A Brief History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland
The Grand Lodge of Ireland is the second oldest in the world and the first evidence for its existence comes from the Dublin Weekly Journal of June 26th 1725. The paper describes an event which took place two days previously on June 24th - a meeting of the Grand Lodge of Ireland to install the new Grand Master, the 1st Earl of Rosse. Unfortunately the exact date of the foundation of the Grand Lodge is not known, but the installation of a new Grand Master would suggest it was already in existence a couple of years. 1725 is the year celebrated in Grand Lodge anniversaries.
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 mid nineteenth century, which purportedly dates to the early sixteenth century. The story of the "Lady Freemason", Elizabeth St. Leger, also dates to a time prior to the existence of the Grand Lodge.
During the eighteenth century hundreds of Lodges were founded in every part of Ireland, and most of these would have met at inns, taverns and coffee houses. In Dublin, Lodges were known to have met in the Yellow Lion on Werburgh Street, the Centaur Tavern on Fishamble Street, and the Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill, amongst others, and in Belfast meetings were held in the Sailor on Mill Street and the Donegall Anna. The meetings of the Grand Lodge however, generally took place in civic and guild buildings such as the Tailors' Hall in Back Lane, the Cutlers' Hall in Capel Street, and the Assembly Rooms on South William Street.
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 Masonick 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 were also Freemasons, including Henry Joy McCracken, Henry Monroe, and Archibald Hamilton Rowan.
In 1826 the papal Bull of Leo XII against secret societies was widely promulgated in Ireland unlike the previous bulls issued against Freemasonry in the eighteenth century. Catholic members of the Order were threatened with excommunication if they failed to resign from their Lodges. One of the most prominent figures in Irish history to have been a Freemason, Daniel O'Connell, resigned after pressure was put on him by Archbishop Troy of Dublin.
The nineteenth century saw the expansion of Irish Freemasonry to all four corners of the globe with Lodges established in Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, India and the Far East. Prominent during the century was the 3rd Duke of Leinster who presided over the Order as Grand Master for an impressive sixty one years. The nineteenth century also saw the expansion of the Masonic Female Orphan School, founded in 1792 to educate the daughters of deceased Freemasons. In 1881 a brand new school building was opened on the Merrion Road in Dublin while in 1867 the Masonic Orphan Boys School was founded.
By the 1820s the Grand Lodge of Ireland had arranged to lease No, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin, for use as the headquarters of Irish Freemasonry. From there, following a brief sojourn in the Freemasons Coffee House in D'Olier Street, the Order moved to another rented premises, Commercial Buildings on Dame Street, which became the Masonic Hall until 1869 when the present Freemasons' Hall opened for meetings. The new building was designed and purpose built as a Masonic Hall and it remains the headquarters of Irish Freemasonry, housing dramatically decorated Lodge rooms, a library. a museum, offices and dining areas.