Ceremony and Ritual: Cavan and Belturbet’s New Masonic Halls
Historian Jonathan Smyth looks back on the history of the freemasons and some Masonic lodges in County Cavan in this week's Times Past column...
Freemasonry is said to be made up of fraternal organisations who can trace their origins to a brotherhood of stonemasons, dating back to the fourteenth century and aside from watching a recent television documentary on the history of the freemasons, dressed in their colourful regalia, I confess to knowing very little of its history. However, a glance at historical newspapers show that Masonic Lodges existed in many towns across Ireland, which indicates that they played an important role in many communities.
In the world at large, there have been many famous freemasons, amongst whom there have been, John Wayne (actor), Daniel O’Connell (The Liberator), Rudyard Kipling, George Washington, Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Edmund Burke, Ernest Shackleton (explorer), Joey Dunlop (motorcyclist), Mark Twain (author) , Louis Armstrong (musician), and Harry Houdini (magician), to name but a few. In the nineteenth century, the towns of Cavan and Belturbet obtained new masonic premises.
Cavan Masonic, 1885
Before trowels were set in motion, or stones sculpted and fitted into place, an event was held in Cavan to mark the laying of the new hall’s foundation stone which took place on July 1, 1885 on Farnham Street, in the presence of a large attendance of the ‘brotherhood’ and an even larger public attendance who maintained a close interest in the proceedings. Being a holiday, the town was thronged, thereby drawing more interest than might have been expected, as they observed the masonic procession making its way from the Court House to the site where the new building would be erected on Farnham Street.
The Cavan Weekly News reported that plans for the hall were drawn up by Brother J.O. Moynan, Civil Engineer, and the paper believed the site to be in the best thoroughfare of the town. The success in attaining a new building was, they said, in ‘great measure’ down to the ‘untiring’ energy of Brother Samuel Jones (solicitor), who was honorary secretary of the building committee, and to the organisational skills of Captain E.T. Lindsay, the Provincial Grand Warden of Meath who was also secretary of the Cavan Masonic Lodge.
The procession from the Court House was a spectacle to behold as the freemasons walked to the new site in full traditional garb. It was further mentioned that they planned to hold a bazaar and concert in early October 1885, which most probably was to assist in raising funds to pay for the building. Having had a successful day it was felt that the events planned for October would be a winner.
Belturbet Masonic, 1901
On Saturday, May 11, 1901 the Cavan Weekly News gave a superb account of the celebrations and ceremony surrounding the opening and dedication of the new Masonic Hall, in Church Street, Belturbet which took place on the previous Monday. The site had been acquired by ‘the fraternity’ and the building had been constructed in the ‘old Elizabethan’ style, under the careful attention of Mr James McLean, Kilconny, the oldest sitting member in Belturbet. The upper part of the building contained a large room which ran the length of the property and afforded the society a proper space for holding meetings and social events, while on the lower level it contained an ‘ante room’ and three rooms for the caretaker and then outside, the fraternity had a stable to place the horses in during meetings and a ‘splendid’ garden to the rear of the property.The Cavan Weekly News congratulated the society on their efforts, stating that: ‘The local members are to be congratulated on the success which have crowned their efforts in having a hall worthy of the craft’.
At one o’clock on Monday, May 6, 1901 members, many of whom had travelled long journeys began to assemble outside the hall. Colonel Pepper, the Meath Provincial Grand Master arrived in town to perform the dedication and as soon as he had been ‘saluted’, the door opened and the ‘Brethren’ then filed inside to take their seats to listen to the address delivered by the ‘Worshipful Master’ of Belturbet Masonic Lodge. He began to speak when everyone was seated, addressing the Meath Provincial Grand Master he said: ‘Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master, the Brethren of this Lodge, animated with a desire to promote the honour the interests of the craft in this place, have, by considerable expense, renovated and decorated this hall for their convenience and accommodation’. He added that the members were ‘desirous’ that the hall should be examined by Colonel Pepper, and should it meet with his approval, that he might ‘solemnly dedicate’ the place to the purposes of ‘freemasonry’.
Colonel Pepper then addressed the room with the following speech: ‘Worshipful Brother, I congratulate you and the members of your lodge on the result of your efforts and will have much pleasure in acceding to your wishes’. Before performing the dedication, he asked that they might ‘invoke’ the ‘Divine blessing’. Prayer was offered up by the Chaplain and afterwards Psalm 90 was sung. When they had finished singing, a procession was formed and they began to move around the lodge room in the following order: Deacons bearing the wands of ‘their Offices’, Past Masters bearing vessels for the ceremony, and the Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master and other Brethren. The Provincial Grand Master performed the functions of his office with ‘due solemnity’ and in dedicating the hall, invoked the ‘blessing and favour of the All-merciful and Gracious Creator’. After the lodge had closed ‘in ancient custom’ the members retired to the Town Hall for a splendid lunch at a ‘beautifully apportioned table’ set out for sixty guests ‘with all the delicacies of the season, beautiful cut flowers, and a centre plant in a silver stand residing on a silk spread emblazoned with ‘masonic symbols’. As the evening drew to a close, they toasted the health of fellow freemasons, and a ‘hearty’ vote of thanks was given to the caterers and those who had put such hard work into making the event a ‘long to be remembered’ day in the annals of the society.
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