“ Molesworth Street, Dublin. Information: 01-6761337 „
~ ~ The Freemason’s Hall is situated in Molesworth Street in the centre of Dublin, only a stone’s throw from the back gate to the Dail (Houses of Parliament) and from the main shopping street in Dublin, Grafton Street. ~ ~ Freemasonry officially came to Ireland way back in 1723, when the first Grand Lodge of Freemasons was formed by a ‘hundred gentlemen’ in the Yellow Lion pub in Werburgh Street. For the next 143 years they moved around somewhat. In 1811 they met in the Assembly Rooms in South William Street, then moved in 1822 to 19, Dawson Street, which is now the Royal Irish Academy. 1829 saw a downturn in their fortunes, as they were relegated to renting a room from a publican, Mr. Inglis, in D’Olier Street. Finally, in 1866, the then Grandmaster, Richard, Earl of Rosse, donated them the site of his town house in Molesworth Street, and an open competition to decide the best design was won by one Edward Holmes from Birmingham. ~ ~ The building that was erected is on three levels, and three very distinct forms of architecture are employed on each. The ground floor is Doric, the first floor Ionic, and the top floor Corinthian. Set in the gable at the top of the building is a fine sculptor of the Masonic square and compass. ~ ~ The interior of the building is highly ornate and elaborate, and designed to remind you of other parts of the world, and other periods of history. The cost of all the work was met by the Order itself, in the form of a voluntary levy on the Dublin Freemasons of the time. The Grand Lodge Room itself is adorned with full life-sized portraits of past Grand Masters, all lavishly framed in gilt frames, and each with their own coat of arms above. One such portrait is of Edward, Prince of Wales, who visited the Hall in 1871, and was made a Grand Patron of Irish Freemasonry. In this room also is the ceremonial chair. This is highly ornate, with a corone t and lion’s heads on the arms, and was hand carved in Edinburgh. Also look out for the organ, and for the chequered carpet that also includes the Masonic square and compass in its border. ~ ~ The Royal Arch Chapter Room is a complete contrast, and is decorated in an Egyptian theme. Nobody I’ve talked to seems to know the reason for this, but it might well date back to the craze for all things Egyptian that swept Britain in the 1860’s. The ceremonial chair in this room sits beneath an ornate and multi-coloured Egyptian canopy, and is flanked on either side by two life-sized sphinxes. There are also two Jewish candelabra, which for some inexplicable reason sit on top of Egyptian heads. This room always reminds me of a set for an Indiana Jones movie, and I keep expecting Harrison Ford to suddenly leap out brandishing his bullwhip. (Well, not really, but the room does have that kind of exotic flavour to it!) ~ ~ The Prince Mason’s Chapter Room is both Gothic and Tudor in design, being adorned throughout with dozens of flags and banners, with the family coat of arms hanging above them. The ‘knightly stalls’ here are thought to have been based on the same design as the choir stalls that you can see in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A Portland Stone mantel is again elaborately carved with a multitude of obscure Masonic symbols. ~ ~ The Knights Templar Room is my own particular favourite. Any of you who have read my opinion about Rosslyn Chapel just outside Edinburgh will be aware that I am totally fascinated by the history of this ancient heraldic order, that dates back to the Crusades of the 12th century. The room is built in the style of a medieval chapel, with only dim light filtering in through the small Gothic stained glass windows onto the stone walls. There are many ornately carved chairs and seats, and again coats of arms and flags abound everywhere. The ‘Cat holic’ influence is very obvious in this room, and it must be remembered that the Knights Templar were an ancient religious order, until they were all excommunicated by the Pope for so called heresy. It is very easy to imagine Mass being said in this room, although I doubt very much if this has ever been the case, as Freemasonry is a ‘proscribed’ organisation by the Catholic Church, who still to this day consider it an alternative religion in its own right. (I’m not getting into that argument!) This room also has a magnificent monochrome portrait of HRH the Duke of Connaught, a son of Queen Victoria, who as well as being the Commander-in-Chief of the Irish army, was also the Most Excellent and Supreme Master of the Knights Templar. (This connection of the Knights Templar to royalty exists even today!) ~ ~ This is a small museum that you would likely pass over on any visit to Dublin, as you wont see it featuring prominently in any of the guide books. This would be a mistake, as it is one of the finest small museums in the city that is open to the public. As well as the rooms themselves, there are a multitude of fine engravings, bowls, jugs, ceremonial chains, trowels, medals, buckles, etc, all adorned with the often mysterious symbols of the Masonic order. You can also view all the ornate aprons used in the Masonic ceremonies, a reminder of the traditional stonemason’s leather garment of old. ~ ~ Freemasonry has a long tradition here in Ireland, in spite of a ban placed on it by Pope Clement X11 in 1738. Many famous Irishmen have been Masons, and to this day, Freemasonry thrives here, despite Ireland being a predominately Catholic country. In case you were wondering about the title of the opinion, the Masonic order utilise a very distinctive form of handshake, in order that members can identify each other without having to divulge their membership to outsiders. (It is a secret order, after all) Well worth a look if you’re visiting Dublin.