Munster Masonry

At a reception in Tuckey Street, Cork on Saturday 2nd March 2002, R.W.Bro. Alan Campbell (Provincial Grand Master designate) gave a detailed and informative "potted history" of Munster Masonry - the full test of which was as follows :-

"M.W. Grand Master and distinguished brethren, it is my pleasant duty to welcome you to Cork and particularly to these premises, which have been home to Cork Masonry for so many years.

This is a very important occasion for Irish Freemasonry in general, but, of course, for Munster Masonry, it is a time of great pride and joy, as we stop and look back over 275 years of our recorded history.  In doing so, we are always teased and tantalised by the prospect of something coming to light which will take us further back in time.

We know that John Champion was, in 1656, Master of “Ye Society of Freemasons”, and he, as a wealthy land and property-owner, was certainly not an operative mason.  We also have the famous story of the initiation of The Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger at Doneraile Court in County Cork, some time between 1710 and 1712.

The mid-eighteenth century records of Lodge No. 27 refer to “this antient Lodge”, which is hardly something which would be said if the Lodge was only ten or fifteen years in existence, and, in the Lodge Room in Kinsale are four chairs, carved with Masonic symbols, which, I am reliably informed, were made no later than 1680 and probably c.1660.

However, to refer you to the minute book which lies before you.  Its first entry is dated December 1726 and, as such, it is the first known existing minute in Irish Freemasonry.  It is a lovely start to 275 of Masonic work in Munster, for it records that a British Crown is to be given to Thomas Holland every night he attends Lodge “for the relief of his distressed family”.  The minutes are signed by Springett Penn, who was a grandson of William Penn, the eminent Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania.  The book was given to Bro. Justin McCarthy, Deputy to the P.G.M., Lord Shannon, early in the nineteenth century by Bro. Robert Millikin of Harmony Lodge 555, then working in Fermoy and now working here in Cork City.  He had, in turn, received the book from Bro. Rev. James Pratt, Rector of Ovens (Athnowen) Parish, County Cork.  It seems that Bro. Pratt bought at auction an old book-case full of books and amongst them found this minute book.

The earliest minutes are those of a ‘Time Immemorial’ Lodge, which, most agree, later became The Premier Lodge of Ireland, No. 1, Cork, and those of the Grand Lodge of Munster.  We do not know the date when this latter body was constituted, but we do know that it ceased to operate in 1733.  Its amalgamation with the Grand Lodge of Ireland was brought about by the election of James, Fourth Lord Kingston, as Grand Master of Munster at the same time as he was Grand Master of Munster.  The legacy we have of the old Grand Lodge of Munster is not alone our rich and fascinating history but also the unique ritual used by the thirteen Lodges of the Province of Munster to this day.

Before finishing and inviting you to lunch in the dining room, may I briefly tell you a little concerning these premises.  The ground and first floors were built  around 1790 for a musical society, and the eastern gable has, for its foundation, the butt of the ancient wall of Cork.  This room had a minstrels’ gallery at the far end, which we refer to as the ‘west’, though it is really the east – Munster working, perhaps!  Its remains form a mezzanine floor above, which we use as a robing room.  The stalls came from the former St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, demolished in 1865 to make way for William Burges’ masterpiece of Victoria Gothic revival architecture.  The figures of the evangelists which decorate the mosaic are the plaster cast of the limestone figures surrounding the west window of the present cathedral.  The building was acquired by the First Lodge in 1844, and in 1926 all the Cork City Lodges came under one roof here and the top floor was added.  It is used today as a Royal Arch Chapter room.

M.W. Grand Master and brethren, I have said enough.  Enjoy your visit here and be assured that we are more than delighted to welcome you all."


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Copyright - Grand Lodge of Ireland 2002