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!

1 comment:

merry k Welsh said...

Freemasonry Northern Ireland is kindness in the home, honesty in business, courtesy in society, earnest in work, pity and concern for the unfortunate