WE PAY A VISIT TO ARK­LOW’S MA­SONIC LODGE

RE­PORTER DAVID MEDCALF CALLED TO THE MA­SONIC HALL IN ARK­LOW TO FIND THAT SOME THINGS HAVE CHANGED VERY LIT­TLE SINCE 1800 – THOUGH THE LO­CAL LODGE HAS ADAPTED TO MOD­ERN CON­DI­TIONS AND MOD­ERN DE­MANDS

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IT HAS TO be the long­est run­ning or­gan­i­sa­tion in Ark­low if not all of County Wick­low. Here is a body of men – they are all men – who main­tain an un­bro­ken tra­di­tion go­ing back more than two cen­turies in the town. The 41 cur­rent mem­bers, cov­er­ing the age range from 23 to 80, are part of a move­ment which can trace its ori­gins much fur­ther back, to the days when the great cas­tles and cathe­drals of Europe were con­structed.

It was not un­til the year 1800 that the Wick­low Mili­tia was granted war­rant Num­ber 877 to es­tab­lish a lodge of the Ma­sonic Or­der in Ire­land.

The tim­ing and the ti­tle sug­gest that the or­gan­i­sa­tion was very much a part of the Union­ist es­tab­lish­ment of the day, with meet­ings con­vened at the mili­tia de­pot in Wick­low Town.

By 1815 the lodge had ditched all for­mal as­so­ci­a­tion with the army and had also moved a few miles south to take more per­ma­nent root in Ark­low. The or­der is a great re­specter of tra­di­tion, how­ever, so the words ‘Wick­low Mili­tia’ re­main in the ti­tle, with no ref­er­ence at all to Ark­low.

It has been thus for 217 years and it will re­main for­ever thus, in ac­cor­dance with the found­ing guide­lines laid down in war­rant Num­ber 877.

Men­tion of lodges and of an or­der tend to cre­ate con­fu­sion in some minds with the Orange­men who cel­e­brate July 12 with loy­al­ist gusto.

Such mis­per­cep­tion is quickly dis­pelled by a chat with Ark­low stal­warts Jimmy Woolm­ing­ton and Har­vey Heav­ener. Where the Or­ange per­spec­tive is un­flinch­ingly Protes­tant and its ad­her­ents pledge al­le­giance to the Bri­tish Crown, the Ma­sons have no such stand­point.

It is a firm rule of the brother­hood, strictly ob­served, that pol­i­tics and re­li­gion are not men­tioned at meet­ings. Jimmy re­veals that he is of­ten com­pletely in the dark as to the faith of his fel­low Freema­sons as de­nom­i­na­tional ties have no rel­e­vance to their ac­quain­tance.

The only re­quire­ment is that mem­bers must pro­fess a be­lief in a supreme be­ing – athe­ists need not ap­ply. Whether they seek that supreme be­ing in church, chapel, sy­n­a­gogue or mosque mat­ters not at all to the or­der.

The re­al­ity is that Is­lam frowns on Freema­sonry, so Moslems are few among the ranks.

Also, var­i­ous Popes down through the ages have some­times per­ceived the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a threat to their author­ity.

So, prom­i­nent Ro­man Catholic Mason such as Daniel O’Con­nell have come un­der pres­sure at times to cease their par­tic­i­pa­tion.

With or with­out the bless­ing of the Vat­i­can, Freema­sonry has been a fac­tor be­hind the scenes in Ir­ish life since the early 16th cen­tury, if not ear­lier. The first lodges were made up of (no sur­prise) ma­sons, skilled work­ers in stone who wished to pro­mote their craft and their em­ploy­ment rights.

They were in ef­fect branches of a trade union which kept out­siders ex­cluded by us­ing pass­words and a ‘grip’ – the dis­tinc­tive hand­shake.

By the time the or­der es­tab­lished a pres­ence in Ark­low, the range of pro­fes­sions in­volved had ex­tended far out from a sin­gle branch of the con­struc­tion in­dus­try.

They re­tained and con­tinue to re­tain the lan­guage of build­ing in their pro­ceed­ings nev­er­the­less, with sym­bols such as the plumb line and set square per­me­at­ing pro­ceed­ings.

Jimmy Woolm­ing­ton ex­plains how the tools of the old trade pro­vide mean­ing­ful guide­lines for how a Mason should con­duct him­self.

The phrase square deal­ing, for in­stance, harks back to that set square as a re­minder of the re­quire­ment to carry out all busi­ness on the level. Sim­i­larly, the al­ways true and al­ways ver­ti­cal plumb line is in­ter­preted as an in­junc­tion to live an up­right life.

THE min­utes of the meet­ings of lodge Num­ber 877 have been pre­served since the year 1857 and Har­vey Heav­ener has trawled through the old records for some nuggets. The an­nals in­clude the by-laws of 1858 which laid down the firm in­struc­tion that the ‘books con­tain­ing the min­utes of the trans­ac­tion of the lodge must never be re­moved from the lodge room’. Thanks to the fact that this rule has been obeyed, a rich his­tory has been pre­served in the books.

The bye-laws ex­hib­ited a de­sire to pre­serve a sense of sober deco­rum with fines threat­ened for of­fences such as drunk­en­ness (two shillings), curs­ing (six pence) or leav­ing meet­ings early (six pence).

The writ­ten record mined by Har­vey Heav­ener il­lus­trates some of the con­cerns of his pre­de­ces­sors in the Ark­low lodge dur­ing Vic­to­rian times.

His re­searches show that the mem­bers ap­pear to have en­joyed their food, with a Ma­sonic din­ner held in 1873 at Hunter’s Lodge in Wood­en­bridge.

Three years later a charge of five shillings per head was ap­plied to those who dined at Fitzwilliam’s Ho­tel in Rath­drum.

Two years later again an ev­i­dently much more elab­o­rate af­fair was staged at Wynn’s Ho­tel in Rath­drum at a cost of ten shillings per head.

Busi­ness con­tacts were clearly part of the mix as it was noted that hote­liers Hunter and Wynn were ‘Broth­ers’ – that is, lodge mem­bers – though not ap­par­ently Fitzwilliam.

There may have been an el­e­ment of snob­bery to the or­gan­i­sa­tion as it was noted in 1886 that Ce­cill Howard, sixth Earl of Wick low, be­came a me af­fil­i­ated af­fil­i­ated. How­ever, there has al­ways been a more se­ri­ous side to the Freema­sons, with a long held tra­di­tion of sup­port for ed­u­ca­tion il­lus­trated in the fol­low­ing note from 1871:

‘Brother Stead­man pro­posed that the lodge sub­scribe the sum of £1 an­nu­ally to each of the two Ma­sonic schools in Dublin.’ The schools, one for girls and the other for boys re­mained in ex­is­tence well into the 20th cen­tury and the or­der con­tin­ues to sup­port school­ing in other ways.

The mod­ern-day lodge con­trib­utes around €3,000 each year to char­ity, money which not only pro­vides schol­ar­ships but also looks af­ter

wid­ows or as­sists mem­bers who have fallen on hard times.

As a na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion the Ma­sons sup­port an as­sort­ment of good causes, with the Alzheimer So­ci­ety, the Sa­mar­i­tans and Laura Lynn Foun­da­tion among those on the list.

Ark­low court­house was a reg­u­lar venue for meet­ings of the lodge un­til a Ma­sonic Hall was con­structed at Fer­ry­bank in the town in 1900.

A fine black-and-white pho­to­graph of the up­stand­ing Ma­sons of the day at­tend­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony at the dawn of the new cen­tury is an ar­rest­ing fea­ture of the build­ing to this day. The im­age was on show re­cently to the gen­eral pub­lic as the doors were opened to all com­ers dur­ing Na­tional Her­itage Week for a day. The place now hosts at least ten for­mal meet­ings a year, with the base­ment rented out to serve as a pre-school.

Those who came to Fer­ry­bank in her­itage week were ad­mit­ted to the fine tim­bered meet­ing room in the ex­ten­sively re­fur­bished premises where the old-style col­lars worn by of­fice hold­ers were on dis­play.

The once-a-year in­vi­ta­tion un­der­lines that Freema­sonry is not the se­cret so­ci­ety that it is some­times painted, though mem­bers like to pre­serve some of the mys­tique. The re­galia robes and the finer points of the cer­e­monies are strictlystrictly con­fined to the ini­ti­ated and al­ways will be, be­cause that it part of the ap­peal of be­long­ing.

Change comes slow to the Ma­sonic Or­der though Jimmy and Har­vey are not nec­es­sar­ily op­posed to ad­mit­ting women. The ladies have al­ready made the break­through to mem­ber­ship in the UK by form­ing their own sep­a­rate lodges.

‘It is a fra­ter­nity, with a char­i­ta­ble ethos,’ is ho how Har­vey sums up an or­gan­isati tion which pro­vides mem­bers with co con­tacts all around the world.

He re­calls be­ing wel­comed to gath­er­ings of Ma­sons in var­i­ous coun­tries – Tan­za­nia, Aus­tralia, United States and Ice­land to name ju just a few.

The web of fra­ter­nity starts closer to home as reg­u­lar con­tact is main­tainedta with lodges across the re­gion in Grey­stones, Dalkey, Wick­low, Gorey,G En­nis­cor­thy and Baltinglass.

JIMMY re­veals that he was first in­ducted when work­ing as a bank of­fi­cial in Done­gal, of­fer­ing him com­rade­ship when he was liv­ing far ffrom where he was brought up.

For Har­vey, who left school at a young age to work on the fam­ily farm, Freema­sonry has pro­vided a win­dow on the wider world and some of the ed­u­ca­tion that he mmissed out on as a young­ster.

The two men dis­close that meeti­ings in­clude the singing of an oode and the recit­ing of a mason’s prayer, while of­fice hold­ers re­joice in ti­tles such as ‘Al­moner’ and ‘Stew­ard’. For­mal dindin­ners re­main on the agenda, just as in the 1870s, but they pre­fer to keep some of the se­crecy.

‘If you want to know any more you will have to join. I would not like the mys­tery to go out of it,’ says Jimmy with a smile, while Har­vey adds: ‘We don’t re­cruit as such be we keep an eye out for a likely fel­low.’

Jimmy Woolm­ing­ton, Tony Thorpe, Brian Kearon, Seán Raf­ferty and Har­vey Heav­ener at Ark­low Ma­sonic Hall.

Ark­low Ma­sonic Hall.

At the ded­i­ca­tion of the hall in 1907.

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