We are very grateful to Excellent Companion Frank Lee, the incoming Excellent King of The Irish Chapter of Research No 222 I.C. for his permission to publish his thoughts on the importance and role of The Irish Chapter of Research and a view of some thoughts for the future.
Companions, I would take this opportunity to thank you all for entrusting me with the office of Excellent King in this, the Royal Arch Chapter of Research No222 I.C. I may not be an outstanding orator, but fully intend to address you all this afternoon with some of my thoughts on Irish Royal Arch Masonry, and the work that we do here in the Irish Royal Arch Chapter of Research. I’m particularly proud to be in the chair this year as we issue our third collection of Irish Royal Arch papers covering the period 1996 – 2003. And what a fascinating collection it is with some thirty papers written on a range of interesting aspects of the history of Royal Arch Masonry in Ireland. So I hope you will all, spend some time studying these papers and enjoying the memories of our travels, as a chapter during that fascinating period of our history.
Today we meet in the Arthur Square Hall, where so much of my Freemasonry has been focused, over the years. This Hall was initially proposed in 1863, and the foundation stone was finally laid by Sir Charles Lanyon Provincial Deputy Grand Master of Antrim on the 28th June 1868. That event attracted much public interest at the time, and certain streets were closed to traffic so that a formal Masonic Procession could walk from the Ulster Hall to Arthur Square. Balconies were constructed along the way, so that ladies could have a good view. About 10,000 people watched the proceedings, and Masonic visitors attended from Londonderry, Dublin, Portrush, Ballymena, Antrim, Larne, Cargycreevy, Lisburn, Ligoniel, Straid, Glenarm and elsewhere. The Hall was finally completed in 1870 and has given great service to the Freemasons of Belfast over the past 145 years. In more recent times it has been recently renovated. The hall now provides the main accommodation for Masonic Lodges in the city of Belfast.
I hope Companions, that you will all avail of the opportunities this afternoon to have a wander round this magnificent building, visit our various Lodge and Chapter rooms, the Donegal Street Club, and our suite of Dining Rooms on the fourth floor. Here you will find a range of interesting portraits of distinguished Brethren associated with the Hall including :-
James H. Stirling: Provincial Grand Master of Antrim. Initiated in Lodge 36 in 1891. W.M. in 1894. Representative from Grand Lodge of Denmark. Member of Belfast City Council President of N.I. Chamber of Commerce. Chairman of Governors of Belfast Royal Academicals Institution (“Inst.”) Hon. Treasurer of Queens University. Managing Director of York Street Mill. Foundation Member of The Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C.
Samuel Leighton: Initiated in Lodge 51. Provincial Grand Organist, Provincial Senior Grand Warden. Trustee of Arthur Square Masonic Hall. Author of Hall History 1863 – 1927 and The History of Freemasonry in Northern Ireland. Foundation Member of The Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C. and First Curator and Archivist of the Masonic collections of The Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim, now held in the Rosemary Street Hall.
Thomas Valentine: Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Antrim 1885 – 1897.
Hugh Doey: Lodge 609. Portrait was presented to the hall by a number of his Brethren in recognition of his life-long labours in the cause of Masonic Charity.
Sir Robert H. Baird: Initiated in Lodge 109. Grand Treasurer of Grand Lodge of Ireland. Rep. to the Grand Lodge of Virginia U.S.A. Managing Director of “Belfast Telegraph” Knighted (K.B.E.) for services during World War 1. Foundation Member of the Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C.
William Thomas Braithwaite: Provincial Senior Grand Warden. Specially interested in, and generous to the Charities. Distinguished sportsman and famous rifle shot. Water Commissioner in Belfast. Foundation Member of The Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C.
William Redfern Kelly: Grand First Principal of the District Grand Chapter of Antrim. Foundation Member of the Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C. Initiated about 1860. Provincial Inner Guard and headed the great procession to the laying of the foundation stone of the hall in 1868. Interested in astronomy, psychical investigation and structural engineering. The portrait was provided in 1914 by a number of Masonic friends to recognise his long and faithful service on behalf of Freemasonry.
Robert J. Hilton: Provincial Deputy Grand Master, Antrim, 1897 – 1916 and previously Provincial Grand Secretary. Was one of the members of the first House Committee of the Arthur Square Hall in 1869 and one of the original Trustees under the 1870 lease. He resigned from his position as deputy Provincial Grand Master due to failing health, and died soon after.
I’m sure most of you will have spotted the common theme in the midst of these portraits which is that quite a number of these distinguished Brethren have been members of The Irish Lodge of Research. Indeed Masonic Research both in the Craft and here in the Chapter are still strongly supported in this building right up to the present time. I have long been of the opinion that Companions should be well informed on our history, artefacts and traditions, as well as developing a competence in the proper performance of our ritual. In my life I began with the study of ritual – how we do things, before I moved on to an interest in research – why we do things. And what an interesting history we have. I am fascinated by the fact that we in Ireland use the Josiah legend of the repair of the Temple of Jerusalem as the basis of our ritual, yet most other Royal Arch Constitutions use the Zerubbabel legend based on the rebuilding of the Temple instead. And this important theme is investigated in some depth in our most recent transactions in important papers by Redfern Kelly and John Heron Lepper, that were originally presented to the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Instruction in 1923, but which are now made available to a wider audience in The Chapter of Research.
Royal Arch Masonry has been an integral part of Irish Freemasonry from our origins, when aspects of our ritual can be found in that section of our earliest Craft ritual known as The Master’s Part. By the 1740’s in Ireland, it had evolved into two separate rituals, as evidenced in the 1743 reports from Youghal when the Royal Arch was carried in the St John’s Day procession through the town of Youghal by two Excellent Masons. Here again in Belfast, we are very fortunate, as we still have a surviving Royal Arch, in the collections in Rosemary Street, that was once carried in similar public processions. And on another shelf in the Rosemary Street collection, we also have surviving examples of the three crowns worn from earliest times by the Excellent King, Chief Scribe and High Priest. Sadly surviving examples of these artefacts are now very rare and restricted to collections in Belfast, Cork and Limerick. It is interesting to note that in those early times, all our degrees were given under the sole authority of our Craft or Blue Warrant. And usually if we find that a Lodge worked the Royal Arch ritual it would also work the Early Grand Encampment degrees. Again in the Rosemary Street collections we have a full set of 18th century Royal Arch officer jewels which includes the Triangle of Lights, more commonly associated with the Early Grand Encampments.
One of the great joys of Membership of the Irish Chapter of Research is the opportunity to travel around the Masonic Halls of Ireland, receive papers of their history and have the opportunity to inspect the many curious and unusual Masonic artefacts preserved therein. In my time I have seen the original Baal’s Bridge Square preserved in the St John’s Masonic Centre in Limerick and dated from 1507. Then there was the Canopied Royal Arch Chair, Apron and Jewel that belonged to the Lady Elizabeth Aldsworth that are preserved in the Tuckey Street Hall in Cork. More recently in Coleraine, I had the opportunity to examine the Dominic Heyland Royal Arch officer’s jewels dating from the year 1747, making them possibly the earliest Royal Arch jewels still in existence, anywhere in the world. Then we have the excellent 1749 bannerette preserved in Enniskillen bearing a portrait of the Master in the Royal Arch degree beside the Master in tricorn hat of the Craft or Blue Lodge. Some of our visits to places such as to Donaghadee Masonic Hall or the Hall in Boyle, Co Roscommon took us to rooms filled with Masonic History and time and again, in the most modest of Lodge rooms, we see examples of old jewels, certificates, lodge furniture, Lodge flags and banners, books, paintings and circulars that all contain interesting information on the history of our Craft and Chapter.
One of my ambitions this year is to try and encourage more of our Companions to take a greater interest in our history and get them to come along and participate in our Meetings and other historical activities. Should we consider, some Saturday in setting up a tour of the Lodge-rooms in Belfast, including the Rosemary Street museum, ensuring that each Hall has the opportunity to exhibit its most interesting artefacts and then sell tickets to the Brethren and Companions and donate all ticket monies to Teddies for Loving Care or some other needy Masonic charity. I remain convinced that if we can only show our Companions at large, some of the fun and enjoyment we get from our activities as Members of The Royal Arch Chapter of Research, we would have no difficulty in bring new members along.
And here Companions, I would ask you all to play your part, and as you travel around and visit the various chapters and district chapters in our Constitution, when bringing greetings, mention the Chapter of Research and tell them all a little about our organisation, activities and visits. If we put our minds to it, we should all be able to bring in a couple of new members each, and in this way continue to promote the study of Royal Arch Masonry and encourage more new thinking into our Chapter. We, in many ways, are a thermometer on the health of Royal Arch Masonry as a whole, and it is thus important for us to take every opportunity to grow and expand our activities.
Other thoughts that cross my mind, is the possibility of holding a formal dinner in a venue, such as The Reform Club, and use the occasion to again draw attention to our activities. If such a night was held, we should try to encourage as many senior Companions, not yet members of the Chapter, to come along, see what we do and see if it might be of interest to them.
As the year progresses, I intend to raise the issue of making our Most Excellent Grand King the Patron of our Research Chapter and consider the possibility of making his Deputy and Assistant both honorary members of our Chapter of Research.
And finally Companions, I intend to play my part, to the full, to ensure that this year will be memorable, enjoyable and educational to you all, as we travel around in the search for more information on the history of Royal Arch Masonry.
Excellent Companion Frank Lee.- – – Excellent King The Irish Chapter of Research.