Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Irish Freemasonry in 18th Century France

There is great need for further and more accurate research on 18th Century Freemasonry. Nowhere is this need more apparent than for 18th Century France. That is not to say that good research is lacking. It is simply that so much material exists which has not yet been studied.  Those who have taken a cursory look at the archives returned to France from Russia recently have noted that only a small percentage of the material has been examined. With that in mind, the influence of Scotland and Ireland in the development of Freemasonry and especially the higher degrees in 18th Century France is a topic which deserves greater respect than it has been given in Anglophone circles.

James II
Freemasonry was unquestionably brought to France by Scottish and Irish Jacobites who were garrisoned there. Whether or not they were the first to do so, is still being debated by some. That they had a great impact on the development of the Higher Degrees in 18th Century France should not be. When the impact and presence of the Irish and Scots in Pre-Revolutionary France is taken into consideration, their involvement in the development of Freemasonry should not be hard to reconcile.

The Irish Brigade was a brigade in the French army composed of Irish exiles, led by Robert Reid. It was formed in May 1690 when five Jacobite regiments were sent from Ireland to France in return for a larger force of French infantry who were sent to fight in the Williamite war in Ireland. The Irish Brigade served as part of the French Army until 1792.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, which ended the war between King James II and VIIand King William III in Ireland, a separate force of 12,000 Jacobites had arrived in France in an event known as Flight of the Wild Geese. These were kept separate from the Irish Brigade and were formed into King James's own army in exile, albeit in the pay of France. Lord Dorrington's regiment, later Rooth or Roth, following the Treaty of Ryswick in 1698, was formed from the former 1st and 2nd battalions James II's Royal Irish Foot Guards (formerly on the Irish establishment) of Britain.

Charles Radcliffe
The Irish Brigade became one of the elite units of the French Army. While increasingly diluted by French and foreign recruits from elsewhere in Europe, its Irish-born officers and men often aspired to return to aid Ireland and regain their ancestral lands, as some did during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

Irish regiments participated in most of the major land battles fought by the French between 1690 and 1789, particularly Steenkirk (1692), Neerwinden (1693),Marsaglia (1693), Blenheim (1704), Almansa (1707), Malplaquet (1709), Fontenoy (1745), Battle of Lauffeld (1747); and Rossbach (1757).

They also remained strongly attached to the Jacobite cause, taking part in the rising of 1715 and the rising of 1745. For the latter, a composite battalion of infantry ("Irish Picquets") comprising detachments from each of the regiments of the Irish Brigade, plus one squadron of cavalry, was sent to Scotland. This force saw action at the second Battle of Falkirk (where they cemented the victory by driving off the Hanoverians causing the clans to waver) and Culloden, alongside the regiment of Royal Scots (Royal Ecossais) which had been raised the year before in French service. As serving soldiers of the French King the Irish Picquets were permitted to formally surrender after Culloden with a promise of honourable treatment, and were not subjected to the reprisals suffered by the Highland clansmen. Many other exiled Jacobites in the French army were captured en route to Scotland in late 1745 and early 1746, including significantly, Charles Radcliffe, 5th Earl of Derwentwater, a captain in Dillon's regiment who was executed in London in 1746.

The Baal's Bridge Square
Freemasonry in Ireland is the second oldest system in the world and the first evidence for its formally institutionalized existence comes from the Dublin Weekly Journal of June 26th 1725. The paper describes an event which took place two days previously on June 24th - a meeting to install the new Grand Master, the 1st Earl of Rosse. Unfortunately the exact date of the foundation of the Grand Lodge is not known, but the installation of a new Grand Master would suggest it was already in existence for some time.

There is considerable evidence that there were Masonic Lodges meeting in Ireland prior to the eighteenth century, for example the manuscript known as "the Trinity Tripos" dating to the 1680s, and the Baal's Bridge Square, discovered in Limerick in the mid nineteenth century, which dates to the early sixteenth century.

The following article sheds some light on the presence and involvement of Irish Masons in the Irish Brigades in France prior to the French Revolution. The slightly out of date, and biased character of the author's opinions do not detract from a fairly concise documentation of some basic data on the Irish role in the development of Freemasonry in France. It was written by Richard Hayes for The Old Limerick Journal,  French Edition in 1932 and more recently reproduced on the official website of the City of Limerick, in Ireland.

The Irish Brigade and Freemasonry 

Certain facts disclose Irish influences of various kinds that contributed to the establishment of masonry in France in the eighteenth century – some authorities even maintain that it was introduced there by Irish Jacobites. The cult was apparently non-existent in France until 1721. In that year, an English Catholic nobleman, Lord Derwentwater, and an Irishman, O’Hegarty, a prominent shipowner established at Dunkirk the first civil lodge in that country. Four years later, they established a similar one at Paris, while, in 1732, ‘one Martin Kelly’ founded the first lodge at Bordeaux. The lodges were largely composed of Jacobite exiles and their main object was the restoration of the Stuarts to the English throne.

At that period, it was, however, in the French army that the chief strength of masonry lay, and this continued right up to the Revolution, in the causation of which it is now seen more and more clearly, as has been stated elsewhere, that Masonic influences played a large part. The number of lodges in the various regiments increased from the year 1750 to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, and various dates during that interval mark the years of their constitution. In the official list of French lodges, that of Walsh’s Irish Regiment (La Loge Parfaite Egalité) always took premier place. In 1772, the Grand Lodge of France definitely recognized it as the senior Field Loge of the French army and, in addition, admitted its claim to date its constitution from the year 1688. This was confirmed by the Grand Orient in 1777. (The regiment, which was originally that of Roth, did not leave Ireland until 1691). In the middle of the eighteenth century we find the military lodge of this regiment composed of MacCarthys, Butlers, Nagles, O’Callaghans, Husseys, Keatings, FitzPatricks and other representatives of old Irish Catholic families. At the same period there was a lodge in Dillon’s Regiment functioning at St Germain-en-Laye which was made up of Lallys, Lynches, Burkes, O’Neills, Dillons, MacDonnells, Fitzgerals…And at this time, too, Jacobite influences in various French Masonic clubs were shown by the names given to new degrees – ‘Irish Master’,‘Perfect Irish Master,’ ‘Puissant Irish Master,’ &c.

After the Battle of Fontenoy

In his interesting work, La Franc-maçonnerie en France des origins à 1815, the Catholic writer, Gustave Bord, states:

For more than a hundred years historians and economists are asking why a country so fundamentally monarchical and Catholic as France could have suddenly changed its ideals and faith,,,France was sick at the end of the eighteenth century and that sickness was due largely to masonry and particularly to the Masonic spirit. It is there we must look for the real causes and logical explanation of the Revolution…In 1689, the Irish regiments embarked for France with their military rolls and their Masonic rolls – the former were executive agents, the latter the directive power. It was through the Jacobites, who followed James the Second into France, that masonry was introduced into the French army.

And Louis Madelin…perhaps the most dispassionate historian of the Revolution, in his analysis of political and social conditions in France immediately before that event, writes in La Revolution Fraçaise (1911) that the army, which was the cradle in France of freemasonry, introduced by the Irish regiments from England, continued to be its favourite haunt.

For some time before the outbreak of the Revolution , the Masonic cluibs, under the sinister influence of German Illuminism, were undoubtedly active centers of intrigue against the Monarchy and the Church. The majority of the French nobles had been members, but on seeing the trend of opinion in their circles they began to leave the clubs during the years immediately previous to 1789.

In the first year of the Revolution there was a well known Masonic club in Paris, the Club de la Propagande, whose object was not only to consolidate the Revolution in France but to spread its principles to other countries. The leading figures of the time were among its members – Robespierre, Lafayette, Condorcet, Danton, Abbé Gregoire and others. The names of its Irish members are given in the records as ‘Boyle, Okard and O’Konnor.”

(Reprinted from Ireland and Irishmen in the French Revolution, London, 1932)


Peter McCloud said...

Excellent Post Thx

E C Ballard ஃ said...

Thank you for the kind words. It's a topic close to my heart.