The Big Wind of 1839
The wind blew without ceasing for eight and a half hours and the old people say that had it lasted for another two hours there would not have been a house in the country districts but would have been left in ruins. The old people say also that this dreadful wind was caused by the Freemasons bringing up the Devil out of Hell at one of their meetings, and that they could not get him back. (The Schools’ Collection Vol. 0255, P. 152, National Folklore Collection, UCD)
Using the collective term of Clubs & Societies, Mountmellick has a number of long-standing organisations which continue to be active in the town in 2021. The following is a selection, but not a comprehensive list, of some of these local organisations:
The Athletic Club was founded in 1876, Mountmellick G.A.A. in 1900, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in 1908, the Scouts in 1945, the Christmas Tree Committee in 1956, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in 1957, the Mountmellick Anglers’ Association in 1959, Macra na Feirme in 1966, Mountmellick United soccer club in 1969, the Drama Group in 1979 and Mountmellick Comhaltas in 1988.
However, the longevity of these organisations pales in relative significance when compared to the Freemasons who have been present in Mountmellick without interruption or intermission since the late-1700s.
If the collective term used above is expanded so as to include political groups, it can be determined that the major Irish political parties were all founded during the twentieth century: Sinn Féin in 1905, Labour in 1912, Fianna Fáil in 1926, Fine Gael in 1933 and the Green Party in 1981.
When measured strictly in terms of the number of years in existence, the Freemasons’ presence in the town even surpasses the 156 years of the Mountmellick Town Commission/Council (1858-2014) along with an institution of retail, Shaws, which closed the doors of its premises on Parnell Street for the final time in 2021, thereby ending a 157 year relationship with Mountmellick which began in 1864.
Taking this into consideration, it leaves only the religious institutions (Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker) that have resided in Mountmellick for a longer period of time than the Freemasons as we look back on the history of the town from the vantage point of the present.
Freemasonry, which is a non-political and non-governmental organisation, is a global fraternity which dates back to the time of the construction of King Solomon’s Temple.
It has approximately six million members in the world today, and actually many common words and phrases which we use during the course of our everyday lives derive from the lexicon of Freemasonry, such as “hoodwinked,” “blackballed,” to describe someone or something as being “on the level,” to “square” something or to give somebody “the third degree.”
Membership is open to males of all races and creeds aged twenty-one or older. In fact, the only known woman ever admitted to the Masonic Order was an Irishwoman, the Honourable Elizabeth Aldworth (pictured above), who was initiated into Freemasonry in Lodge No.44 at Doneraile Court in County Cork in the early-eighteenth century. She became known as The Lady Freemason.
Membership of the Order is conditional on a belief in the Supreme Being, whatever the member conceives that deity to be, who is referred to as the Grand Architect of the Universe. The values of Freemasonry can be reduced to three simple principles: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The term “Brother” and its plural version “Brethren” are used by Masons when addressing each other within the context of Freemasonry.
The Bible, which is referred to by Freemasons as the Volume of Sacred Law, is always open in Irish Lodges and every candidate is required to take his Obligation on that book (or a similar Volume which is held in the same regard by his particular creed).
There certainly are aspects, such as the belief in a higher power and the various biblical references relating to the heritage of Freemasonry, which could be deemed religious in orientation. However, it should not be inferred that Freemasonry is a religion or that it offers itself as a substitute for religion as matters of a religious, or indeed a political, nature are not permitted to be discussed at Masonic gatherings.
Modern Freemasonry became a global movement in the eighteenth century and teaches lessons of social and moral virtues based on the symbolism of the tools and language used in the building of King Solomon’s Temple which it utilises as an allegory for building character in men.
Symbolically, the temple is built by a group of men working together on a design that is a mystery to each of them individually. Only the architect knows the complete plan and the ultimate use of the temple. Each man must do his best to complete the work set before him – his fellow men depend upon him, as he depends upon them. He must constantly study the designs and be aware of the proper place of the temple within the world around it. As the temple is so enormous, he knows the work will take him a lifetime.
The goal of the builders is perfection of workmanship. When the temple is finished, it will be admired by all who come into contact with it. When the Hebrews lost their spiritual direction, the temple was destroyed, just as men are believed to be destroyed if they lose their spiritual direction. But even after the temple has disappeared, the memory of it still lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who have seen it, just as the accomplishments of good men live on long after they have died. To a Freemason the temple is his own character, the designs are the social and moral virtues and the architect is the Grand Architect of the Universe.
The underlying philosophy is that the ancient wisdom which guided the construction of a magnificent structure such as a cathedral or a temple can be applied to the construction of a similarly glorious structure in man: his character.
Freemasonry describes itself not as a secret society but rather a society which has some secrets. These secrets are the time-honoured traditional modes of recognition which have been passed down through the centuries and which form a significant part of the fraternity’s heritage.
The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, the ruling body is this country, can be traced back to 1725, and its current HQ is located in the Freemasons’ Hall on Molesworth Street in Dublin. The Irish Grand Lodge is the second oldest in the world after the English Grand Lodge which dates from 1717.
Famous Irishmen who were Freemasons include Edmund Burke, Daniel O’Connell, the Duke of Wellington and Oscar Wilde.
The Grand Lodge issues a Warrant of Constitution which authorises the assembly of Masons in a Lodge under its jurisdiction and a Lodge number is assigned under the Warrant. As a general rule, the lower the number the older the Lodge, although there are exceptions to this (as we shall see later). Latest figures indicate there are over twenty thousand members and over five hundred Lodges located on the island of Ireland across the thirty-two counties, all of which are operating under the auspices of The Grand Lodge of Ireland.
1786 is significant in Mountmellick’s history because in January of that year the Society of Friends opened their school in the town which would four years later be situated on the site of the current Community School. On 14th December of that same year Andrew England, William Deverell, Robert Mathews and William Horton held the inaugural meeting of Mountmellick Masonic Lodge No.660 and so officially commenced the establishment of Freemasonry in the town of Mountmellick.
On Lodge No.660’s original Warrant of Constitution from 1786 is a reference to the “Year of Masonry, 5786.” This refers to the Masonic Calendar of Anno Lucis (A.L) which means Year of Light and is calculated by adding 4,000 to the standard Anno Domini year. In Freemasonry Anno Lucis represents the moment when light, as a representation of spiritual and intellectual knowledge, was willed into the world by The Grand Architect of the Universe and is characterised in a metaphorical sense as the moment of creation.
It was not until a couple of years later, on 28th November 1788, that new members joined the aforementioned four men in Lodge No.660 but from then onwards membership began to steadily increase throughout the 1790s.
Lodges, on average, meet once a month for nine months of the year at a designated day and time.
Performing the Masonic rituals, presentations on a range of aspects relating to Freemasonry, receiving Masons from visiting Lodges and conducting the ceremonies associated with the awarding of the various Masonic degrees underpin the format and structure of these meetings, along with of course the standard administrative housekeeping duties applicable to all clubs and societies such as reading minutes, etc.
A Lodge is supported figuratively by three grand pillars: wisdom, strength and beauty: wisdom to contrive, strength to support and beauty to adorn.
The tradition of the Festive Board is upheld which involves members enjoying refreshments together as part of the meeting in order to strengthen the fraternal bonds of brotherhood and fellowship among the members of the Lodge. At the annual Installation Dinner, the Festive Board takes on a more formal tone. The Festive Board is usually followed by a series of toasts, Masonic salutes and speeches:
On Monday evening the brethren of Lodge 660 (Mountmellick) celebrated the annual Installation in their accustomed manner. At the meeting in the beautiful Hall so well known to Masons in the district the brethren went through the ceremony incidental to placing officers in the various positions for the ensuing year. Routine business having been disposed of, an adjournment was made “from labour to refreshment.” The brethren afterwards congregated in Mr. Edward O’Connor’s Commercial Hotel, where they were soon seated at a recherche supper, supplied and arranged in faultless style. The room in which the supper was held is one of the largest to be found in a provincial town, a matter which adds considerably to the comfort of guests on such occasions. When to these suitable surroundings were added the excellently prepared viands etc, it may readily be assumed that the brethren enjoyed themselves thoroughly. On the tables being “cleared” the usual loyal and Masonic toasts having been duly honoured, music and “goodly fellowship” made time “swiftly glide.” Among those who favoured the assembly with songs etc were Bros. Lord, Burne, Wilson-Connolly, A. Johnston, and R.T. Leatham. The latter two deserve special mention; Br. Johnston gave, in addition to solos, with admirable effect, the recitation “Our Folks.” Br. Leatham, in addition to solos, provided a novelty in a whistling solo, giving a well known Irish air with clearness and accuracy. After spending a most enjoyable evening the brethren separated, after heartily joining in the time-honoured “Auld Lang Syne.” (Leinster Express, 8th January 1898)
Mountmellick received its second Warrant of Constitution from the Grand Lodge of Ireland in the 1840s. On 6th February 1844, George B. Owens, James Sheane and Marcus Magrath held the inaugural meeting of Emerald Lodge No.139 in the town. These men were originally members of Lodge No.660, which is seen as a parent Lodge of Emerald Lodge No.139.
New Masonic Lodge in Mountmellick
On Wednesday evening last the Masonic Brethren of Mountmellick assembled at their appointed Lodge Rooms, for the purpose of forming their Lodge, and installing officers, under a new Warrant, specially granted to them by the Grand Lodge of Ireland. It bears the name and title of “Emerald Lodge, No.139,”and the style in which it has been “got up” reflects the highest credit on the Brethren of that locality. Nothing can exceed the beauty and elegance of the ornaments and insignia provided for the Lodge; and the manner in which the Lodge Room is fitted up is quite in keeping with the dignity of this most ancient and honourable society. Brother George B. Owens was installed Worshipful Master, and Brothers James Sheane and Marcus Magrath senior and junior Warden, each being invested with their appropriate jewel. Brothers John F. Harte, P.M. and Thomas Poe, of the Rathdowney and Durrow Lodges, attended for the purpose of conducting the ceremony, which was gone through with all the solemnity becoming such an occasion. At half-past six o’clock, the Brethren sat down to an elegant and substantial dinner, at which nothing was wanted that the most fastidious taste could desire. The wines were of the choicest kind. The utmost harmony and social happiness prevailed throughout the evening, the several Masonic toasts being drank with all due honours. Before the meeting broke up, a collection was made amongst the Brethren for the benefit of the Female Orphan Society of Ireland, it being the pride of this order to remember the children of their less favoured Brethren. We really congratulate the Brethren of Mountmellick on this auspicious occasion; and we heartily wish that they may long enjoy the happy effects which must result from the dwelling together in Peace, Love, and Harmony. (Limerick Chronicle, 6th March 1844)
However, unlike Lodge No.660, Emerald Lodge No.139 has not been meeting continuously in Mountmellick since its inception as its Warrant was suspended by the Grand Lodge on 4th December 1871 due to the Emerald Lodge being considerably in arrears as to returns and payments to the Grand Lodge. However, this Warrant was restored on 2nd January 1877 after Mr. Henry Rice and other members of the Emerald Lodge paid the due amount of £5. 9s. and 8d.
Even though the Emerald Lodge received its Warrant later than Lodge No.660, its Lodge number is lower than theirs. The reason being that the previous recipients of the Warrant of Constitution bearing the number 139, which was a Lodge in Randalstown, County Antrim, had it cancelled in September 1843 and it was returned to the Grand Lodge of Ireland. As number 139 was unused when the Emerald Lodge applied for their Warrant a few months later, they were assigned this number for their new Lodge.
1884 was a significant year in the history of Freemasonry in Mountmellick as this was the year that the Masonic Hall on Church Street was officially opened thus providing Lodge No.660 (and later Emerald Lodge No.139) with a permanent, purpose-built home in the town. The overall cost of the new Lodge amounted to just under £600.
Up until they began to hold meetings in the Masonic Hall, both Lodges would have met in their appointed Lodge Rooms in the town. Over the course of the history of the two Lodges up until this point, these Lodge Rooms would have been located in private premises or in a civic building such as Mountmellick Courthouse (built in 1839).
The question of Emerald Lodge No.139 and Lodge No.660 meeting in Mountmellick Courthouse was actually raised in the House of Commons shortly before the Masonic Hall was officially opened. The Leinster Leader from 1st November 1884 reported that Mr. Arthur O’Connor, M.P. for Queen’s County, brought the matter to the attention of Westminster in October 1884 as he did not believe it to be appropriate that access to the gallery of the court was through a room where the paraphernalia of the Order were on permanent display. The Solicitor-General acknowledged this as fact but informed the House of Commons that a new Masonic Hall had been built in the town and that very soon Mountmellick Courthouse would “know their [the two Lodges] rites no more.”
Both Lodges would also have congregated in the town’s hotels, such as The Central Hotel, O’Connor’s Commercial Hotel and Scully’s Hotel, to celebrate special occasions.
The building which we now know as the Masonic Hall on Church Street was built in 1765 and functioned originally as the first Methodist chapel in the town of Mountmellick. When the Methodist Body moved in 1882 to the Gideon Ousley Memorial Chapel on Market Street (now Parnell Street), the Freemasons of Lodge No.660 took over the premises on Church Street.
It appears that Richard Rhodes from Lodge No.660 played an important role in the transformation of the premises into a fit for purpose Masonic Hall, so much so that in a witty pun on his surname some of his fellow Masons labelled the new Hall his “Colossus.” A measure of the esteem in which he was held by the town’s Masonic community is evident by the monument – resplendent in Masonic imagery – which was erected by Lodge No.660 upon his final resting place in the graveyard of St. Paul’s which is fittingly across the street from the Masonic Hall. Notable mentions were also given to fellow Masons J.T. Bailey and William Goff Pim for their work in transforming the building on Church Street.
The official ceremony for the consecration and dedication of this new Masonic temple took place on Tuesday, 4th November 1884 at High Noon. The Grand Master of the Midland Counties, the Earl of Huntingdon, led the ceremony and there were in the region of 200 Masons in attendance for this momentous occasion.
The Leinster Express carried an extensive report on the ceremony which included a detailed physical description of the Hall itself:
Opening of the Freemason’s Hall, Mountmellick – Imposing Ceremonial
The new Masonic Hall is situated in the vicinity of the Protestant church, and is a pleasing and conspicuous object in one of the principal thoroughfares leading into the town. The building is two-storied, and is in form a right-angle, or Masonic square, one of the gables abutting upon the street. In this gable light is introduced into the upper storey by a large circular window of stained glass. In the lower storey of the same gable are two large plate-glass windows in the shape of ordinary dwelling house lights, and all the other windows, except the circular one we have mentioned, are of like construction. The entrance is in the wing running parallel to the street, and the area contained in the lines formed by the building is divided from the public thoroughfare by a neat and substantial iron railing. The roof of the building is constructed with a steep slope, and is surmounted by crested tiles. From these particulars it will be gathered that the exterior of the building is neat and attractive without being ambitious. The interior is commodious, and suitable to the purpose for which the place is designed. On the ground floor the principal apartment is a large room suitable for the purposes of refreshment, and on the same flat there are store-rooms for the paraphernalia of the craft. The ascent to the storey above is by a spiral stairs, leading to a landing on which are the Lodge room, the robing room, and lavatory. The Lodge room is probably one of the handsomest to be found in the provinces. It is oblong in shape, and at the end furthest from the door there is a dais upon which stands the Worshipful Master’s throne. Above the throne is the circular window to which we have referred, and the light shining through a Masonic device executed in stained glass, produces a solemn and pleasing effect. At the other extremity of the room there is the emblem of the All-Seeing Eye, splendidly executed in gold. The lofty ceiling, which is gracefully coved, is painted to represent the firmament, in pale blue with golden stars, and in its centre, there is a sunburst gasalier, constructed to serve as a ventilator, as well as for the purposes of illumination. The walls are wainscotted with pitch blue to a height of about five feet, and above the dado are painted in panels of pale fawn-colour set off by a groundwork of French grey. The Masonic compass and square are introduced to form the corner of each panel with artistic appropriateness. At either side of the room there are stalls of pitch pine for the accommodation of the brethren, and the thrones of the senior and junior wardens, which are particularly graceful pieces of furniture, are also of pitch pine. Below the steps of the dais stands a massive altar for the Lights of Freemasonry, and in front of the wardens’ chairs stand smaller alters of similar pattern. The dais is covered with blue cloth, and the body of the room is carpeted with a fabric of Masonic design. The decoration of the room reflects the highest credit on Messrs Sibthorpe & Co., to whom the work was entrusted. The furniture of the Lodge, which is suitable and artistic, was made by Mr. Thomas O’Neill, of Maryborough. The erection of the building was entrusted to Mr. Mackey, Donaghmore, who has done the work substantially and well. (Leinster Express, 8th November, 1884)
Freemasonry can be summarised as a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols. Emblems and symbols are the language of Freemasonry, and therefore every single architectural and design detail in the Mountmellick Masonic Hall contains a particular significance and meaning.
For example, the All-Seeing Eye as mentioned in the Leinster Express article, is an emblem that represents the omniscience and omnipresence of the Grand Architect of the Universe.
The floor of the Hall in Mountmellick is a chequer-board of black and white squares which stand for the duality of life on Earth: pleasure/pain, right/wrong, rich/poor, positive/negative, victor/vanquished and so forth.
If the floor denotes man’s mortal nature then the ceiling of the Hall stands for his immortal nature. The ceiling’s celestial shade of light blue with the adornment of gold stars represents the heavens and the ethereal dimensions of the soul.
There are a number of Masonic emblems and symbols on the stained-glass circular window of the Mountmellick Masonic Hall which can be clearly viewed from Church Street. As a matter of interest, an exact replica of the window in the form of a wooden cover was made during World War Two for use during Masonic meetings in an effort to comply with blackout regulations during this time.
The dominant feature of the window is a large five-pointed star. In geometry this figure is known as the pentalpha of Pythagoras and is an emblem of health. It is also known as the pentangle of Solomon and is believed to have constituted his seal. Five is one of the sacred numbers of Freemasonry. It represents the Five Points of Fellowship and the Five Orders of Architecture (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite).
In the centre of this star (and indeed at the centre of all things in the view of Freemasons) is the letter G which has a dual meaning. It stands for Geometry – the sacred science – and for Grand Architect of the Universe. Men of different faiths have different names and symbols for God, but in a Lodge all Masons can refer to their respective Supreme Being as the Grand Architect of the Universe.
Above the letter G is the compass. When you use a compass to draw a circle one point remains in the centre. That point represents the individual Freemason. The circle drawn around him represents the boundaries of his world and all those whom he comes into contact with.
Taking into the account the three basic principles of Freemasonry (Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth), the Freemason is reminded to adhere to these core tenets in his relationships and dealings with those he encounters within his circle.
Below the letter G is the square. The square is an emblem of morality. The square as a working tool of operative masonry has an angle of ninety degrees and is used to correct errors of the eye and to adjust with precision the edges, sides and angles of a mason’s work.
Therefore, the square reminds the Freemason to apply the principles of morality as his every action is judged, approved or condemned as it coincides with or deviates from these principles.
Of the five small stars which surround the large star in the window, three of these are double triangles with six lines and six angles as opposed to the other two small stars which have five lines and five angles. In Freemasonry the double triangle, or hexalpha, is a symbol of deity. Three is a mystical number which, in conjunction with the divine symbolism of the double triangle, brings with it connotations of the Holy Trinity in which the Supreme Being is represented in three separate aspects.
The number three pervades all throughout Freemasonry such as the three degrees, the three basic principles, the three pillars, the three greater and three lesser lights in a Lodge room, the three sides of a triangle, the three principal officers in a Lodge and so on.
On the subject of deity, Freemasons celebrate the Feast Days of the Holy Saints John as their two patron saints: St. John the Baptist on 24th June and St. John the Evangelist on 27th December. John the Baptist was zealous, while John the Evangelist was learned, and by picking them both as patron saints Freemasonry symbolically united the qualities of passion and reason.
The stages through which a new member of the Masonic fraternity must progress are called degrees and are based on the levels of membership in the old medieval craft guilds. There are three degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow of the Craft and Master Mason) through which the member must advance and these correspond figuratively with the three steps of life: youth, manhood and old age.
Using the Irish education system for the sake of an analogy which, it must be stated, should not be taken literally, the Entered Apprentice is the equivalent of the Junior Certificate, Fellow of the Craft is the equivalent of the Leaving Certificate and Master Mason is the equivalent of a third-level qualification. The member who is awarded the Master Mason degree is now qualified as a Freemason but he can choose to undertake additional degrees if he so wishes in order to complement his knowledge of Freemasonry in the same way the person who has been awarded a third-level qualification can choose to pursue additional postgraduate qualifications.
A Chapter of Royal Arch Masons is empowered to confer such an additional degree. The Royal Arch Degree in Ireland can be conferred on a Master Mason who has advanced through the degree of Mark Master Mason beforehand.
In Royal Arch Masonry companions look upon the Tabernacle with a specific resonance as this was the place of worship that the Lord commanded Moses to construct and in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept until King Solomon moved it into his temple. The veils in the Tabernacle were in four colours with each having a unique significance: blue, purple, scarlet and white.
These four colours are present in the large circular window of the Mountmellick Masonic Hall.
The symbols of the compass, square, letter G and the five small stars are white. White is the emblem of innocence and purity.
Scarlet is the colour outside of the large star and acts as a background for the five small stars. This is the emblematic colour of the Royal Arch degree of Freemasonry. The colour scarlet signifies zeal and ardour.
The five points of the large star are blue and this is the characteristic colour of the first three Masonic degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow of the Craft and Master Mason). Blue is also emblematic of universal membership and benevolence and serves to remind the Freemason that those virtues should be as extensive as the blue arch of Heaven itself. The colour purple is represented at the centre of the window and acts as the background for the symbols of the compass, the square and the letter G.
Purple is the emblematic colour of the intermediate degrees between the Master Mason and the Royal Arch and acts as an emblem of union for these degrees. This is because the colour purple is produced by combining the colours of blue and scarlet together. It reminds the Freemason to cultivate a spirit of union and harmony between different members of the Masonic family.
Similar to the logic applied in selecting the Holy Saints John as their patron saints, purple unites the characteristics of passion (scarlet) and compassion (blue) in the heart of the Freemason.
An official document emanating from a Masonic Lodge bears the particular seal (stamp) of that Lodge which incorporates various Masonic emblems and symbols. Seals from the two Mountmellick Lodges offer a further opportunity to glimpse into the meaning behind some of these Masonic motifs.
An example from Emerald Lodge No.139 is the symbol of a trowel which was used on a seal from that Lodge. The trowel as a working implement of operative masonry is used to spread cement and symbolically represents spreading the cement of friendship and brotherly love which holds the Masonic family in place.
Likewise, a seal of the Mountmellick Royal Arch Chapter from Lodge No.660 (pictured above) incorporates a number of other Masonic emblems and symbols. The arch itself represents the most internal portion of King Solomon’s Temple, known as the Sanctum Sanctorum – the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle – which contained the Ark of the Covenant. The keystone in the centre of the arch preserves the other stones in their place and secures firmness and stability to the arch. The significance of the keystone plays an important part in the history of the Royal Arch Degree.
Directly beneath the keystone are the two tablets of stone upon which were engraved the Ten Commandments and which were placed within the Ark of the Covenant. The arch is supported by two pillars which represent wisdom and strength. Inside the right pillar is the figure of a serpent on a staff (or rod) which represents a passage from the Book of Exodus where Moses is granted miraculous powers. The Lord instructs Moses to throw the staff which he held in his hand onto the ground and it turns into a serpent from which Moses immediately recoils. The Lord tells Moses to pick up the serpent by the tail and it became a staff once again in his hand. It was with this staff that Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea.
Inside the left pillar is a depiction of Aaron’s staff (or rod) and represents a passage from the Book of Numbers where Moses instigates a divine judgement as to which tribe should be invested with the priesthood.
Aaron was Moses’ brother and was part of the tribe of Levi. Moses directed that twelve staffs, one from each tribe, should be placed in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Tabernacle with the name of each tribe written on their respective staff. The following day the staffs were shown to the people and it was seen that buds had opened, flowers had blossomed and almonds had already ripened on Aaron’s staff while the other eleven staffs remained the same. Aaron’s staff was believed to have been placed within the Ark of the Covenant.
A third seal concerns The Mountmellick Knights Templars – a Chivalric Order of Freemasonry – and the encampment which assembled under the sanction of Lodge No.660. The Knights Templars was founded in the twelfth century to protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy City of Jerusalem. They were seen as protectors of the Temple of Solomon and have been linked to legends that they discovered the Ark of the Covenant, hence the Masonic connection to a Royal Arch Chapter.
Coincidentally, The Knights Hospitallers – the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem – were an actual encampment who were based at a Friary located outside of Mountmellick at Kilmainham, not far from The Rock National School. The Knights Templars and Knights Hospitallers became the two most formidable military orders in Jerusalem, whose members were referred to as Soldiers of Christ. The primary purpose of the Knights Hospitallers was to provide care for pilgrims and the poor, whereas the Knights Templars operated first and foremost as a military organisation.
The Knights Templars familiar emblem of the skull and crossed bones, along with that of the coffin and the Latin inscription Memento Homo Mori (literally translated as “man remember death”), operates as a stark reminder of man’s mortality. The blazing star at the apex of the triangle in the seal is the emblem of divine providence and acts as a reminder of the soul’s immortality. For the ancient Egyptians, the blazing star was a symbol of Horus, the son of Isis – the sun – which is the primordial principle of existence.
Freemasonry regards itself as “part of society” rather than “apart from society” and practices its core principle of Relief through the act of charity, which contrasts with the general and widely-held perception of the organisation: the sentiment of which is succinctly captured by the entry from the National Folklore Collection used at the beginning of this article.
This charitable aspect was demonstrated locally during the Great Famine. The Mountmellick Relief Committee set up a soup kitchen to aid those in dire distress living in the town and its environs, which at the time had a population in excess of 10,000, and it relied on donations from the more well-off members in the community to fund this.
An article in the Leinster Express from 23rd January 1847 gave a list of those who had made contributions to support this soup kitchen and both the Emerald Lodge No.139 and Mountmellick Lodge No.660 were named among those who had provided financial assistance.
Freemasonry continues to be a generous contributor to charitable causes. In Ireland there are six main Masonic charities which are supported by Irish Freemasons along with a number of non-Masonic charities including the LauraLynn Foundation, the Samaritans and Teddies for Loving Care.
The Emancipator Daniel O’Connell, who received a rapturous welcome when he visited the town as part of a Repeal procession during August 1843 and after whom the Square in Mountmellick is named - situated a mere stone’s throw from the Masonic Hall – was himself a member of the Order and he offered the following as a concise summation of the Freemasonry ethos: “Philanthropy, unconfined by nation, colour, sect or religion.”
The Masonic Hall is yet but another example of the rich and deep heritage that is to be found in the town of Mountmellick.
©2021 Enda McEvoy (Laois County Library Service)