Progress of Irish Freemasonry in 1998

The Grand Master's Address to meeting of Grand Lodge

Monday 12th December 1998

Brethren, the 1998 Masonic Year has come to an end and we enter a new year which will be dominated by the planning and arrangements for the celebration of the 275th Anniversary of Grand Lodge and our entry into the New Millennium. The Minutes of Grand Lodge proceedings are now circulated to all Lodges and therefore I will not, as I did in the past, review every individual Grand Lodge meeting.

As always my review commences with sadness and deep regret at the passing of several distinguished and well-loved Brethren to the Grand Lodge Above. The full list will be found in the obituary section of our Annual Report but I feel I must mention a few of them here to-day, namely, R.W. Brother James L. Rankin, R.W. Brother Donald H. Stevenson, R.W. Brother Leslie N. Taylor, R.W. Brother Edward Kang, R.W. Brother Melville E.K. Roberts, R.W. Brother Rt. Rev. R. Gordon Perdue, V.W. Brother Reginald Caldwell, and R.W. Brother Norman A. Peilow. All these late Brethren and those not named here, gave willingly of their time and talents for the furtherance of our Order; and our deepest sympathy goes out to their family circles. I also wish to convey our deepest sympathy to the Provincial Grand Master of Londonderry and Donegal and the Past Provincial Deputy Grand Master of South Eastern Counties on the death of their beloved wives.

The formal business of last St. John’s Day was duly completed. I was delighted and proud to be proclaimed and saluted as your Grand Master for 1998. The Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters having agreed to continue in Office, were also proclaimed and saluted. I re-appointed all Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Inspectors who were saluted along with the Grand Lodge Officers who were installed, invested or proclaimed for 1998.

At our June meeting I was pleased to receive and welcome delegations from the National Grand Lodge of Greece, the National Grand Lodge of France, the Grand Lodge of the State of Indiana and the United Grand Lodge of England. The United Grand Lodge of England was represented by R.W. Brother Michael B.S. Higham, Past Grand Secretary, PJGW. Special tributes were paid to R.W. Brother Higham on his retirement and I was pleased to confer on him the Honorary Rank of Past Junior Grand Warden of this Grand Lodge. I was delighted to welcome the Provincial Grand Masters of Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana and V.W. Brother Leslie Dharmaratne, from Sri Lanka, as well as other overseas Brethren. As usual a large number of Brethren and their ladies, including our distinguished visitors from Sister Constitutions and our own overseas Brethren, attended a most enjoyable buffet supper in Freemasons’ Hall.

The Tripartite Meeting of the Home Grand Lodges was held in Dublin in June. The main item for discussion was the current position of our relationship with the Grand Lodge of India. After prolonged debate no firm conclusions were reached. It was agreed that, on the visit to India and Sri Lanka later this year by myself and the Assistant Grand Master, we would investigate the matter further. In the event we had a long and candid meeting with the Indian Grand Master and four delegates but again no conclusions could be reached. We took the opportunity to meet the District Grand Masters of the English and Scottish Constitutions in India and we discussed the problem with our own Provincial Grand Master and heard the opinions of our Indian Brethren. A full report is being prepared and will be submitted to the Tripartite Committee in due course.

A meeting of the European Grand Secretaries was hosted by Grand Lodge in Dublin in October. These meetings are most important as they ventilate the views and cement the relationships between Grand Lodges. In early December the Deputy Grand Master and his wife Sylvia, along with the Grand Secretary, attended the Annual Assembly of the National Grand Lodge of France, and, as mentioned earlier, the Assistant Grand Master and I paid a long overdue visit to India and Sri Lanka in November. We were received most cordially by the Brethren whose hospitality was betimes overwhelming. In Sri Lanka we visited all our Lodges and met the Brethren and their ladies at various functions. In India we travelled extensively to visit Lodges in Madras, Bombay and Poona. I must record that in Madras we were privileged to witness perfect Masonic ritual and a superb Second Degree which made me proud to be an Irish Freemason. Our lasting impression of the visit was the pride of our Brethren to be Freemasons, the support of their ladies and their determination to further the cause of Freemasonry at every opportunity.

On the domestic front the introduction of the printed ritual and the decision to implement the Programme for Change - The Way Forward were most important. The printed ritual will give a new dimension to Lodge working and degree-giving, and hopefully encourage young Masons to become more involved in the governance of their Lodge. The implementation of the Programme for Change is vital to the very survival of our Order. I am disappointed by the apathy shown by some Lodge Officers and I would ask all Provincial Inspectors when visiting Lodges to check that the Brethren have been fully appraised of the contents of the Programme for Change and ascertain what steps are being taken to implement this Programme. Very relevant to this is the imminent publication of several new information and instruction leaflets - viz A Brief Explanation of Irish Freemasonry; Action Sheets for Almoners and for Steward’s of Charity; and a revised leaflet on Information for Candidates. It is essential that all Lodge Secretaries have these in their possession and that the Brethren are aware of the contents. I would like to congratulate the Metropolitan Board on the publication of the Metro-Mason and for organising the Open Day at Freemasons’ Hall in late November. This positive attitude augers well for the future of Freemasonry in the Metropolitan Area.

It is very sad to record the number of Warrants returned during the year and the number of Brethren struck off. I sometimes feel that this is probably a softer option than having to act with vigour to keep the Lodge alive and to encourage the errant Brethren to return to the fold. We need new members urgently. I would ask every Brother to consider this question - "Have I ever introduced a candidate to my Lodge - can I say that I have played my part?"

The year 1998 has been a very significant one for the Benevolent Institutions, especially the Victoria Jubilee Masonic Benevolent Fund and the two Belfast Funds - the Belfast Masonic Widows Fund and the Belfast Masonic Charity Fund. These funds have been working closely together to assist one another and this has resulted in a much improved position for all, but especially our widows living in the Belfast area. As you will hear shortly, the Assistant Grand Master will propose a Notice of Motion which, if approved by Grand Lodge, will ensure that our twin aims of providing assistance to all those in need with equality, and ensuring the financial burden of this aid is carried equally by all our Brethren, are achieved.

I commend this Notice of Motion to you and hope that, at our March meeting, Grand Lodge will approve the proposal as recommended not only by the Assistant Grand Master but by the Management Committees of the Funds involved. I am delighted that such excellent progress has been made towards our ultimate objective of equal support for all our dependants. It is not possible to thank individually all those many Brethren who willingly give their time, skill and experience to the running of our Charities. They work exceedingly hard on our behalf and to all these Brethren I extend not only my thanks and those of Grand Lodge, but the thanks of all members of the Irish Constitution.

Brethren, as you already know, in the year 2000 Grand Lodge will be celebrating its 275th Anniversary and we will also be entering a new Millennium. I feel it would be totally wrong and unmasonic if we proceeded with our planned extensive festivities without being ever mindful of the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. Accordingly, I have declared a Grand Master’s Millennium Appeal - the proceeds from which will be devoted entirely to those Masonic Charities which are responsible for the well-being of our poor and distressed dependants. I appeal to all Provincial Grand Lodges, all subordinate Lodges and all Brethren to make some small sacrifice to ensure the success of this worthy Appeal.

In June, a delegation from Grand Lodge paid a final visit to the Department of Community Medicine at University College Galway to wind up our sponsorship of the Medical Research into the health, safety and lifestyle of agri-workers and operators of small enterprises. The report is now available and I understand that it has been well-received and widely acclaimed in medical circles worldwide. The Medical Trustees are currently considering a new project to support.

At the October meeting of Grand Lodge, comprehensive reports on the workings and progress of all our Masonic Charities were received and their continued success noted with pleasure. During the year over 5000 was donated from the Grand Masters Special Appeal Fund. The main disbursals were 1000 each to the British Transplant Games and the Omagh Memorial Fund; and 500 each to the Sri Lanka Irish Freemasons Benevolent Fund, the Sierra Leone Inter Constitutional Benevolent Fund and the Nicaragua Appeal following the disastrous hurricane in that area.

Brethren, early November saw what I believe was the highlight of the year 1998. The R.W. Deputy Grand Master and I were honoured to welcome President Mary McAleese making the first official visit of an Irish Head of State to Freemasons’ Hall. Her Excellency was given a guided tour of the Masonic Museum, and particularly the 1798 Rebellion exhibit. During the tour of the Museum the Curator explained the significance of the various displays. Afterwards she was introduced by the Grand Secretary to members of staff and members of the Metropolitan Board; and I was pleased to present the President with a Tyrone Crystal Bowl from the Donegall Masonic Collection.

Brethren, it is my duty on your behalf to extend our thanks to all members of our Order who have given of their time so generously and served on the various Grand Lodge Committees. I am grateful to our R.W. Deputy Grand Master, R.W. Assistant Grand Master, R.W. Grand Treasurer and R.W. Grand Secretary and his three Assistants for the excellent support, advice and assistance given to me during the year. A very special thank you from us all to the staff for their continuing excellent work.

It has been with pleasure and indeed a feeling of privilege, that my wife and I attended many meetings and functions during the year. I wish to thank you my Brethren for the wonderful friendship and fellowship extended to us and for your most generous hospitality on those occasions.

My wife and I wish that good health, happiness and prosperity go with you all during 1999.

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