St. Patrick's Lodge No. 77
"Sketch of the History of St. Patrick’s Lodge No. 77, Newry"
by R.W. Dr. Bro. F.C. Crossle
[Summary by R.W. Bro. Keith Cochrane - IRISH MASONIC RECORDS.]
When Freemasonry was first introduced into Newry, we cannot now tell, but eventually a warrant was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland, dated 27 December, 1737, and numbered 77, to William Ponder, [see above re spelling in Grand Lodge Register] James Hollyman, and John Ard, to hold a Lodge in the town of Newry. Under that Warrant the Lodge has continued to meet to the present day, and it is now the oldest Lodge in Ulster, and the seventh oldest in all Ireland.
There are indications that there was a Lodge in Newry prior to the issue of this Warrant. The preamble thereto reading:-
“Whereas ... Wm. Ponder, Master, James Hollyman and John Ard, Wardens, have besought Us ... to erect a Lodge ...”
The description of the applicants as “Master” and “Wardens” in the preamble is distinctly unusual, and clearly implies that they sought a regular Warrant when holding those offices in an already existing Lodge. The only similar case is the Warrant of Lodge Two, Dublin, dated 1732, although that Lodge is known definitely to have been at work in 1727, and was almost certainly one of the “six Lodges of Gentlemen Freemasons” present at the earliest known meeting of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, on 24th June 1725.
According to Bro. Crossle, Lodge 77’s original place of meeting was a small house, still standing, in Lower North Street, formerly known as “Dirty Lane”, here, the same authority states, he had good reason to believe the Lodge was still meeting early in the nineteenth century. In the front wall of this house was a carved stone bearing the date 1738, and a shield with certain Masonic emblems, which stone now rests in the wall behind the Master's Throne in the present lodge room.
The Lodge progressed well and in a few years the Roll of 77 in Grand Lodge Register shows a large number, for those days, of members registered during the years 1763, '64, and '65, and on 6 February 1766, a Warrant, No. 16, was issued to three members of 77 to hold a Lodge in Newry. Thirteen other names were registered for 16 on the same date, five of which also appear on the roll of 77, so that 16 may be deemed the eldest daughter of 77.
Now comes the most puzzling period in the history of 77. The Grand Lodge Register shows a steady, if slight, increase of membership until we came to the name of Cornelius Burns, registered 26 March 1775, followed by five brethren all registered 23 October 1806. Bro. Crossle, could only state that during this period of thirty-one years the Lodge had suspended its labours, and that its resuscitation was due to Seton, whose party in 1806 was in active opposition to the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Further evidence, however, has been brought to light, tending to prove that the Lodge, if dormant at all, can only have been so for a comparatively short period.
The Lodge still sits under the original Warrant of 1737. Faded and discoloured by the vicissitudes of the years, the face bears no record of cancellation; on the back is the following endorsement:-
“A memorial for the Revival of this Warrant was presented in the G. Lodge in Thursday the 5 of June, but from press of business could not be disposed of. I have this day recd. the fees Usual on a Revival and as the Warrant never was cancelled I think the Brn. will be justified in acting under it.
£7. 13s. 61/2d. [£7.671/2]. A. SETON,
A.S. D.G. Sty.”
In the extant records of the Union Lodge of St. Patrick, No. 367, Downpatrick, warranted 1761, it appears that in September 1785, John Cochran of 77, Newry, a distressed brother, received a small sum of money in relief. An applicant for relief had to produce evidence that he was, or had recently been, a member in good standing of a regular Lodge. It is to be inferred, therefore, that Brother Cochran had proved to the satisfaction of the Downpatrick brethren his good standing in 77, of at least recent date, and consequently that the Lodge continued at work ten years after the beginning of the supposed break.
With the appointment of Alexander Seton, barrister-at-law, as deputy to Brother G. Darcy Irvine the Grand Secretary, he immediately set about tightening up control, and in November 1801, several Lodges that had not corresponded with Grand Lodge for years had their Warrants erased. Lodge 77 is not mentioned in the official list of these erased members and therefore Grand Lodge recognised it as still working. As is well known Seton was dismissed from office on 1 May 1806, but he retained many of the Grand Lodge records, plates for warrants and certificates, and the Seal of Grand Lodge.
In 1804 Brother Charles Downes, printer to the Grand Lodge of Ireland published, with official approval his “Ahiman Rezon” containing the laws of the fraternity brought up to that date, and a list of the regular Lodges in Ireland, together with the numbers of such warrants as had been erased from Grand Lodge Books. Now, while Downes’ list is not entirely reliable, the inclusion of 77 among the active Lodges is a further presumption that Grand Lodge considered it still at work.
The endorsement on the Warrant shows that a petition for its revival was before Grand Lodge on “Thursday 5 June,” this must have been in the year 1806, the momentous meeting at which Seton’s followers from all over the country attended in force, and which culminated in a split in Grand Lodge.
Although Seton’s statements must always be regarded with suspicion, yet in view of all the other evidence, it must be accepted as correct, that the Warrant never was cancelled.
Seton, while still in Dublin published a printed report dated 27 December 1807, and covering the eighteen months ending 24 June 1806. This was partly taken from the Grand Treasurer, Boardman's printed statement (which does not mention anything about 77), and partly his own (Seton’s) account for money that he received upon behalf of Grand Lodge, which monies are not accounted for in the Grand Lodge Ledger. In Seton’s account there appear the following items:-
“Yearly Dues received from Lodges.
(inter alia) No. 77, Newry, to June 1806, £4. 11s. 0d." [£4.55]
Then under disbursements, is found a sum of ten guineas paid to the Masonic Female Orphan School, one guinea from each of ten revived Warrants, including No. 77.
Coming now to the extant minutes of Lodge 77 itself, the earliest entry is as follows:-
June 24th. Being Our Regular meeting night, The Worshipful Master John Clarke filled the Chair when the following Brethren Received the first and Second Step of Masonry.
Admission money to the Master £1. 2s. 9d.” [£1.131/2]
There do not appear to be any pages missing at the beginning of this book, and this entry is evidently one of a series indicating no sudden revival at, or shortly before this date.
On page three, too, of this earliest surviving book is a nominal roll of members for the half-year ending December 1806, containing seventy-seven names. Three of these have been struck out; twelve appear elsewhere as having received degrees in the Lodge during these six months, four were registered for 77 in Grand Lodge subsequently, while thirty-one appear in the Grand Lodge Register under 521 at dates between 1801 and 1814.
The large number on this roll, even after deducting the large influx from 521 would indicate that the Lodge had been working for a considerable time prior to June 1806.
Turning now to the Minutes of Grand Lodge, we find:-
“5 March 1807 ... Read a Memorial from John Clarke, Daniel Turley and Matt Griffith of 521 Newry, praying the revival of Warrant No. 77, to be held in Newry. - Deferr'd to next Grand Lodge night.”
“2 April 1807 ... Read a Memorial from Br. John Clarke, Dan Turley, and M. Griffith, praying the reversal of Lodge No. 77, in Newry. - Granted.”
These were the first two meetings held by Grand Lodge after the Seton split in 1806, and incidentally at the latter, Seton himself was expelled from all the rights and benefits of Freemasonry.
It is rather peculiar that the three memorialists should be here referred to as of 521, since they, with two others initiated a few days before, had been registered in Grand Lodge under 77 on 23 October of the previous year. From the wording of these two entries it clearly follows that Grand Lodge deferred dealing with the memorial for consideration of certain matters for which they required further information. At the latter meeting it transpires that it was not the revival of the Warrant, but the revival of the Lodge.
Ten days after the granting of the prayer of the memorial by Grand Lodge, and presumably soon after official advice of the grant had arrived, an important meeting was held in Newry:-
“Tuesday, April the 14th, 1807.
At a Meeting of the Members of Lodge 77 - it being agreed that 521 be set to work, that 77 be furnish’d with its working implements and 521 shall retain all its own implements the Money that remains to be regularly and Equally Divided. This being agreed by every member present whose Name is underneath, that 521 is not at any time hereafter to make any Claim on 77 for any sum or sums of money in Lieu of 77 being purchased, by 521.”
Twenty-four members were present, and it is recorded that, on Friday, April 17th, the officers of 521 were installed.
This entry implies that although some negotiations had been in progress for a fusion of 77 and 521 they were still distinct entities, and that in the end, 77 continued its independent career.
Finally, about 1817, the Deputy Grand Secretary, William F. Graham, wrote up the Second Series of the Grand Lodge Register, carrying forward all the names from the first series: at the head of the roll of 77, without any comment is “Warranted, 27 December 1737,” and the names are entered without a break. Graham had been in office continuously since Seton’s dismissal, and had played a prominent part on behalf of Grand Lodge during the whole unhappy struggle. It is in the highest degree unlikely, therefore that had there been any shadow of a doubt as to 77’s legality, that he would have set down the Lodge as having existed from 1737 without any comment.
Now, to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to the history of 77 during the obscure period, 1775 - 1806, all the foregoing circumstances must be taken into consideration.
In the first place, it must be emphasised, that so far as Grand Lodge is concerned, 77 was always regarded as active, and that at a time when Warrants were being cancelled wholesale, its Warrant was never called in question: the opinion of Grand Lodge may be considered as final.
Manifestly, there was a close connection between 77 and 521: and it is also clear that at some time prior to 1806 the old Lodge was in low water. It might be mentioned here that there was a tradition firmly held in the Lodge, but now almost forgotten, that the Warrant had been carried off to France during the troublous times culminating in the insurrection of 1798, and that eventually it was brought back to Newry.
This might account for a possible period of dormancy, and on the return of the Warrant to its original home an amalgamation with 521 was first considered, but a number of its members of the latter Lodge, with fine fraternal spirit resolved to set the old Lodge on its feet again, thus preserving the proud title to Lodge 77, Newry of “The Premier Lodge of Ulster.”
At the opening of the nineteenth century the three degrees of Craft Masonry were conferred in 77 in two steps, at two separate meetings. The first is almost invariably referred to as “Br. A.B. was received to the degree of a Craft Mason,” but occasionally, “the first and second steps,” while the subsequent step is “raised,” or “admitted to the sublime degree of a Master Mason.” It was the practice to confer these two ceremonies at intervals of a month, but not invariably. Occasionally, a candidate received the whole of the Craft secrets at one meeting, and on the other hand, sometimes an interval of months elapsed between the Craft and Master Mason degrees. It was not until 1858 that Grand Lodge laid down that the three degrees were to be conferred at monthly intervals, and had great difficulty in enforcing this order.
From as early as 1812, at least, the minutes were signed by the Master and Secretary, but the use of the Lodge seal to confirm them does not appear to have been adopted before 1906, when the old smoke seal was used, apparently that purchased in 1806.
Lodge 77 early applied for a Royal Arch Warrant: a letter preserved in the collection of the Lodge of Research, Dublin, signed by John Fee, Secretary, and dated 19 December 1829, requests that the Royal Arch Warrant be sent by return of post.
In the original Register of Grand Chapter, a List of names occurs under 77: it is undated, but must have been made very shortly after 1829. It is understood that this Warrant was never issued. For various reasons, the newly established Grand Chapter at first met with little support. Many Lodges went on conferring the degree solely under the authority of their Grand Lodge Warrants, and there does not appear to be any mention in the extant records of 77, of the establishment of a regular Chapter. Nevertheless, the degrees were worked more or less systematically.
Throughout the whole of the unhappy strife caused by the Seton secession, 77 appears to have adhered steadily and loyally to the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The Cash Account shows the expenses of a delegate attending the meeting of Grand Lodge summoned by the Grand Master, Lord Donoughmore for 7th April, and which resulted in a complete reconciliation between the bitter elements on both sides. Entries relative to postage’s show the Lodge to have been in constant communication with Grand Lodge, and to have registered its officers and members regularly.
Nevertheless, the issue was by no means clear to the Northern brethren even then: some of the other Newry Lodges were active supporters of Seton, and it is perhaps not surprising to find recorded the expenses of a delegate from 77 “going to Dungannon” in 1808. This, doubtless, refer to the meeting held there on 6 June 1808 at which the Grand East of Ulster was set up. As the Lodge’s records contain no other reference to communications with Dungannon, except the receipt of a letter in 1810, it seems fair to assume that the delegate’s report to the Lodge on his return was unfavourable to the secedes.
The affairs of the Lodge continued prosperous, and the steady increase in the members shows vigorous life, but in common with the Order all over Ireland, a period of depression lay ahead.
The membership of Lodge 77 continued to dwindle: by 1827 there were only eight subscribing members on the roll, and in fact until 1850, this remained the average figure, new members rapidly withdrawing, doubtless owing to emigration. Naturally, with such a small membership, the Lodge had a hard struggle financially, and found difficulty in discharging its obligations to Grand Lodge. The ‘forties were the leanest period in the records, when the Lodge was kept alive by four or five members whose names are worth remembering with affection:- Robert McCurdy, Daniel McCartan, John McNeale, Henry Johnston and John McGarry. Between them they filled the offices for nearly ten years. True, there was a small trickle of candidates, but nearly all left shortly after admission, doubtless part of the great rush of emigrants who left Ireland during those years of famine.
On 10 May, 1853 it is noted that, the rooms in Mill Street, having been given up, the Lodge met in Mr. Henry Wright’s: and shortly afterwards removed to the old Hall in Hill Street, which it shared with Lodge 23 until the opening of the present Hall in Downshire Road.
The tide was soon to turn: on 15 October 1850, Brother William S.F. Murray joined the Lodge; in December he was elected Master, and ruled the Lodge for eighteen months. He was a man of vigorous personality and under his rule the Lodge entered on a period of prosperity, which has lasted, with but slight checks, from that day to this.
With the revival of the Lodge’s fortunes about this time there evidently arose a desire to work the degree legitimately: on 11 February 1853, the secretary, Brother Joseph Bell wrote to the Grand Secretary:-
“I have found enough to establish that there was a R.A.C. in connection with 77, and I hope the G.L. will furnish us with another, promising to take better care of it.”
While the Minute Book covering the period 1854 - 1870 is missing, however, the Grand Lodge Register shows a steady accession of new members, the names during the sixteen years totaling one hundred and eight.
For the next fifteen or sixteen years an important topic, frequently discussed, was the provision of a suitable Hall, to house all the Masonic bodies of Newry, however, we are required to look at the Minutes of Union Lodge No. 23 under the date 17 July, 1855 for authentic information:-
“A deputation from Lodge 77, consisting of Bros. Bell and Sullivan, requested that the Brethren of their Lodge be admitted as Tenants at £8 per annum, the terms offered, but that they would wishes the figures “23”, placed outside the Hall, be taken down prior to closing the agreement. This the Brethren acceded to, which has been recorded accordingly.”
During the “90’s” the Lodge’s story is one of steady, if uneventful progress, but as the century drew to its close the outbreak of hostilities in the Transvaal cast the shadow of war upon the brethren: on 5 February 1900, it was announced that Bro. Laurence R. Glenton had joined the Imperial Volunteers: it was unanimously resolved that he be forgiven arrears of dues on payment of one shilling, and for a further shilling that he be kept on the Roll for the term of his engagement, or until his return in the meantime.
Members of H.M. Forces have always been heartily welcome in 77, and especially those of the Newry garrison. In 1894 this consisted of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, the old 46th Foot, familiarly known as the “Red feathers.” This had been a famous Masonic regiment; a Warrant was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1752, numbered 227 and under it, the ‘Lodge of Social and Military Virtues,’ went with the regiment all over the world. In 1846 the regiment was in Quebec, and the Lodge being very weak the Warrant was handed over to establish a stationery Lodge there.
On 1 November, 1894, Bandmaster John Campbell, Lodge 447, S.C., was proposed for affiliation in 77, and nine non-commissioned officers for initiation. Other members of the regiment joined, including Brother Charles John Eary, Quartermaster, who affiliated from the Dublin Garrison Lodge No. 730. On 6 January 1896, Brother Eary presented a petition to the Lodge asking them to recommend the application for a Warrant to hold a Lodge in their battalion: the request was acceded to with enthusiasm, and the petition, supported by the other Newry Lodges was received favourably by Grand Lodge and a Warrant, bearing the number 174 was granted. Brother Eary, who was then Senior Warden of Lodge 77 was appointed Master of the new Lodge, and accordingly resigned his chair of Senior Warden in 77. ‘Dominica Lodge’ No. 174 was solemnly constituted in Newry Masonic Hall, on 1 April 1896 by R.W. Bro. T.A. McCammon, Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Down.
During its stay in Newry, the work of the Lodge was conducted in a most admirable manner. At a meeting of ‘Lodge XVIII’, on 3 June 1897, Brother William Fraser suggested the propriety of offering it some souvenir of its connection with Newry. The other Lodges were consulted and the project was enthusiastically taken up. Accordingly, before the departure of the regiment, at a joint meeting of the Masons of Newry on 1 August 1898, a silver loving cup was presented to ‘Dominica Lodge’, as a token of esteem and fraternal regard from their Newry brethren.