Orla Stafford explores the world’s oldest all-male fraternity, The Freemasons.
Over the years The Freemasons, or freemasonry, has been regarded as a secretive society. But that is not entirely true. While the organisation has its secrets, not everything about it is shrouded.
The Freemasons has around 800 lodges scattered throughout the country. Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternities with approximately 30,000 members in Ireland and almost 1,400 residing in Dublin. It is believed that there are roughly four million members worldwide.
Irish freemasonry also has lodges overseas in countries including Australia, India, and South Africa. All lodges are branded with a name and number for purposes of identification such as Bray 11 or Gorey 228.
The Freemasons are enriched with history and heritage, and date back to the Middle Ages. Members of The Freemasons use the customs and “tools of the stonemason as allegorical guides”.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland is the governing body and resides in the heart of Dublin’s city centre on Molesworth Street. It is the second most senior Grand Lodge of Freemasons in the world and was founded in 1725. It is beautifully decorated and crafted, taking inspiration from Egyptian, Gothic and Medieval eras. The Grand Lodge of The Freemasons is plentiful in rooms including a museum, masonic club, preceptor, knights temple and the Prince Masons room.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland is a listed building and is open to the public throughout the year, with many transition year students taking advantage of this and availing of guided tours.
Everything you encounter in The Grand Lodge of Ireland has meaning from the checkered black and white floor symbolising good and bad, right and wrong – as inspired by King Soloman’s Temple – to the hexagram, compass and ruler.
According to the Irish Freemasons, the purpose of the organisation is to promote “the bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love. Politics has no role in it. Neither is it a religion.”
Membership to the order is open to men of all colour and creed however those interested must be over 21 years of age as any younger is deemed to be too young. For admission to The Freemasons, one must hold belief in a supreme being. Though it is not a religious organisation like many misconceptions would have you believe, the bible is looked upon as the Volume of the Sacred Law. At Masonic meetings, discussions on religious matters are not permitted.
As well as being a gentleman’s club with strict fundamental principles that must be adhered to, The Freemasons also conduct a lot of charity work and play a part in community development through organising events such as the Grand Master’s Festival of Charity and the Irish Freemason’s Young Musician of the Year Competition.
The Samaritans, The Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice, and the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice Foundation are just some of the charities who have benefited from the generosity of The Freemasons.
According to The Freemasons, “freemasonry has been concerned from its earliest days with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged.” Many of the Masonic charities also provide help and assistance to the widows of deceased freemasons, children of freemasons in education, and dependants of freemasons. Bewleys Hotel, Ballsbridge, was once a Masonic Female Orphan School founded in 1792, which housed and educated the daughters of deceased freemasons. The UCD School of Architecture was built upon what was once a masonic boy’s school.
I quizzed Freemason Patrick about the organisation:
Why did you join, and what attracted you to, The Freemasons?
I joined Freemasonry for what the organisation offered, that is, fraternity, camaraderie and the belief of making good men better and helping one’s fellow man.
What are membership numbers like?
Membership numbers in Ireland are estimated at 30,000, although Freemasons are represented throughout the world.
Where do you meet as a group and how regularly?
Meetings are conducted in a lodge and generally on a monthly basis. However, a mason can visit other lodges as one sees fit in any country where a lodge is located.
Do you have to have a relation within The Freemasons to join?
Although a lot of masons have relatives in the organisation i.e. brothers, grand-fathers etc, one has to be proposed/recommended, and validated prior to acceptance.
What happens if you disobey the rules that govern The Freemasons?
If a mason is deemed to be in breach of the code/rules, he is expelled. In previous decades they suffered death.
Is there a dress code?
Yes, respectable clothing is required in fitting with a mason, for example a suit, dress suit or formal wear. Casual clothing is frowned upon.
Who is in charge?
The Most Worshipful Grand Master, in this case The Grand Lodge of Ireland.
Is religion important?
No, one’s religion is not discussed or required within the order, as with political opinions, however a mason is required to believe in a higher power greater than them.
Is it a secretive society?
Freemasonry is not a secret organisation, but it is however an organisation that has secrets.
According to The Freemasons, “One of the most fascinating aspects of Freemasonry has always been how so many men from so many different walks of life can meet together in peace, never discuss politics or engage in religious debates, conduct their affairs in harmony and friendship, and call each other ‘Brother’.”
However, the question on everyone’s lips is: Why no women?
The Freemasons took inspiration from the early stonemasons who were all men and so in keeping with tradition, no women are permitted to join.
However, what is largely unknown is that there are in fact lady freemasons, who have their own society and hold their own meetings. Lady freemasons are plentiful in Britain, with only a selection residing in Ireland.
According to The Freemasons, they are “not a secretive society, as all its members are free to acknowledge their membership, and will do so in response to reasonable inquiries”.
The Freemasons of Ireland have a particular handshake, however it is believed that this is seldom used.