GM's Address 2003

Here follows the text of the Grand Master's address on the progress of Irish Freemasonry in 2003

GRAND  MASTERíS  REPORT  2003

I am glad to be able to report on a year of progress and achievement. We can face the future with optimism and confidence. 

First I must refer with sadness and regret to the passing of distinguished Brethren to the Grand Lodge above. Certain names must be mentioned;  R.W.Bro. Alan S. Watt MBE,  R.W.Bro. William E. Davies and R.W.Bro. Peter D.M. Prentice who, with many other deceased Brethren, gave generously of their time and talents in support of our Order. We extend our deepest sympathy to their families.

The minutes of the last four quarterly meetings of The Grand Lodge of Ireland will be printed in the Annual Report for 2003 so it is unnecessary for me to cover them in detail. Our March meeting was hosted by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Meath in the pleasant surroundings of the Cabra Castle Hotel, Kingscourt, Co.Cavan at which I invested R.W.Bro. William T. Shortland as Provincial Grand Master of the Province of South Connaught.  Our June meeting was held in Freemasonsí Hall, Dublin when we welcomed distinguished Brethren from the United Grand Lodge of England, The Grand Lodge of Scotland, The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and The Regular Grand Lodge of Italy. I invested and Installed R.W. Bro. St Clair Brinkworth Tucker as Provincial Grand Master of Bermuda. Grand Lodge approved the issue of four new Warrants viz Providence Lodge No.928, Nassau, The Bahamas, Oracle Lodge No.1003, Dublin, Fisherwick Lodge No.505, Doagh, Province of Antrim and Cuan Lodge of Installed Masters No.930, Province of Down. That evening we enjoyed the usual Buffet Dinner with our Ladies and Guests.

On October 4th Grand Lodge met in the Provincial Masonic Hall, Rosemary Street,

Belfast as guests of The Provincial Grand Lodges of Antrim and Down. A feature of the October meeting in recent years is the presentation of the reports from the Chairmen of the Management Committees of the Grand Lodge Charity Funds which continue to provide much needed support to Masonic Families. Grand Lodge approved the extension of our Province of Jamaica to include The Bahamas.

All meetings of Grand Lodge were well supported. The regular attendance of  all Officers is important and greatly appreciated.  In particular I would like to thank R.W.Bro. Cecil Burns, Grand Director of Ceremonies for the major contribution he makes to the dignity of  these occasions and for his invaluable support and advice.

I visited some of our overseas Lodges, starting in March with our Provinces in South Africa.  The Grand Secretary, my wife Pam and I travelled to Cape Town where we spent several interesting days in the company of  R.W.Bro. Wyndham Morgans, Provincial Grand Master, Southern Cape Province and senior Officers of that Province.  The Grand Secretary and I  attended St. Patrickís Lodge where the agenda included the passing of a Brother to the Fellowcraft  Degree. The next evening we attended a meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of  Southern Cape at which R.W.Bro. Morgans installed R.W.Bro. Stephen van Diggele as Provincial Deputy Grand Master and I addressed the meeting on the progress of Irish Freemasonry. Both meetings were held in part of the fine Masonic Hall in Cape Town leased from the Grand Lodge of South Africa with whom we enjoy a very good relationship. We travelled to Durban to visit the Provincial Grand Lodge of Natal where we were welcomed by R.W.Bro. Peter Marx, Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. Michael Gwynn, Provincial Deputy Grand Master  and senior Officers of that Province. We attended an impressive meeting of the Province and enjoyed meeting our Brethren there. We moved on to Johannesburg where the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Africa Northern is based at Benoni under the guidance of R.W.Bro. George Moir, Provincial Grand Master and his Deputy, R.W.Bro. Cecil Bates who attends Grand Lodge regularly. We attended an excellent meeting of the Province where I had an opportunity to address the assembled Brethren.  There is an impressive sheltered housing facility in a lovely setting at Roslin Park supported by all Masonic Constitutions, a third of the residents are from the Irish Constitution. A new Frail Care or nursing facility has now been added, funded by Irish Lodges, I felt honoured to participate in the Official Opening ceremony. During our stay at Benoni we had an enjoyable courtesy meeting with the Grand Master and Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of South Africa.

We met  Brethren from Kgale Lodge No.918, Botswana where we learned of the excellent progress this lodge is making. I have just appointed R.W.Bro. Anthony Allen of this Lodge as Grand Inspector for Botswana. We also met R.W.Bro. Peter Birkett, Prov. Grand Master of PGL of Zimbabwe accompanied by R.W.Bro. Ted Nelson, Prov. Grand Secretary who informed us of the many difficulties which they experience in their everyday lives and in keeping the flag of Irish Freemasonry flying. In all three South African Provinces, I was impressed by the total dedication and commitment of our Provincial Grand Masters, their Deputies, Assistants and all Officers and Brethren who travel such great distances to attend their Lodges. We met Brethren and their ladies at many enjoyable social functions. We have pleasant memories of a wonderful visit to South Africa.

In April we attended the 10th Anniversary celebrations of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy. M.W.Bro. Fabio Venzi, Grand Master, warmly welcomed us to the functions held in Taormina, Sicily. Our presence was greatly appreciated.  From Sicily, we travelled to visit our Inspectorate in Malta where there are three Irish Lodges under the guidance of our Grand Inspector, R.W.Bro. Joe Cordina.  The Grand Secretary and I attended a meeting of Leinster Lodge in Valetta which was well supported, not only by Irish Brethren, but by those from the English and Scottish Constitutions too.

In early November, Pam & I travelled to Nassau in The Bahamas where I constituted  Providence Lodge No.928 our first Lodge in the newly extended Province of Jamaica and The Bahamas which continues to prosper and increase membership.  I thank R.W.Bro. Derrick McCoy, PGM of that Province for his support on this historic occasion, in addition to the large delegation from Jamaica there was a sizeable delegation from the PGL of Bermuda lead by R.W.Bro. Brinkworth Tucker. PGM.

I was glad to have the support of V.W.Bro. David Young, Grand Superintendent of Works who was on holiday in the Bahamas. We were most grateful to R.W.Bro. Ralph Seligman and his wife Lorna for their generous hospitality and efficient taxi service!  Our visit was a very rewarding experience.

I attended three Civic Receptions in Ireland.

The Mayor of Lisburn gave a Reception for my first Official visit to the city. The Assistant Grand Master, R.W.Bro. William Mawhinney and I were warmly received by the Mayor along with V.W.Bro. Arthur Prentice, WM  and Brethren of Lodge Ireland  2000 meeting that day in the City.  On the afternoon of April 17th the Mayor of Armagh gave a reception for R.W.Bro. George Miskimmins PGM and Officers of the PGL of Armagh and myself in the magnificent setting of the old Bishopís Palace following which I spent a rewarding evening attending the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting.  On October 7th I attended Harmony Lodge, No. 228, Gorey  celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the Lodge, that afternoon I was warmly welcomed to Gorey at a Civic Reception given by the Chairman and members of Gorey Town Council.

All three Civic Receptions received good local press coverage.

In January I participated in the Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony in the City Hall, Dublin by lighting a candle in memory of the Freemasons who perished and suffered in the Holocaust, it was a very moving experience.

I visited four of our home Provinces. On March 29th. at an impressive special meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Down in the Balmoral Centre, Belfast,  attended by some 650 Brethren, I invested and proclaimed R.W.Bro. Robert J. Armstrong as PGM of that Province. In May I had an enjoyable visit to the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Midland Counties, meeting in Birr, Co. Offaly. In late September, I attended the Provincial Grand Lodge of North Munster, meeting for the first time in the new Limerick Masonic Centre, now almost complete. We look forward to the official opening of this fine facility later in 2004. Two weeks ago, I visited the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Connaught in Athlone, the smallest Province in the Irish Constitution, but in very good heart and making progress. I thank all Provincial Grand Masters and their Officers for making me feel so welcome on these occasions.

I attended some lodge meetings. Duke of York Lodge No. 25, Dublin celebrating their 150th. Anniversary.  Oak Masonic Lodge No.326, Ballinderry and The Mount Masonic Lodge, No.358, Belfast both celebrating their centenaries. I also visited Provincial Grand Masterís Lodge No. 52, Londonderry and St. Georgeís Lodge No.267, Lisburn.  I enjoyed meeting the Brethren of all these Lodges. On October 2nd.

I constituted Oracle Lodge No. 1003 in Dublin.

R.W.Bro. George Dunlop, Deputy Grand Master and R.W.Bro. William Mawhinney, Asst. Grand Master were very busy throughout the year visiting Lodges, chairing Meetings of the Grand Lodge Board and other Committees. I am very grateful to them for their hard work and total support.  R.W.Bro. Dunlop and the Grand Secretary represented us at the tripartite meeting of the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland held in August in Edinburgh.

In keeping with the Masonic ethos of caring for others, our Charities continue to provide vigorous support for those of our Brethren and their dependents who are in need. It is worth noting that Grand Lodge Charity funds currently support  424 Boys and Girls in primary, secondary and third level education throughout Ireland. Some 950 people, mostly ladies, receive annuities to augment low incomes and the Masonic Welfare Fund is gathering momentum, providing support for worthy cases which fall outside the remit of the other funds.

Masonic Havens Ltd. provides Sheltered Housing at Monkstown, Co. Dublin and

Nursing Care at Virginia, Co. Cavan where the new Sheltered Housing Project, St. Johnís Close is now complete and some bungalows are now occupied.  A novel  website has been launched to raise funds for this project. The address is www.masonichavens.ie  The site offers a virtual or simulated Tour of the Temple of Solomon. Visitors can navigate through the Courts and passageways as if they were walking through the Temple and may financially support the project by sponsoring a stone for the modest sum of Ä10.  I recommend you to visit this website and support this imaginative venture. Our Charity Liaison Committee feels that certain aspects of the duties of Almoners and Stewards of Charities need to be redefined to ensure that these Officers are more effective.  The Grand Secretary will circulate a letter with full details in February 2004.   On behalf of Grand Lodge, I thank all Brethren involved with the Management Boards of our Charity funds for their dedication to this valuable work and V.W.Bro. Michael McWilliam and our Staff who carry out the administrative work so effectively.

Support for non-Masonic Charities continues at a higher level than ever. The Tractor Drive around Ireland organised by a group of Newry Brethren raised £38,000 which was donated to Newry Hospice on November 6th at a reception in Newry Masonic Hall attended by The Deputy Grand Master, the Asst. Grand Master, local Brethren, Sister Theresa, Founder of the Hospice, Chairman and members of the Hospice Board and the Mayor & Mayoress of the City of Newry.  I congratulate the Brethren involved on the success of this project which demonstrates the impact that can be made on correcting societyís misperception of our Order.  Extensive radio and press coverage was achieved. Leinster Lodge No. 141, Dublin ran a Golf Classic, the substantial  proceeds were divided between Masonic Charities and Hume Street Hospital. In Cookstown the Northern Provinces held another Golf event at which I presented  prizes, proceeds were donated to Diabetics UK.  All over Ireland, Lodges are constantly raising funds for non-Masonic Charities. The total sum raised annually could easily exceed Ä200,000. I urge all Brethren to support local charities of their choice, subject to obtaining the usual approval, thereby getting closely involved with local communities. The Freemasons of Ireland Medical Research Fund support for the Cochlear Implant Project at the Belfast City Hospital ends next month, we await the final report with interest.

Our PR strategy achieved spectacular results during 2003. The media are less hostile and we have improved our public image.  Local press and radio covered many events all over Ireland. Major features appeared in The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Belfast Newsletter, The Belfast Telegraph and The Irish News.

Interviews were broadcast on RTE radio, The Marion Finucane Show, BBC Radio Ulster Talkback with David Dunseith and RTE TV programme Open House.  RTE TV today filmed the opening of Grand Lodge for a 30 minute documentary on Irish Freemasonry which they are currently producing for the series Would you believe which will be broadcast early in the New Year, this will be our biggest PR project to-date. In future we do not expect to achieve the same degree of media exposure, but we will continue to focus in a structured way on selected special events. I  acknowledge the professional PR support which we have received from Bro. Vere Wynne-Jones in Dublin and W. Bro. Trevor Hanna in Belfast who made this possible.

We must continue to make the public aware of what we are and what we stand for and to reassure the public that they have no reason to fear Freemasonry. In fact the opposite applies, Freemasonry is a major force for good in society. It would help greatly if more of our Brethren felt comfortable talking about Freemasonry in their everyday lives, hopefully they will as the public perception of our Order improves.

Communication within the Order has always been a problem but has improved considerably with the development of the Grand Lodge News, the latest issue has eight pages printed in colour and circulation has been increased. In future we hope to include quality articles which will give Brethren a better personal understanding of Freemasonry.  Our website www.irish-freemasons.org continues to attract a lot of interest from our Brethren and members of the public. We are grateful to the dedicated Brethren who work hard on these projects.

News reaching me suggests that our Brethren are optimistic and look to the future with greater confidence, this is most encouraging.  Membership appears to be stabilising and reports from many areas indicate numbers are increasing but we have no reason for complacency in this regard. I suggest for 2004 every Lodge should focus on the retrieval of lapsed or demitted Brethren, they are still Freemasons and retrieval is much easier than recruitment. Almoners have a duty to maintain contact with lapsed Brethren to encourage them to return to the Lodge.  This problem requires urgent attention.

The Programme for Change, published ten years ago, is still very relevant. Much has been achieved or is in progress. More copies should be circulated and kept under review. I invite all Brethren to comment and submit constructive ideas and thoughts to enable us all to effectively support and maintain our wonderful Order which gives us all so much pleasure and satisfaction.

Finally I wish to thank everyone involved with Irish Freemasonry for their support,

R.W.Bro. Michael Walker, Grand Secretary and everyone at Freemasons Hall, Dublin. R.W.Bro. George Dunlop and R.W. Bro. William Mawhinney and all Grand Lodge Officers, we have a great team. All Brethren, wherever located, have a role to play and can add to the impetus which will ensure our continued success.

Pam and I thank everyone for the courtesy and kindness extended to us everywhere we travelled this year both in Ireland and overseas.  From our family, we extend to you and your families warmest Seasonal Greetings and  Best Wishes for your health, happiness and prosperity in 2004.

Eric N. Waller, Grand Master     6th December 2003