior to the Craft degrees. Prior to these respective dates those Orders, and many other Masonic degrees as well, were conferred in the Craft lodges at the convenience and free will of the members.


During its long life the authority of the Grand Lodge of Ireland has only once been seriously threatened by internal schism [13]. This took place in the period 1806-1813, when a number of Ulster lodges, deceived by the misrepresentations of Alexander Seton, a former Deputy Grand Secretary, who had been dismissed from his office for misconduct, attempted to secede and form a Grand Lodge for the province of Ulster [14].

It was due entirely to the tact and disinterested efforts of the reigning Grand Master, Richard, second Earl of Donoughmore, that the better class Masons who supported the movement at the outset, because of certain undoubted grievances, returned to their natural allegiance within a very short time; while those who persisted in following Seton only involved themselves and their lodges in disrepute, not merely at home but also all over the Masonic world. The Grand Lodge of Ireland emerged from a severe inter-necine war, if not stronger in numbers, stronger in having vindicated its authority without compromising its dignity, and within a few years all the rebel lodges had either submitted, or become extinct, or if they continued to drag out an estranged existence were regarded with abhorrence as clandestine Masons.

To the student of this unhappy event one thing stands out enshrined, the truly Masonic spirit of the Grand Master, a broad-minded, warm-hearted man, who thoroughly deserved the tribute addressed to him by his Irish brethren when in 1813 he retired from office, at his own request:

"Your lordship's services to this institution will long live in the grateful remembrance of a Society whose principles ensure its duration, and who will ever rank the name of Donoughmore among those that are dearest to Masonry and Ireland."

That these words were no mere empty compliment was shown exactly one hundred years later, when 2,000 Irish Masons assembled in Grand Lodge to acclaim as their new Grand Master, another Earl of Donoughmore, who since then has amply proved that he has inherited not the honors and name only, but also the ability of his great ancestor to maintain the dignity of his office and be a trusted and beloved leader in time of stress.


The influence of the Grand Lodge of Ireland on new, independent Masonic Constitutions has been large, out of all proportion to the home territory it governs, a fact that has never, in default of an official history, been adequately realized by the Craft generally. Allusion has already been made to its work in the U.S.A. In Canada, too, Irish lodges were early at work as well as in the British West Indies; Masons in Portugal, Peru, Brazil have worn our colors; the very first lodge held in Australia met under an Irish warrant No. 227 held in the old 46th Regiment; and in that Commonwealth as well as in New Zealand, Africa and India, some lodges still retain their allegiance to the old Irish Constitution. Let me add, that the Grand Lodge of Ireland never places any obstacle in the way of one of its lodges wishing to sever connection with the Mother Constitution to join a newly-formed Grand lodge in the country where it is situated; and provided the new Constitution conform to the ancient standards it is assured of immediate recognition and brotherly cooperation from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, which is swift to welcome the appearance of a new star in the banner of the Masonic Federation of the World.


Throughout a history of two centuries it is but to be expected that the Grand Lodge of Ireland should be able to show with pride many distinguished names on her rolls, but of all on the list possibly none exerted more lasting effect upon the Freemasonry of his generation, aye, and of future generations, than that stickler for orthodoxy in matters of the Craft, the inspired journeyman-painter Laurence Dermott. His story has been well and fully told by divers scholars [15] but no reference to the Irish Grand Lodge would be complete without mention of the brother who was initiated in Lodge No. 26 in 1740, became its Master in 1746, and departed to England to become the most notable figure in eighteenth century Masonry, as poet, controversialist, and restorer of the old landmarks—to say nothing of his being the inventor of a term, which I understand to be very bad Hebrew, Ahiman Rezon, which like a javelin of flame flew from him with such impetus as even to cross the Atlantic and to be adopted for long enough as a symbol by those who prided themselves upon preserving the old traditions of the Craft [16].

Laurence Dermott is the more noteworthy, because the Grand Lodge of Ireland has not produced a great number of historians or writers who have added to our knowledge. Vallancey and O'Brien (of the Round Towers), however, are still occasionally quoted by those who have never learned caution, and there have been several deservedly respected names in our own times. Some like Twiss, John Robinson, Tait, and Redfern Kelly are still with us; others, alas, are no longer here to teach us, such as F. C. Crossle, Westropp, and the Master Mason of them all, the late Dr. Chetwode Crawley, some time Grand Treasurer, a scholar so meticulous, whose work was so comprehensive that those who come after him seeking to pursue some line of research often find themselves only plowing a furrow that has already been broken by his industry. That there is still something to be added to the work he accomplished is merely another way of saying that the progress of knowledge never stands still, but his followers and emulators may well despair of ever hoping to surmount his total of achievement. It may have been some satisfaction to his last years to see the formation in Dublin of the Lodge of Research, No. 200, pledged to continue the labors wherein he took such an interest, and though it may seem too much to hope that this body will ever produce another scholar to compare with the one that is gone, still it has already proved a focussing point for those Masons who bend their energies towards finding more light for the present from the lessons of-the past. With no mean aim, this lodge contemplates, indeed the project is in process of realization, the compiling of a reliable history of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, a book that is badly needed, never having been attempted; and I hope that the present short and imperfect sketch has shown that the history of that Grand Lodge has not been without interest, as assuredly, it has not been without honor.


[1] Vide Harris' Dublin, 1766, p. 142 et seq.

[2] Vide Crawley'sIntroduction to Sadler's Masonic Reprints and Revelations.

[3] Vide Articles on Mrs. Aldworth A.Q.C. VIII-16, 63.

[4] The Dublin Weekly Journal No. 13, Saturday, June 26, 1726.

[5] The Irish equivalent of the London Inns of Court.

[6] The short report of this event, inserted in the London Journal, July, 1725, is quoted by Gould, History of Freemasonry, III, 34.

[7] It was natural for Springett Penn to hold high office in the Craft in Ireland where he had large estates; but his appearance in this character is even more interesting on account of the close Masonic communication that afterwards existed between the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Pennsylvania, which state was largely colonized by emigrants from Ireland.

[8] Ed. Spratt Constitutions, Dublin, 1751, page 121.

[9] Lord Kingston, while still the Hon. Jas. King. was initiated on June 8, 1726, in a lodge held at the Swan & Rummer in Finch Lane, London, Dr. Desaguliers, D. G. M. of England, attending to confer the ceremony. For Kingston's activities when G. M. of England, vide Minutes of the G.L. England, etc.. by W. J. Songhurst, London. 1913; p. 37 et seq.

[10] In the course of the year 1732 the following advertisement appeared several times in the Dublin newspapers: "Whereas there are Several Lodges of Free-Masons congregated in several Towns in this Kingdom, without a Warrant under the Hand and Seal of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Netterville, Grand Master of all Ireland. .. . It is therefore Ordered that all such Lodges do apply to the Secretary Mr. John Pennell in St. Patrick St.. Dublin, and take out true and perfect Warrants and be enroll'd in the Grand Lodge Book, or they will not be deem'd true and perfect Lodges." (Faulkner's Dublin Journal: Sat. Dec. 30, 1732—Tues. Jan. 2, 1732/3.)

[11] Right up to the beginning of the nineteenth century we come across the terms "Clandestine" and "Hedge Masons" applied to these bodies by the regular Masons: instances of the "re-making" a non-regular brother who conformed are not uncommon.

[12] Vide Dassigny's Serious and Impartial Enquiry, 1744, page 48.

[13] In 1740 an attempt seems to have been made to form a rival Grand Lodge which proved abortive in its very conception.

[14] The authorities on this subject are F. C. Crossle, Henry Sadler, and, of course, Dr. Chetwode Crawley. Some fresh information collected from the records of disaffected lodges is also given in a paper by the present writer, read before Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076 (E.C.), on St. John's Day, 1922.

[15] Notably Bywater and Sadler.

[16] Attention must also be called, if only in a footnote, to services rendered by such Masons as John Fowler in the metropolis, Michael Furnell in Munster; and Archdeacon Mant in Ulster.

The Builder — May 1925