1860 – 1880
From then on, Belfast Freemasonry membership and attendance was considerably reduced that great difficulty was experienced in holding the meetings. The Lodge had to be temporarily close and on the 14th of November 1860, they tried reopening it but attendance was still unsatisfactory. The situation was really apparent during the St John’s Day on 27th December 1860 where only six brethren including one visitor attended the meeting and the dinner when usually it had seventy to eighty brethren assembled around the table.
On 12 June 1861, with only 8 members present in the meeting, a motion was moved to dissolve the Belfast Freemasonry Lodge but no conclusion was given until their next meeting in 17 August 1861 where there were only 5 brothers present. It was seconded in the meeting but the motion was never passed. The next meeting then occurred on the 27th December 1861 with 6 members present but not one brought the motion up and thus the Lodge carried on to this day.
The period between March 1860 and December 1864 was the hardest period for the Lodge as the maximum number of brethren in one meeting would range between 3 and 6 at a time. This made the functionality of the lodge to be almost redundant. By the end of December 1864, after the hard work of the 3 most loyal brethren at the time, Bros. Beath, Johnston and Longford who went through the great depression. They were rewarded with a great influx of member on transfer, affiliation and initiation. By 1866, Bro Longford who had held the secretary ship for an extended period of time was finally succeeded by Bro J.D Templeton.
In May 1870, the Lodge removed to the New Masonic Hall, Arthur Square, having arranged with the House Committee to take over its furniture and belongings where a relic should still be seen in the Arch-room in the shape of the S.W.’s chair that has a plate showing its ownership on it. Throughout the early 1870s, the Lodge continued working under “in peace, love and harmony” but with a meagre but loyal attendance.
Annual elections of officers came into force in the year 1875 where in the years before that, elections were done twice a year and it was apparent that it was impractical. Meeting nights was also changed almost every year on which Wednesday nights it should be held. It started on the second Wednesdays, in October 1864 it was altered to the fourth Wednesdays of the month and finally from June 1865 to this day, meetings were held on the first Wednesday nights of every month.
The last quarter of the century starting with 1875, with the advent of a number of enthusiastic musical brethren, the Belfast Freemasonry Lodge continued to advance in prosperity and popularity until 1880where it touched its highest level and is now maintained steadily up to the present time.
These musical brethren were the ones to introduce a musical ritual into the various degrees and ceremonies which enhanced their solemnity, impressiveness and attractiveness. Though the effectiveness in attracting more new brethren to the lodge was undeniable, the older members of the Craft in Belfast did not agree 100% with the new addition to the craft but for the good of the Lodge, improvements were necessary and thus it became a rule to have music to all the ceremonies. Lodge 51 was the first to implement the use of music in ceremonies but other Lodges in Belfast have also adopted the “Ode Card” which was then sanctioned and approved by the Grand Lodge of Ireland.