I have recently had my attention drawn to a rare little Ulster chaplet published in 1832 in Belfast. It was printed by Hugh Clark of Pottinger’s Entry and was written by Andrew McKenzie, one of the three weaver poets McKenzie, Beggs & English, who encouraged the local Masonic Brethren of East Antrim to erect a lasting memorial to the memory of James Orr.
Work began on the Orr Memorial in the old Templecorran graveyard on the 24th June 1831, when the foundation stone was laid by the Rev W.Glendy in the presence of a large number of Freemasons, Villagers, Friends and Family. The work was carried out by a Belfast Contractor called Fitzpatrick and cost £ 90 to complete. This same memorial was refurbished over the last six months at a cost of £ 22,000-00 plus VAT.
In October 1832 Andrew McKenzie published his chap-book entitled “The Masonic Chaplet with a few other poems”. In his preface McKenzie acknowledges that he only went to press as the Masonic Brethren of Lodge 1014, Ballycarry adopted his song “The Mason’s Welcome”, singing it on many occasions, and creating local support for McKenzie and his work, in the East Antrim area. As a result some 70 subscribers pledged their support to his new chaplet, making the printing and sale of same financially viable.
As with all such chaplets, it is a small work of some 36 pages with a set of soft covers, printed on poor quality paper, and as a result very few examples will have survived. Unusually the book opens with a poem by his friend and fellow Poet Thomas Beggs, addressed to the Rev Johnston Neilson of Whiteabbey. Presumably this poem was used as the entire chaplet has been dedicated by McKenzie to the Reverend Neilson, as a mark of esteem to a man and a freemason, who influenced McKenzie from his childhood.
Amongst his poems is a song written for and sung at the Installation of Lodge 173 Greyabbey in 1811.
Then we find a Farewell Anthem written for the Brethren of Greenhill Lodge No 985, which met in the hills above Newtownards. This was the Lodge-room where Brother McKenzie first received the light, and he wrote this poem when he finally moved from the district in 1821 to work in one of the new linen mills in North Belfast.
It would be North Belfast where he would write his elegy on the death of James Orr, the Bard of Ballycarry. This poem was some ten stanzas long, and of those, four were used on the front elevation of the Orr Memorial. These start from stanza four – Though humble was his lot for Erin’s weal . . . .
Shortly afterwards he went on to write a song recording a visit to his house in Belfast by Mr Robert Magarry – Master of Lodge 1014 in Ballycarry. This was the song that proved to be so popular with the Ballycarry Brethren and led eventually to the publication of this particular chaplet. It starts – Thrice welcome Megarry, my cottage is poor. . . .
Other works recorded include a further song sung in the Lodge-rooms of 173 Greyabbey on the evening of St John’s Day 1815 and a song entitled “The Masonic Pirate” written for the Brethren of Lodge 118 Belfast.
This is an interesting song, written in part on the story of Thurot the French Privateer who returned the Masonic contents of a Carrickfergus Lodge-Room when his men attacked the town, and captured the castle, which they held for a few weeks until the English, collected their forces around Ulster and launched a successful counter attack. This would be a seminal moment in the history of Ulster, leading to the formation of the Volunteer Movement under Lord Charlemont.
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