1748 – 1860
The existence and history of Lodge 51 Belfast Freemasonry can be dated from 1748 in the books of Grand Lodge. It was found that lodge no.51 at that time was not subsisting. Other than that, anything recorded before 1804 have been erased from the books of Belfast Freemasonry.
Attempts to revive the Warrant No. 51 were made around the 24th June 1806 and Officers were then installed on July 10th 1806. But in 1807, Lodge 51 together with lodge 8 and 878 was again erased from the Books of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
On 7 July 1808, according to the Minutes of Grand Lodge, a Memorial from Lodge 51 praying that the Revival of the Warrant should be recognised by this Grand Lodge as legal was read; and thus the revival was granted by the Grand Lodge. It was up and down for Lodge 51 at the time as it was not active.
By 1817, 24 June, Lodge 51 was reissued to brethren in Sligo in lieu of 355. For 3 years, 1829 – 1832, Lodge 51 did not meet, as stated in the minutes of 3rd December 1832; this was due to the disease that the town of Sligo has been afflicted. Members of the lodge could not meet even if they wanted to in fear of infection and there have been Brethren who fell victim to the Cholera Morbis that was widespread at the time.
The Lodge stayed in Sligo until the year 1846 where it got reissued and again reissued on the11th of September 1849 to Bro. James Coates, John Johnston and William Cooper to form the “Temple Lodge” and moved to Belfast becoming the tenants of Lodge 88 Belfast Freemasonry in 14 Castle Lane. This is the start of the friendly and brotherly terms of the brethren of 51 and 88.
They continued meeting in Belfast up to May 1852 where they moved to Castle Chambers. At that time there were no more than 10 brethren in the Lodge and all of them were well in their 50’s.
It is worthy to note that, on 9th August 1854, we have a minute to the following effect: – “Bro. Echlin, as J.W. appointed the I.G. It was customary to confer the first and second degrees on the same night. An ancient custom was that of conferring all degrees – Blue, Red and Black – under the Blue Warrant.
This, however, was done away with when the Order became more subject to discipline and the Grand Lodge superintendence were more strict. Masons exalted to the higher degrees under the old system are then not recognised except they have been readmitted in due form under the respective Warrants.
Then there was a time in Irish history that the country was in a state of agitation due to the action of political and secret organisations of the time. Thus an Act of Parliament was passed requiring the names and addresses of members of all friendly and secret societies that was available to be sworn to by affidavit and lodged with the Clerk of the Peace. The Masonic body was not exempted to this rule and was also acquired to submit their details to the Clerk of the Peace in March 1860. This was the start of the rough and depressing years for the Lodge and Belfast Freemasonry.