A Short History of Royal Arch Masonry in the Towne of Carrickfergus.
By Excellent Companion Robert Bashford: Editor & Archivist,
The Royal Arch Chapter of Research No. 222.
This Paper was presented at the Meeting of the Royal Arch of Research No. 222 in the Masonic Hall, Victoria Street, Carrickfergus, on the 25th May 2002.
Companions, we have the great honour this afternoon to meet in the Carrick Masonic Centre, a short stroll from St Nicholas’s Parish Church and the Walls and Gateways which once protected the old mediaeval town of Carrickfergus.
Masonry here has a long and proud history dating back to its earliest beginnings in the year 1755, when the Warrant for True Blue Lodge No 253, Carrickfergus was issued on the 10th February. We can of course record with pride the memorial plaque located inside St Nicholas’s Parish Church, which indicates that the works carried out to the Baptistery (the original Porch of the Church), was carried out by Thomas Paps, Freemason in the year 1614.
However, before we launch off into Masonic history, I would just like to take a couple of moments and tell you all a little about the second oldest building now remaining in the town of Carrickfergus. I refer of course to St Nicholas’s Parish Church itself. This Church dates from the year 1182 when John de Courcy began work on both Church and Castle.
One of the all-pervading legends attached to this Church was the reputed existence of a secret underground tunnel from the Church to an adjacent Monastery. There were in fact two Monasteries in the immediate area. One known as St Mary’s Abbey, Goodburn (now known as Woodburn) which was also founded by John de Courcy for the Premonstratensian Order of Monks, sometimes known locally as "The White Canons", whose building was dedicated to The Holy Cross. The other, a Franciscan Priory, located in nearby Joymount, was probably founded in the year 1232 by Hugh de Lacy, the then Earl of Ulster. One of the few surviving pieces of these Monasteries is the Font, which is believed to have come from the Abbey at Woodburn.
Another surviving artefact from that early period is the Norman or Crusader grave-slab located to the side of The High Alter, which provides a tantalising link to the medieval Orders of Templars and Hospitillars.
The Church still has its Leper’s Window, located on the right of the Chancel at low level. This window, is a reminder of the time when there was a Leper Hospital and Spittal Park located to the east of the town, and dedicated to St Bridget. The Leper’s came to St Nicholas’s Church to receive the sacrament, but as they were not allowed inside the Sacrament was passed out to them via the window. St Nicholas, like St Lazarus, was associated with Lepers, and traditionally their hospitals were run by The Knights Hospitillars.
On the other side of the Chancel is an interesting Window bearing the Alpha and the Omega, symbolism not totally unknown to the Brethren here today. If we go on up to the top of this window we will see the Glory with a hand extending earthwards. We can also see another fascinating Masonic artefact preserved in this Church, and that is the famous Carrick Masonic Chair.
This chair, carved from bog-oak has a central panel bearing the figure of Hibernia with the Compasses and Square set in the Fellowcraft position above. Around the whole is a pair of circles in which is the following inscription " A. J. R. * K. C. B. " above, and the date " 1685" below. It has been suggested that the initials A.J.R. refer to the original owner of the chair and the letters K.C.B. indicate his Masonic rank as Knight, Companion and Brother. Or maybe someone here today has an alternative
suggestion? In any event this chair has been carefully preserved within the Church for the past two hundred and fifty years.
There are other Masonic references within the Church such as the the beautiful window located in the Chichester or Donegall Aisle to our Patron Saint – " St John -The Beloved Disciple". This window was a memorial gift from the Officers of the Antrim Royal Garrison Artillery dedicated to the memory of the Officers, N.C.O’s and Artillerymen of the Royal Artillery who sacrificed their Lives in the Great War ( 1914 – 1918 ), so that we all could continue to live in Peace and Freedom. This window is of particular interest, as it contains many symbols from The Book of Revelations.
One of the Lodges now meeting in the Carrick Masonic Centre is Chichester Lodge No 313, late of Whitehead. Co-incidentally Warrant Number 313 was once issued to a Lodge that met within the 9th Battalion of the Royal Artillery. Before that the Warrant had been issued to a Lodge which met in the town of Antrim between the years 1759-1818. There still exists a finely wrought silver Masonic plate jewel bearing the name John Bruce and the reference to Antrim Lodge No 313.
This beautiful jewel has engraved upon it a plethora of Masonic symbols referring to the Craft on one face, and a mixture of Royal Arch and High Knight Templar on the other. Similar symbolism can be seen illustrated in the many surviving examples of early manuscript certificates once used by the Carrick Lodges.
Companions, this is just one of the many curious facts that we will hear as the day progresses.
Our story begins on the 10th February 1755 when True Blue Lodge No 253 Carrickfergus, was Warranted by The Grand Lodge of Ireland. This was followed by St Patrick’s Lodge No 270 which was Warranted on the 2nd June 1756. There is a tradition in the town that a third Lodge Harmonie Lodge No 282 also dates from this time ( 1757 ) but Grand Lodge records in Dublin do not record the official formation of this Lodge until the 6th April 1809. Another Warrant closely associated with Carrick at that time was St Andrew’s Lodge No 1012 Eden, which was first Constituted on the 1st September 1814.
This was an exciting time both for Carrickfergus and the people of Ireland in general. These were the days of the Redcoats, Sailing Ships, Smugglers and Privateers when many a Swash was Buckled. The Jolly Roger was a common sight, and some would claim that this flag evolved from the Beauchant more commonly associated with the Order of Knight Templars. Certainly the Skull and Crossbones will be known to most of us as the traditional emblem of Mortality, a timely reminder of our future end.
And such was to be the destiny of Carrick. In the year 1760 the Town and Castle were attacked and captured by the French under the daring leadership of Commodore Thurot, one of the most colourful characters of his age. He is reputed to have spent time on the Galloway coast of Scotland under the name O’Farrell where he was involved in Smuggling and other Privateering activities.
Whilst in London he became an English Freemason when the Seven Years War began, he returned home to fight for his country. This then was the man that led the attack on Carrickfergus. The fight was short and bloody, but in the aftermath Thurot and his men were gallant victors, who quickly charmed the townspeople. One persistent tradition from this period is the alleged sack of the Lodge-room belonging to St Patrick’s Lodge No 270. The Registry of the Grand Lodge of Ireland records that :-
" The Warrant and jewels of this Lodge ( No 270 ) was taken the time the French were in this place, and the Lodge did not meet since".
This note refers to the capture of Carrickfergus by Thurot in February 1760. The French troops were alleged to have carried out a lot of looting during their attack and local tradition has always credited the Grand Lodge of France with the eventual return of the Lodge Warrant and Banners. This outcome was highly unlikely when one recalls that Thurot’s fleet was sunk in the ensuing sea battle off the Isle of Man when Commodore Thurot lost his own life. In my mind it would have been much more likely that Thurot, becoming aware of the thefts from the Lodge-rooms ordered his own soldiers to return the missing items. This view would certainly accord with his other actions whilst in the town. History records that Thurot’s body was eventually washed ashore at Dumfries where it was given a decent burial.
Some years ago a number of Swedish Brethren applied for and were granted
permission by the local Scottish Council to erect a plaque from the Brethren of the "Order of Coldin" to the memory of their deceased Brother Thurot.
Today we are especially interested in the Royal Arch history of this district, and I pleased to inform you that Royal Arch Masony has been worked in Carrick and district for many years. In those days it was the custom for Brethren to be raised under no other authority than the Blue or Craft Warrant, and this situation continued into the latter half of the Nineteenth century. I am greatly indebted to that most famous Mason – John Heron Lepper for his extensive researches throughout the records of East Antrim Lodges, at the end of the Nineteenth century.
As we will see the Higher Degrees were very popular in this District, as this brief selection of surviving Lodge Minutes will show. John Heron Lepper, rose to great heights in both Irish and English Masonry, but never forgot his roots in Carrickfergus. In 1922 he presented a paper entitled "Fifty Years of Masonry in East Antrim" which gives an excellent snapshot of the history of Freemasonry in that part of Ulster. The
following extracts from old Carrick Lodge Minutes come from that source.
St Patrick’s Lodge No 270.
Quartly Meeting – (Lodge in due form) – Wors Samuel Develin in the Chair – Edward Magown and Joseph Queery Arched and Knighted. 17th June 1808.
Quarterly nights were meetings held every three months when the Higher Degrees were traditionally given. These meetings were separate from the usual Craft Night as the following entry will illustrate :-
Lodge Meeting – John Holmes in the Chair. John Wallis Past. Quartly Meeting on the same day – John Holmes in the Chair – George McFarren, John O’Neal and Thomas Conway Arched and Knighted - 18th September 1809.
A fuller account of these proceedings can be found in the following :-
Wll E Millikin in the Chair. Being Quarterly Night, the Lodge in Good order.
Robert McIlpin, Jas McAulley, John Moore, Saml Moor. Alex Moor Past the chair, Exelt. Super Ext. Arched and R.A.. . . . .& Nighted. - 17th December 1814.
St Andrew’s Lodge No 1012.
The very first entry in the Minute Book of this Lodge alludes to the custom of Quarterly Nights as follows :-
Nov 30th 1813. The Quarterly Nights Proceedings.
Met in due form the Worshipfull James Donald in the Chair
When Br Emanuel Milikin was Pass’ed the Chair and
Initiated into the Sublime Degrees of Royal Arch Mason and
Business done the Brethren supped and all parted in due
On some Quarterly nights the special Lodge opened, but had no business to transact as below :-
Feb 28th 1814. Met in due form the Worshipfull James Donald in the Chair.
No Business done all parted in due Harmony.
However other nights were considerably busier, for example :-
June 18th 1814. Met in due form the Worshipful James Donald in the Chair
When Bro John Lunn was Raised to the degree of a Master
Mason and Br Edward Donald & Br Hugh Conway was
made pass Masters in the Chair and Initiated into the
Sublime degree of Royal arch Masons. No other Business
Done all parted in due Harmony.
I should of course remind you that Eden Lodge was only Warranted by The Grand Lodge of Ireland on the 1st September 1814. So Companions, how’s that for enthusiasm. But once the paperwork finally caught up the good Brethren of Eden continued to introduce and raise new Brethren.
Feb 19th 1827. Lodge met in Due form. The Worshipful Thomas Hogshead
In the Chair it being a Night of Emergency when Ephraim
McIntosh was raised to that Degree of Pass Master in the
Chair And was then raised to that Degree of Excellent &
Superexcellent And Passed the 1.2.3. vail of the Temple And
Was Arched and Knighted. No other Buisness Done. All
Parted in due Harmony.
Companions there are many similar references from the other surviving Minutes of this period which I shall include in the final printed version of this paper. However I would now like to draw your attention to another of the great treasures of Carrickfergus Masonry. Here I will be returning to that period in our History when Commadore Thurot led his small force into the mouth of Belfast Lough and captured the Town and Castle of Carrickfergus.
This single event was to have massive reverberations throughout the Island of Ireland, leading to the formation of the Volunteer Movement, which in turn can be credited with the awaking of political power for the masses throughout Ireland. So bearing all the foregoing in mind I would now like to spend a couple of moments on a very important Masonic document which originated in True Blue Lodge 253 Carrickfergus. ( Give out copies of the Carrick Certificate ).
Companions, you now have in your hands a copy of one of the most unusual documents in Irish Masonic history, which not only contains the various Masonic symbols of the day but also contains a mass of detail on the Volunteer Movement. The late Wor Bro John Robinson of Comber, writing in the 1926 Transactions of The Irish Lodge of Research had in his personal collection, an example of this certificate issued in the year 1785 to a Brother Philip Fletcher certifying that he had duly Passed the Chair, was Arched a Royal Arch Super Excellent Mason, and subsequently
dubb’d a Knight of the most Noble and Right Worshipful Order of Knight Templars. This certificate was signed by Wm Hay High Priest, Stephen Rice Capt. General, George Weir, James Williamson, Thomas Bryan Grand Masters, and James Dick Secretary.
This pattern of Certificate is quite unique, being in fact the direct successor to the old hand drawn and illuminated manuscript certificates of heretofore. The main design comprises a masonry Arch with keystone, supported by two Pillars denoting Strength ( S.W.) and Beauty ( J.W.) resting on a mosaic or tasselled Pavement, which is approached by a series of three Steps on which are resting the Lamb, The Christian Cross, The Square & Compasses, The Cockerel and The Serpent.
On the Pavement itself are a total of twelve Tapers placed around an Open Coffin containing the Scythe, Skull and Crossbones.
At the apex of the Arch, where one normally finds the Keystone, there is in this case an Hourglass emblematic of human life. The sand in the glass passes swiftly, though almost imperceptibly, away. So do the moments of our lives, till the wave of time is swallowed up by the billows of Eternity.
What are our ages but a few brief waves,
From the vast ocean of Eternity,
That break upon the shores of this our World,
And so ebb back into the immense profound.
Emblem of Life! Which, still as we survey,
Seems motionless, yet ever glides away.
Under the Arch is an unusual illustration of aspects of a review of Irish Volunteers from that 1780’s period when the Volunteer movement was at its peak. This specific design may even recall a local Review from around the district of Carrickfergus, where the Volunteer Movement was particularly strong. Here we have all the details of a Review taking place under the All- Seeing Eye of the Incomprehensible, Omnipotent God, whose Being extends through boundless space, and penetrates the very deepest recesses of our minds to see and know all our thoughts and actions to reward us all according to our merits.
On this Certificate we can see the Volunteers are formed up in ranks ready for review. Their Officers are shown to the front with the serried ranks of tents, in rows behind. Their banners are fluttering in the breeze and the whole is protected by the figure of a Tyler with his drawn sword. Also illustrated in this section of the Certificate is the Sun, Moon and Seven Stars further symbols of God’s power, goodness, omnipresence and eternity.
Now Companions, when we finally print this paper, I will include a more detailed summery and explanation of all the symbols illustrated here, but for today’s purposes, I shall only briefly refer to them. Adjacent to the Strength column is a Pedestal bearing the words "Virtue & Silence" on which is placed the figure of the Senior Warden holding a certificate. Beside this is a Five Pointed Star containing the letter "F" referring to the Five Points of Fellowship. Above is the Winged Pot of Incense, representative of a Pure Heart and another detailed sketch of the Dove returning to Noah’s Ark carrying a sprig of vegetation, with a Rainbow behind, all representative
of Safety and Our Trust in God.
Above is the Anchor, the symbol of a well-grounded Hope in Immortality and adjacent is the Seven Arched Bridge over the River Jordan, a symbol now better known to the Sir Knights of the Grand Council of Knight Masons of Ireland. Here at the top of the Certificate are two less well known emblems, one being the figures of Adam and Eve being confronted by the serpent coming out of the Tree of Knowledge with the Apple of Temptation, and the other showing a Taper on the Alter.
Adam, as we know signifies the Creation of Man and his first perception of Light whereas the Serpent, in this instance is viewed as the first Tempter, representative of the existence of a dark side. The Taper or Container of Incense is usually associated with the Pure Heart, from which prayers and aspirations arise as Incense, as an
acceptable sacrifice to the Deity.
On the other side of the Certificate, we once again start with the figure of the Master, complete with Square on a ribbon around his neck on a pedestal, bearing the legend"True Friendship" Also sitting on the pedestal is " The Forty Seventh Problem of Euclid ", on whose discovery Pythagoras was said to have exclaimed – "EUREKA" – ( Greek for – I Have Found It ). To we Masons this symbol is emblematic of the symmetry and beauty of Creation, and the unalterable laws of Divine wisdom and infinite power which governs every atom of the Universe. It should remind all Masons, that they ought to love and study the Arts and Sciences. Located beside this figure is a hand
holding a skirret.
Above can be seen the Beehive of Industry and above that again is a severed right hand, A Trowel, The Theological Ladder, The Seven Pointed Star and an Urn containing a Faithful Heart. This symbol was once described to me as" A Faithful Heart to fulfil your obligations is the safest repository in which you can lock up your secrets and exemplify your Honour and Fidelity"
Above, we have another very old Royal Arch symbol – the figure of Moses Kneeling in front of The Burning Bush. He has one slipper off and is in the process of removing the second. His Staff is at his feet and in the centre of the Burning Bush is the representation of J.H.V.A. Above this again, is a representation of the East Porch of the Temple and beside that another very old symbol of three Crowns grouped around a Mitre. This symbol comes from the time when the High Priest was the main Officer supported by the Three Grand Masters. Traditionally the High Priest’s Mitre, differed from the headwear of the other Priests only in the presence of a golden headband bearing the following phrase in Hebrew "Kadosh Yehovah" – Holiness to the Lord.
Next we have a tableau representing the Mason in his quarry cutting out Stone blocks for use in the Temple. He is surrounded by a group of Working Tools, such as the Open Compasses, the Twenty Four Inch Gauge, The Chisel and Common Gavel, the Mallet, Level and Plumbline. Beside these Figures is the monogram" I. G. E. " which Robinson suggests means "Irish Grand Encampment". This monogram has appeared in other Certificates, such as the manuscript Certificate issued by Lodge 465, Crew, near Moy in Co Tyrone on the 12th September 1800 ( Vide CC Transactions page 45 /
1926 ). However the"Irish Grand Encampment" remains very elusive, as been unable to find out any other details about it.
Finally Companions, you will all be relieved to see that only two sets of Symbols remain. The Group of Working Tools assembled over the Keystone comprising The Volume of the Sacred Law, 24" Gauge, Square, Plumbline and Open Compasses and the Ark of Alianco, better known to us all today as The Ark of the Covenant.
Companions, in some ways we have travelled far today, looking into that dim past where our Order began. We have heard about The French running riot through the streets of Carrickfergus and also learned a little about the hard work carried out by a few thoughtful and dedicated Brethren who laid such strong Foundations for the Masonic Order of today. We have also had the opportunity to look briefly at some of the symbolism used heretofore to convey Masonic meaning in a time when not everyone was as literate as today.
However as always the sands of time keep running and we will have to leave further consideration of the other Masonic treasures of Carrick until a future date. Such things as their printed version of a Royal Arch Chapter Certificate, the Ballycarry Royal Blue Lodge No 1014 jug, with the name W.M. Murray on the Front, their various Lodge-room Chairs, some finely carved with the Triple Tau, The All Seeing Eye etc, a veritable treasure chest.
It just remains for me to thank Ex Companions Jim Adamson, Jim Penny and other Carrick Companions for their help, assistance and encouragement in preparing this short paper, which only touches the surface of Masonic history in the town. And of course to thank you all in Chapter 222 for your warm and attentive reception of same.
Excellent Companion Robert Bashford, Editor & Archivist,
The Royal Arch Chapter of Research No. 222.