Friday, April 15, 2016

The Eternal East in the Magic City

Recently I supervised a class of students on a visit to the Historic Miami City Cemetery. This was the first municipal cemetery in Miami, Florida founded in 1897, on ten acres of "rocky wasteland" about a half mile to the north of what was then a fledgling city, sold by Mrs. Mary Brickell to the city for $750. That would be worth nearly $22,000 today.  To put that in some perspective, a 1.25 acre parcel of land near where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay sold for approximately $100 million in 2014.

While it is a modest cemetery, spanning only 10 acres, and for someone like myself who spent his childhood in places of greater age, such as Philadelphia, and much greater age still, such as Ireland, it seems new, it is none the less a fascinating place to visit, filled with a great deal of local history. I will not delve into the history which would only interest those who are from Miami. However, for a small graveyard, it contains a significant number of grave stones which demonstrate that for a city boasting a mere 120 years, it has a strong history of connection with fraternal orders of every sort.

In the few short hours I spent in this site, I counted no less that 30 stones which belonged to either Freemasons or "Woodsmen of the World" and at least a handful that from their iconography were also Odd Fellows. Beyond that, there were Women who were members of the Order of the Eastern Star, and at least one grave bearing a woman's name which also bore the Masonic Square and Compass. Since I know there are several feminine lodges in the Miami area, it is likely she was a Freemason.

It should be noted here, that as with most cemeteries in Southern US cities, this one is segregated by race and religion, containing Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Black sections. While these areas predominate, there are a few exceptions to the segregation. One of Miami's Prominent early citizens and his family are buried in the Catholic section, although his wife was understood to have been of mixed race, a couple of the cities earliest black residents were also buried in what became identified as a "protestant" (white) section before segregation was established more formally, as was at least one famous Miccusukee Indian, Jack Tigertail, whose image graces the seal of the City of Hialeah, a few miles north of this graveyard. As an aside, Jack Tigertail was murdered, apparently the victim of a business deal gone bad, meeting his maker due to a dispute over the price of egret plumes. He left behind a wife and three daughters. He was buried in an unmarked grave. Being Native American he didn't have the resources to pay for a stone, and nobody else felt it necessary.

The first Jewish (Kosher) Butcher to live in Miami, Phillip Ullendorff, who passed away in 1923 is buried in the walled Jewish section of the cemetery, and his headstone proudly proclaims his masonic status.

One place, interestingly enough, where race or religion did not seem to exert any influence were in the military graves. There, blacks, whites, jews, and gentiles might be buried in common. This of course is ironic since it was not until after WWII that the military ceased to be segregated itself.

However, as suggested by the existence of a woman's grave bearing the Square and Compass, "mainstream" Freemasonry is far from being the only, or perhaps even the predominant form of Freemasonry represented in this cemetery. Quite a few headstones found in the Black section of the cemetery proclaim the active presence of Prince Hall Freemasonry in Miami. These stones, in fact none of the stones I saw, give any indication of what the mason's affiliation was, so while it is easy to assume that in most cases, they would represent what is popularly considered "regular" Freemasonry, there is no way without doing some extensive research, to determine what their obediences or jurisdictions were. In the case of the Black Freemasons (and I choose to use the term black in preference to African American because much of the early population of Miami of African ancestry were from the Caribbean rather than North American in origin) there were many jurisdictions to choose from and not all would have been what is described today as "regular" Prince Hall.

One of the graves of Freemasons in the Black section which is in the worst condition of any of the Masonic graces, is that of Fred Dean, who lived from 1894 to 1924, a mere 30 years, proudly proclaims his status as a 32° Mason.

There are a number of tomb stones, as well as mausoleums which are the worse for wear. Some mausoleums have over the years replaced their original fancy bronze or ironwork gates with cement, due to repeated vandalism. Of course, tombs also suffered from the effects of several serious hurricanes over the past century. As a result, it is difficult to determine at times whether a stone was the victim of weather or the callousness of humanity.

Among the most interesting stones are those associated with the Woodsmen of the World. This fraternal organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root. Root, who was a member of several other fraternal organizations including the Freemasons, founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883, after hearing a sermon about "pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families". Taking his own surname to heart, he wanted to start a society that "would clear away problems of financial security for its members.”
It was responsible for the erection of numerous distinctive tombstones depicting tree stumps across the country before 1930. Since 2015, it has been known by the name WoodmenLife. There are easily a dozen or more Woodsmen of the World stones in the Miami City Cemetery, including one which is included in the old walled Jewish Segment of the graveyard.

A few stones sported the three rings which signify membership in the Odd Fellows, and others have symbols which appear to be related to the Order of Knights of Pythias.

Whatever their affiliations, they have all gone to the eternal east, and it would appear that any petty, dogmatic, or sectarian biases relating to their membership in fraternal orders expired with them. Now that is something we shouldn't need to die to experience.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rough Ashlar No. 23: A Rhetorical Question

Allow me to offer an initial warning: if you haven't figured it out already, if you are a bit stuffy, or adverse to the idea that Freemasonry should be open to critique, then you probably want to give the Hedge Mason a pass. Also note, perhaps more than usual, this post is somewhat rhetorical in tone. I have a very simple intention here. I wish to ask Freemasons in the United States, although the question is a relevant one for Freemasons anywhere, but this is directed specifically at Freemasons in the United States, as the details should make clear, to consider something carefully.

Every so often, Freemasons rouse themselves from their slumber long enough to contemplate if only for a moment, why their membership numbers are in the toilet. Usually, the responses, when there are any voiced, take the form of either the observation that after 1960, society somehow changed and young men stopped joining fraternal organizations, or something akin to that. Seldom does anyone address why that is so, but when they do the usual response is a more detailed and vaguely sociological explanation that leaves nobody any wiser. Another response is to offer an historical analysis of the decline, again offering no real explanation. The next stage of the response, much like the traditional stages of denial, offers a list of methodologies for correcting the problem. It seems the common wisdom that we need to advertise, we need to not advertise, we need to hold massive group initiation days (sort of like President Day car sales) or we don't because they never work. In fact, we need to do everything we can to repackage and remarket our "product" without actually making any adjustment to the product itself. After all, we are perfect. Younger generations just need to realize that.

Folks, did it ever occur to anyone, that people don't buy products that are past their expiration dates? People do not look at the most bruised, wormy apple on the fruit counter and say, "how cute! I think I'll take this one." They just don't. 

Let's have a look. Two Grand Lodges currently are coming out of their hate closets and banning gays. Two Grand Lodges out of the entire country have seen fit to make public declarations condemning this and taking action against it. Two. One more rather cautiously suggested to their membership that it should know what they will want to do. Of the rest, one can feel the pressure of the inflated lungs collectively holding their breaths. 

But that's not all. Today, I read about a law case against the Florida Grand Lodge for maintaining a Jim Crow statute on its books. Really folks? 

So, let me get around to asking that question. If you don't offer equal access to the public, we can't share our masonic experience with our friends of different races, different gender preferences (much less different genders) and in many places, Florida included, of different religions, or no religions, and we get to spend most of our time attending financial meetings because we don't really approve of esoteric freemasonry, or metaphysics, and we can't really explore a variety of rituals, or discuss politics, or discuss religion, or pretty much any other current event, and we can't really deal with the issue of personal improvement unless it conforms to the official GL scripts whether they serve the intended purpose effectively anymore or not, then what is it within Freemasonry that is supposed to attract new members? 

While this question may have the appearance of a rhetorical one, and on the surface, it is just that, it also is meant as a serious question. No, it is not my intention to simply speak ill of Freemasonry. Lately, it doesn't need my help to do that. Nor am I looking to have any of you send me your responses. Although you are more than welcome to do so, it's not that sort of question. It is a question that I think each mason, especially now, needs to be asking themselves. The individual to whom the answer to this question should be directed is the reader; each and every one of you. If you don't like the answers, what are you going to do about it?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The World is Taking Notice

Lest we think we are living in the same old world, here's an important reminder that we are not. The rest of the world is taking notice of what is going on vis-a-vis Tennessee and Georgia. How the rest of US Freemasonry responds will be very significant indeed.

Already, there has been a protest outside an academic conference on Freemasonry at UCLA It has also been noted in the US press, including NPR. In the European Masonic blogosphere what is happening here has been noted and critiqued. Several online organizations have formed attacking the position of Tennessee and Georgia already and a Facebook group dedicated to addressing the issue in Pennsylvania has been created as well.  Whatever one thinks of their approach or their position, allow me to remind everyone that what we as masons think about such responses doesn't matter here. What matters is what the public will think.

Freemasonry, especially North American Freemasonry, has historically been slow to react and less than accurate in divining which way the winds are blowing. With that in mind, it is extremely important that the rest of the US Jurisdictions do some serious communications at the top end and actually come up with, for once, a uniform strategy for dealing with this matter. It will not just go away, no matter how much we wish it would. I do hope they are listening.

In addition to these public notices I have become aware of various groups which are actively voicing their views on the matter. We are as someone remarked seeing only the tip of the iceberg thus far. Or are we sitting on the rim of a volcano?

I have no desire to stir any cauldrons. I am not trying to suggest what form any organized response might take. I am simply noting that it is needed. However, it seems to me that the big boys will need to finally earn their keep, if they wish to influence the outcome of this matter and lead us all to a happy end. Old biases will rip us asunder otherwise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeKNaDkWc-k .

http://www.npr.org/2016/03/22/471414979/for-freemasons-is-banning-gays-or-being-gay-un-masonic

 https://pierremollier.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/une-onde-de-choc-dans-la-maconnerie-americaine-une-nouvelle-affaire-morgan/

https://www.facebook.com/Discovering-the-truth-about-PA-Freemasonry-159122237798051/?fref=ts

http://www.masonbigotry.org/

Friday, March 25, 2016

Blinded By the Light: Resolving Freemasonry's Problems

Freemasonry is gradually wasting away. Only those masons who make the Ostrich Pose part of their Yoga regimen do not recognize this fact. There is a division between  those who see this as inevitable and those who think otherwise. I do not pretend to know what the final outcome will be, although, being the eternal optimist that I am, I do not think the end need be at hand.

And lest these words be misconstrued, I do not intend to criticize anyone for addressing the issue the way they have. Everyone has their own skills and perspectives, and these are not always going to agree with those of other people. Far be it from me to claim that my views are superior or that other masons are benighted. However, without being egotistical about it, I do think that my musings may be of use in debating and searching through the issues. These thoughts include some that are critical of the process and conclusions drawn by others, but not of the people who have offered them, nor of their intentions.

This needs to be a debate filled with passion, but not emotion. That means a passionate discussion, filled with challenging ideas, but not the heat of personal animosity.

 I watched an interesting presentation on YouTube this morning of a mason indulging in the most popular martial art of modern American - statistics. (Jon T Ruark whose presentation for the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge I located from a post on Brother Hodapp's website). He produced an excellent presentation, and if not the most artistic and entertaining of speakers (he was after all speaking on statistics), he acquitted himself quite admirably. If he could get me to follow his statistical analysis to the end he did a truly miraculous thing.

However, Bro. Ruark's presentation made me think of a few expressions, such as that which I used to head this post - blinded by the light, or that other which comments about the all too human foible of not seeing the forest for the trees. Again, I am not being uncharitable. I enjoyed Bro Ruark's presentation, noting as a total non-sequitur that he possesses a very Donegal surname, and am grateful because he inspired some interesting observations for me. Now, in fairness, I hate statistics, I truly believe that they represent, if not lies, mostly useless information. I think that explains in a nutshell everything that's wrong with our approach to problem solving today.

Forgive me for thinking that this presentation began with a conclusion and was constructed to support that conclusion. I think that in part because I know how many masons, both rank and file and the intellectuals, passionately disapprove of the "Made in a day" approach to resolving the Masonic numbers problem. I will note here also, that I do not disapprove of the "Mason in a Day" approach. the failure of "Masons in a day" events to resolve the problem of attrition demonstrates the need for an approach which consists of multiple responses.

There are a host of reasons why once made a "Mason in a day" those newly minted masons do not stay, none of which have anything to do with how they were initiated. They have everything to do with their experience within Masonry from that day on. All too often, I suspect masons have come to experience a freemasonry which is mediocre. That is most likely one of the big reasons why masonry has problems keeping members. To an extent Br. Ruark recognizes this in his comments concerning Traditional Observation Lodges as one possible solution. Indeed, T.O. lodges are likely to be one solution. Although I think they are perhaps to structuralist in their resolution of challenges, they have often met with good results.

Other blogs, notably Midnight Freemasons, have leapt into the arena with more references to statistics, and pie charts galore. They're all good. We need as much discussion as possible, and even discussion that reviews what has been discussed before can shed new light on old subjects.

However, there is an elephant in the room in the entire presentation which has not been addressed. Indeed, it has been noted, and joked about, but clearly the subject itself appears to be one which is off limits to a mainstream mason who with reason might fear negative reactions from on high to any such discussion. Well, I fortunately, have nothing to fear in speaking up. I am beyond the bureaucratic reach of any US Grandmaster, and to paraphrase a famous Freemason, Clark Gable, "Frankly, my dear brothers, I don't give a damn."

The elephant in the room was eloquently described by Br. Ruark, although I hasten to note, he said not one word against any Grand Lodge in his presentation. He described, by simply recounting the challenges he faced in engaging in a research project, the intent of which was to assist in strengthening Freemasonry, everything that is wrong with mainstream Freemasonry in the US today. In fact, although the problem is most egregious here in the US, it is a problem in most parts of the Masonic universe to one degree or another. The fatal element in Masonic culture, that aspect of Freemasonry which will ultimately destroy Freemasonry as an institution if it isn't stopped, is none other than the Grand Lodge system itself.

Whatever it once may have been, and I would argue that it probably was never a healthy influence on Freemasonry, it has grown to become an impervious, petulant bureaucracy that serves only to sustain its self importance. It is totally possible, although I doubt it, that it is manned by a large number of well intentioned individuals. Even if that were true,and I see no evidence to support that notion, those good men do not seem capable of making their bureaucracy beneficial in even small ways in encouraging masonry's survival.

The fact that a Freemason attempting to do a statistical analysis that might shed light on ways to grow the institution can get little response to his inquiries beyond being told that he had ignored protocol in asking, and then receive even less response when he subsequently followed the recommended protocol, should be enough to damn the Grand Lodge as a system. It is a head which has ceased to care about its body. If our individual brains were to refuse to consider or respond to the messages our internal organs or other body parts gave it, we would be dead in short order. That is the big take away for me from this report.

Freemasonry is dying folks. It will, by best reckoning, be dead in as little as 10 years, and at the most 25 years. The Grand Lodges are killing it off. It is true that Freemasonry needs to be more responsive to modern society and adapt to change. Failure to adapt will kill it in short order. A lot of that resistance is coming from on high. Of course, the blame does go back to the local lodge. Inevitably, all the members of the GL originated as members of a local lodge, no matter how many centuries ago they were entered and raised.

The best case scenario, I believe, will result in a much thinner and smaller institution. Freemasonry will not look like it does today if it survives at all. But, if it is to survive at all, it has to get out of its own way and stop being its own worst enemy.

How can Freemasonry address the problem that the GL has become? There are two solutions. The first and most radical, might also be the most traumatic. While it in some ways appeals to me more, and I have mentioned it here before, the idea of North American Freemasonry without Grand Lodges seems too dramatic a change to be accomplished, however beneficial it might be. The second is one which, although it would not be possible to accomplish without some, hopefully only metaphorical "blood letting", is one which could result in a dramatically revived fraternity. I am suggesting an inversion of power.

As Robert Cooper of the Grand Lodge of Scotland noted during a public speech given to Freemasons in the United States ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNvtY16s-GM ) The Grand Lodge in Scotland has no power to order any constituent lodge to do anything at all. All individual lodges in Scotland jealously guard their power. As a result, the Grand Lodge may humbly and very diplomatically suggest that its member lodges might (or might not) wish to consider a recommendation that they would like to recommend. It is a refreshing idea, and one which I believe might go a long way to resolving the problems within US Freemasonry. Imagine a Freemasonry where the Grand Lodge served its member lodges instead of dominating them.

Shortly after posting this blog, I became aware of the GL of Mass. response to the current unfortunate situation in Tennessee and Georgia. Thanks to John S. Nagy for that information. While my initial reaction was to think that Massachusetts was trying to sit on the fence by not taking any action, my second thought was that they were providing an example of exactly what this practice of informing and advising rather than dictating might look like.

I have no illusions that my own thoughts on such matters might ever rule the day, but all sorts of ideas need to be considered, and I keep hearing the same ones repeated. So, in the hopes of broadening the discussion, I will continue to throw ideas into the ring from time to time. It is for other people to decide what works best in their situations and how to implement their decisions. All the same, in the current climate, it seems healthy to keep all options on the table.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Storm Warnings: Tennessee's Latest

By now people should be becoming aware that Tennessee voted in support of banning homosexual membership. Rather than indulging in wild speculation, I will take the cautious approach of keeping mum and battening down the hatches, because I do see storm clouds ahead. Whatever direction the wind blows, it's going to bring rough weather.

For now, this is all I can do:


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Freemasonic Version

Cue the drums and the Andean Flutes, crane your necks looking for Clint Eastwood. No, you won't see Clint here, although depending on whom you ask, Clint either is or isn't a Freemason.  I'm frankly indifferent about that, although I have enjoyed some of his films. I especially like his quote to the effect that "I tried being reasonable. I didn't like it."

However, you don't not really expect me to talk about Clint today, nor about Westerns as a hollywood genre. I am turning my gaze, perhaps not surprisingly at the recent unpleasantness relating to Georgia, Tennessee, and other Masonic Jurisdictions in the United States. I have read all the required blogs and have been giving close attention to what various members of various jurisdictions and obediences have had to say about this subject.

A particular type of remark caught my attention and set me to thinking, mostly about a response. A few expressed their annoyance that while the media tends to ignore their good works, it will focus sharp attention on their problems. I don't think they had the presence of mind, or perhaps the honesty, to refer to this current unpleasantness as a failing. Some others wished the attention away, but a few actually went so far as to opine that such public attention to Masonic unpleasantness was unfair.

I spit my coffee across the room when I read that one.

I mean, really, what could possibly be considered unfair about it? If you make the audacious claim that you exist to make good men better, then you have to expect to be called upon the carpet for behavior which is clearly other than that. Now, some will claim that their morals teach them that homosexuality is wrong. In theory, standing up for your morals when the larger society eschews them, is a courageous thing to do. However, let's examine this claim for a moment. I am not interested in taking a stand on whether homosexuality is right, or moral, or even natural. Everyone has their views and they're welcome to them.  The issue in this case is not really about morality, and I will explain why.

Freemasonry also claims to not be a religion, and to not demand of its membership more religiosity than "that religion in which all men agree." Anderson further goes on to specify what that is. Here of course, is where most North American Freemasonry, have gone wildly astray, that he means Masons should be "Good men and true, or men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever denomination or persuasions they may be distinguish'd..." That in fact leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and a semanticist might well argue that the term persuasion might refer even to one's gender preferences.

The jurisdictions whose decisions have generated this row within Freemasonry are most certainly not following Anderson's dictates, though I have no doubt they will argue that they are. They are, whether you agree or disagree, following the teachings regarding sexual practices proposed by a specific segment of the Christian religion. That simply isn't Masonic according to the narrow reading of Masonic literature and law. Of course, Masons have always interpreted these things whatever way way they wished, and so long as that was considered the majority opinion where and when they did so, no objections were generally raised. Meeting behind closed doors created a sense of insularity, which over time evolved into a sense of imperviousness. The notion that I am right and nobody will criticize me. Eventually, this gave rise to the reaction that should someone criticizes "our way", they are clearly not Masons and we can ignore them. Of course, while this may have appeared to be a realistic assessment of the circumstances, it was never a rational one, nor was it right. I mean right in both the ethical and the pragmatic sense.

Allow me to reiterate, so that nobody misunderstands my intentions. I am not staking a position either that Freemasonry should nor that it should not admit homosexuals to its membership. My personal view is no more relevant here than the fact that there already are plenty of gays initiated into "mainstream" North American Freemasonry. The question being debated by most is whether the membership determines if they should be allowed to be, and also, who that membership is. In other words, who has a vested interest in the matter and how does that interest play out.

That's where things get interesting and in my opinion, far more interesting than the question concerning sexual orientation. Society at large has changed its view rather rapidly on this matter over the past few years, and quite a few of us who have been on the planet for a half century or more are frankly surprised at how swiftly the shift was when it finally became a matter for popular decision, regardless of our personal views. This sudden shift of course, left those, of whatever age, who didn't agree with the new public ethic, with a serious case of cognitive dissonance. After all, most of us were taught from an early age, either trough direct teaching or more subtle privately and not so privately expressed opinion, that gays were not normal. It stands to reason that a fairly conservative institution such as Freemasonry has become, would move slowly toward any change.  Such conditions reigned for a long time within Freemasonry, and thus allowed the racial ostracism which remains normative for far too much of North American Freemasonry to continue until today. It also has kept "mainstream" Freemasonry in the US, gender specific, even after our society as a whole has rejected that approach to matters. In UGLE style Freemasonry in the USA, it is still 1945. In point of fact, the majority in our society have decided to be accepting of sexual preference to a far greater degree than are accepting of either gender equality or racial difference. Ironically, there's probably more tolerance today for the idea of gay marriage than there is for interracial marriage, and that decision was decided back in 1967 with the supreme court decision of Loving v. Virginia.

I'm not trying to damn mainstream Freemasonry for any of this. It is what it is. But here, in this discussion, recognizing the reality, whether you care to or not, is important. Here is why it is important, and why actually airing all this dirty laundry in public is a very good thing for Freemasonry.

As I said a few paragraphs back, Freemasonry claims to be an ethical organization. It also claims to have as its goal making good men better. It supports the idea, in theory if not in practice, that each individual must come to their own process of self improvement through serious internal introspection. I will note, that while Freemasonry seeks to educate and expects certain standards to be embraced, it consciously states that its members must discover these things for themselves. Freemasons are supposed to work through the process of self improvement and it is a personal one. In doing that, Freemasonry has, intentionally or otherwise, hoisted upon its own shoulders the weight and responsibility expected only of those with the highest of principles.

So what are we doing, complaining when other Masons and the public beyond Masonry, the "dreaded cowan" do exactly that - expect us to stand up and show that we stand for "that religion in which all men agree" and that we be "Good men and true, or men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever denomination or persuasions they may be distinguish'd..."

In point of fact, Freemasonry can only be hurt by its own choices, and it can only be raised up and championed as a result of its own actions. In shedding light on what we think and believe, the public attention is aiding Freemasonry in reaching its own goals. How we will be judged by the public will in large part be the result of whether we pass our own test.

North American Freemasonry is both the benefactor and victim of its own history. It has unprecedented institutional freedom. Each state represents its own jurisdiction answerable to none but its own members. It also however, has come to believe the fiction that because those so called "regular" obediences are all under the eye of the UGLE, that they are somehow one body. What we see today in the battles being waged over the decisions of Georgia and Tennessee, are in part the result of the opposition between historical fact and the fantasy of self identity.

Regardless of those conflicting views, Freemasonry should welcome this as an opportunity to bring more light rather than heat to the situation. Freemasonry should look at this as an opportunity to polish the rough ashlar a bit more. Rather than complain, Masons should recognize that the public in fact views them as an institution that claims to hold itself up to the highest of standards, and are giving us the opportunity to see reflected in public, just how well we live up to such claims. Believing in either one or the other decision, if it is viewed as based upon what one recognizes as
moral, after due consideration and deliberation, should be something that any Mason would welcome. As a Mason, if you are uncomfortable voicing your choice for fear of how it will be received, that suggests you hold doubts about how honestly or arduously you have held yourself to your principles.

In my view, whatever you believe to be right or wrong in this debate, if you as a Freemason believe it, you should be very comfortable being scrutinized. In any case, the day has come, for better or for worse, in which such debates will end up going before the court of public opinion. Let there be light.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trance Dances, Rebels, & Bygmester Finn: Irish Freemasonry

Since we are coming up upon that date which represents perhaps the most despicable demonstration of misplaced national pride in the world, Saint Patrick's day, rather than adding to the volume of frankly embarrassing behaviors that Irishmen, and many who are not Irish indulge in in the name of a most sober saint, Patrick, I thought it might be interesting to note a few articles which touch upon some perhaps not so widely known aspects of Irish Freemasonry.

Today, many assume, wrongly so, that Freemasonry in Ireland is associated with the Orange Order, and has always been primarily anti-Irish and anti-revolutionary in character. As with most else that they've had to say about the Irish or about Freemasonry, the English lie. They lie through their teeth.

Freemasonry was not founded in 1717, much less in London, and no, it has not always been anti-Irish. It was after all, originally founded by the people who ultimately came to support the Jacobite cause. Many Irish died fighting for the Jacobite cause, and the Jacobites were in the main supportive of the native Irish cause. Freemasonry has been active in Ireland fairly much as long as it has in Scotland.

In Ireland, Freemasonry has taken some fairly interesting twists and turns, both in relation to cultural practice, the arts, and politics.

The notion that Freemasonry, whether Operative or Speculative would first arise on English soil is, if one contemplates the idea for more than a moment, a preposterous notion. When the English, latecomers to insular Europe arrived in Post Roman Britain, they had little skills in stone working. All the early Saxon churches were produced, like the rest of English architecture, out of wood and wattle, in true barbaric fashion. The Celtic speaking peoples, and their predecessors, had been building with and carving magical and esoteric symbols in stone there for millennia already. Ultimately, they were most likely responsible for teaching the English what they understood of both the operative craft and ultimately the speculative as well. And if, as it has been noted, English Speculative Freemasonry owes its birth to its northern neighbor, Scotland, it later required the Irish, in the guise of the antients to sort out the mess they promptly made of it.  The Irish were present in France after the defeat of the Jacobite cause, and the existence of the Irish Master Degrees and the record of Irish masons who founded what ironically was called the first "English" lodge in France, is in fact well documented. (Hayes, Richard. The Irish Brigade and Freemasonry. Reprinted in "Ireland and Irishmen in the French revolution. 1932)

Irish Freemasonry is ancient indeed, and the quintessentially Irish symbol of Freemasonry, the Baal's Bridge Square, is dated to 1507.  It represents undeniable evidence that Masonic philosophy and practice was kicking up its heels in Ireland long before 1717.

Various scholars have tackled the quandaries presented by the remnants of Irish culture, long in duration and unfortunately subject to confusion due to the destructive influence of the English invasion, cultural as much as military. One such scholar, Alan Nowell, has written a number of articles in the academic journal, Irish Archaeology, on the subject of early Irish dance, archeological evidence, and its possible relationship with Freemasonry. In his view, the Irish dance Fer Cengail, (O.I. meaning tied or connected men) may have middle eastern roots and may be related to other lore associated with the Freemasons. Whatever reaction one may have to his position, it represents both a fascinating read, and an amazing research topic. (Nowell, Alan. "An Insular Dance: The Dance of the Fer Cengail?" in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 2005. pp. 36-39.)

It should be noted, from a purely historical perspective that Freemasons were very involved with Irish efforts at gaining independence prior to their more successful attempts in what became the United States. The American Revolution was aided and abetted by many Irish and Scottish Masons. The claims that all Irish masons involved in revolutionary activity in Ireland were "Hedge" or unrecognized Masons is about as honest as the claims of the First English Grand Lodge that Masons did not discuss politics in their meetings, and were politically motivated claims.  The Irish connection must also be noted in the case of Elizabeth St. Leger who in the 1600s was the most noteworthy Female Freemason, and also that Prince Hall and his first African American Freemasons were initiated by an Irish Military Lodge.

The most significant modern work of Anglo-Irish literature, indeed it is commonly considered the most important modern novel in the English language, is James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake." The song of the same name is well known by Irish people world wide,  but the book is seldom read by popular audiences.  Most College English majors read the book, and I myself read it while still in High School. Finnegan's Wake is written in highly idiosyncratic, mixing standard English, neologistic multilingual puns (often taken from Gaelic) and portmanteau words, which produce a very dreamlike and surreal reality. In this epic novel, there are extensive references, in Joyce's quixotic language, to Freemasonry. Many articles have been written on the subject, but one, to me which is most interesting is Laura Peterson's "The Bygmester, His Geamatron, and the Triumphs of the Craftygild: "Finnegans Wake" and the Art of Freemasonry (James Joyce Quarterly, Vol 27, No, 4. Summer 1990. pp. 777-792.)

In case you are curious about Finnegan's association with Freemasonry, perhaps it is best to read Joyce's first remarks about the Master himself,

"Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen's maurer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rushlit toofarback for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy (one yeastyday he sternely struxk his tete in a tub for to watsch the future of his fates but ere he swiftly stook it out again, by the might of moses, the very water was eviparated and all the guenneses had met their exodus so that ought to show you what a pentschanjeuchy chap he was!) and during mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edifices in Toper's Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. "

Clearly, one cannot doubt that this description demonstrates all the clarity of many a Masonic piece of architecture, but with a great deal more alliteration.  Although we have our own infinitely superior native language, Buidheachas do Dhia, which as all Gaelic speakers know, is the language spoken in heaven, we have seen fit, out of compassion to our less fortunate neighbors, to have vastly improved the literature of theirs.

 Lá Fhéile Phadraig maith daoibh uilig!