A Brief History of the Masonic Province of Down

In a Report of the Grand Lodge for the half year, 27th December 1828 to the 24th June 1829, will be found the following significant notice, which was in all probability framed with a view to the extinction of the Local Masonic County Committees:-

"The Grand Lodge of Ireland gives notice to the lodges under its jurisdiction, that His Grace, the Grand Master, will appoint, on the recommendation of the Grand Lodge, Provincial Grand Masters, and Provincial Grand Lodges for such Counties or Districts as may, in the opinion of Grand Lodge, require such establishments for the better government of the Craft."

The Belfast Masonic Committee, some eighteen years later, gave place in 1836 to the newly constituted Provincial Grand Lodge of "Belfast and Massereene," or of "South Antrim," the sphere of control of which Governing Body extended over a much larger district than actually described. In 1848 this Provincial Grand Lodge was superseded by a new Grand Lodge known as "The Grand Masonic Lodge of Belfast and North Down," and which at the time comprised in all 77 Subordinate Lodges, 17 of which were domiciled within the town boundary of Belfast in the County of Antrim. Twenty six lodges located in the latter county were domiciled outside the town of Belfast; and 34 lodges were domiciled outside the municipal boundary, within the northern portion of the neighbouring County of Down.

The first Provincial Grand Master of this Province was Bro. the Venerable Walter Bishop Mant who had hitherto held the appointment of Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Carey and Dunluce.

About three years after the constitution of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Belfast and North Down, i.e. in 1852 the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Down was formed. The ceremony of constitution was performed by the Venerable Archdeacon of Down, R.W. Bro. Walter B. Mant who after that ceremony proceeded with the Installation of the new Provincial Grand Master, V.W. Bro. Colonel William Brownlow Forde, D.L., of Seaforde.

At its inception the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Down consisted of 22 lodges plus a further 6 which had recently been cancelled and might be revived. The new Provincial Grand Lodge of South Down, during a period of sixteen years, held its communications twice annually, in the months of May and November, in Newry and in Downpatrick alternately.

In the latter end of the year 1868, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, having decided upon yet another re-arrangement of Masonic Provinces, so regulated matters that the "Provincial Grand Lodge of South Down" should cease to exist; and that the entire County of Down should be formed into a new Province, which would in future become known as the "Masonic Province of Down." R.W. Bro. Colonel Forde was, by Patent of Appointment, duly confirmed in the position which he had already occupied and became Grand Master of the new Province.

The first meeting of the new "Provincial Grand Lodge of Down" was called for the 10th November, 1868 and duly met in the Lodge Room of Lodge No. 86, Downpatrick on that date, representatives from twelve lodges being present and apologies from a further six being noted.

At this date some 23 Lodges were "in good standing" in the area once known as South Down and a further 20 being transferred from the Province of Belfast and North Down.

In 1877 the Provincial Grand Master, Colonel W.B. Forde, after having held office for about 25 years resigned office and the Rt. Honble. Lord Arthur William Hill, MP for West Down, was appointed in his place. The Installation ceremony was conduced by the then Deputy Grand Master of Ireland, R.W. Bro. R.W. Sheckleton, QC., and took place in the town of Newry. Lord Arthur Hill remained in office until 1905 when he resigned in favour of V.W. Bro. Colonel R.G. Sharman Crawford, DL., JP., of Crawfordsburn. The Installation of Bro. Sharman Crawford took place on 24th January, 1906 in the Masonic Hall, Ballymacarrett, Belfast. Bro. Crawford was to reign over the Province of Down until his death in 1934. The Rt. Hon. Harry Mulholland, MP., was to succeed him and down the years many other distinguished brethren have filled the Office. The present incumbent being R.W. Bro. Robert J. Armstrong.