The Masonic Lodge continued sitting in 14, Castle Lane until May, 1852, when application was made for accommodation in the Masonic Hall, Donegall Place Buildings ; but this not being available, rooms were secured in Castle Chambers, from a Mr. Gordon, at a yearly rent of £25, and the tenancy entered upon in June of the same year. Some idea of the prosperity of the Masonic Masonic Lodge at this time, may be gathered from the fact, that at this meeting the Treasurer submitted his statement of accounts, from which it appeared that there was a balance to the credit of the Masonic Lodge of £55. 15s. 3d. The average attendance, however, all through the ’50’s, was not more than 10 members. Lodges 58 (now defunct), 88, 97, 106, 111, and 272 also occupied these rooms afterwards, as tenants of 51.
The election of officers took place twice a year ; but we frequently find the same officers re-elected for another term. Half-yearly elections were continued until the year 1875, when the present arrangements for annual elections came into force.
It is worthy of note that, on 9th August, 1854, we have a minute to the following effect:-
“Bro. Echlin, as J.W., appointed Bro. Beath I.G. for the ensuing six months.”
From which it seems that at this time, the J.W. appointed the I.G. It was customary to confer the first and second degrees upon 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 Masonic Lodge superintendence more strict. Masons exalted to the higher degrees under the old system are not now recognised, except they have been readmitted, in due form, under the respective Warrants.
On 27th December, 1853, an unusual honour seems to have been paid the Masonic Lodge, as I find “that the three principal officers elect, on the invitation of the R.W. the P.G. Master, repaired to the P.G. Lodge-room, when Bro. Lipsey was duly installed W.M. of this Masonic Lodge.”
The regular night of meeting was, at this time, the second Wednesday, and was altered, in October, 1864, to the fourth Wednesday; again, in June, 1865, it was changed to the first Wednesday, which has been the regular night of meeting ever since.
The Masonic Lodge continued working in Castle Chambers until May, i860, when it was removed to “The Masonic Hall,” Donegall Place Buildings, situated at the rear of the promises at present occupied by Messrs. Anderson & M’Auley.
In consequence of the action of those political and secret organisation’s which have kept Ireland more or less in a state of agitation during the greater part of this century, an Act of Parliament was passed requiring the names and addresses of the members of all friendly and secret societies, whatever their nature might be, to be sworn to by affidavit, and lodged with the Clerk of the Peace. The Masonic body was not exempt from the action of this law; and so we find, in March, 1860, in names were duly sworn to, as follows:-
John Johnston, William Dale, James Lipsey, D. M’Cullough, Francis C. Haddock, Peter Echlin, R.M. Beath, Jonathan Cordukes, Thomas Cunningham, Henry Black, J.W. Carroll, Chas. Longford, James Rutherford, Wm. Wilson, S. M’Lorn, Isaac Gordon, Jas. M’Neilly, Jas. Maclurcan, W.K. Vail.
It will thus be seen that the membership had become considerably reduced, and the average attendance was so meagre that great difficulty was experienced in holding the meetings.
The following minutes show the depressed condition of affairs:-
“Regular meeting of Temple Masonic Lodge, No. 51, at the Lodge-rooms, Donegall Place Buildings, Wednesday, October 10th, 1860.
Bro. M’Lorn, W.M.
Bro. M’Neilly, S.W.
Bro. J. Johnston, J.W.
Bro. Maclurcan, S.D.
Bro. Gordon, J.D.
Bro. Beath, I.G.
In consequence of so few members being present, no business was brought before the meeting, and the Masonic Lodge closed until the 14th November.
Samuel M’Lorn, W.M.”
The minutes of December 27th, 1860, are as follows:-
Bros. M’Lorn, W.M.; Lipsey, S.W.; Longford, J.W.; Thompson (visitor), S.D.; Rutherford, J.D.; Beath, I.G.
The Masonic Lodge having been opened, it was proposed and passed, that the caretaker be presented with a Xmas-box. No other business of importance being before the meeting, the Masonic Lodge was closed.
The brethren afterwards met and dined together in their lodge-rooms, and the evening was spent in harmony.
Samuel M’Lorn, W.M.”
This St. John’s Day dinner shows a remarkable contrast to the Installation dinners of recent years, when 70 to 80 brethren usually assemble round our board.
A few faithful and enthusiastic brethren, however, met regularly in order to keep the Warrant; but, under such depressing circumstances, even the most energetic are apt to lose heart, and so, on June 12th, 1861, at the regular meeting, 8 members being present, we find it recorded – “That the propriety of continuing or dissolving the Masonic Lodge was discussed by the brethren, but without coming to any definite conclusion.”
The following notice of motion was, however, given by Bro. Beath:- “That, on our next night of meeting, he would move that the Masonic Lodge be dissolved, and a committee appointed to wind up the affairs.”
The “next meeting” did not take place till August 17th, 1861, only 5 being present, when it was proposed by Bro. Beath, and seconded by Bro. Longford – “That the Masonic Lodge affairs be wound up by sale of effects and paying all liabilities.
Bros. Beath, Gordon, and Haddock were appointed a committee to carry out the arrangements.”
After this, no meeting seems to have been held till December 27th, 1861, 6 members being present, when the business proceeded, apparently without any reference being made to the foregoing resolution. Bro. Haddock was installed W.M.; Bro. Gordon, S.W.; Bro. Beath, J.W.; Bro. Longford, Secretary; and Bro. M’Lorn, I.G.; and the Masonic Lodge closed till February 12th, 1862.
At this meeting 5 members of 51 and 2 visiting brethren were present, but still no signs of dissolution appear; on the contrary, things seem to be mending and in a better state, for we find that an annual vote of £3 was passed to the Belfast Masonic Charity Fund, and Bro. Longford appointed representative thereto. This was the year in which this fund was started. Accounts amounting to £5 2s. 8d. were passed for payment, and the Masonic Lodge closed till second Wednesday in March.
On March 12th only 3 brethren of 51 and 2 Visiting brethren were present, when Bros. Longford and Gordon were appointed to make an affidavit before a magistrate as to the registry of members of the Masonic Lodge. This is the last entry I find referring to this formality, as the action of this law ceased to operate against Freemasons about this time.
No meeting was held in April; but on May 14th only 5 members and 2 visitors were present and another interval occurs till September 10th, when accounts amounting to £3 5s. 0d. were passed for payment.
The next meeting was held on December 10th, when only 3 members turned up – Bros. Beath, Johnston, and Longford – and the following truly Masonic resolution was passed:- “That Bro. Johnston be again made a member of the Masonic Lodge, and that the past be forgotten.”
On January 14th, 1863, “Bro. Johnston was elected W.M. for the ensuing term, thus showing that the resolution referred to above had been carried out in spirit and in truth. At this meeting the same 3 brethren were the sole representatives of Masonry, and, by resolution, the rent of Masonic Lodge 111 was reduced to £5 per annum.
The next meeting, held on March 11th,1863, was a remarkable one, the same 3 faithful brethren being present, in addition to 4 members from 111. It was proposed by Bro. Beath, and seconded by Bro. Longford -“That the members of 111, collectively, become members of 51, they transferring all their property to our chest, but not to be liable for our debts the transfer fees to come out of general funds. Passed unanimously.”
At the May meeting, the proposed brethren were formally and separately balloted for, and all admitted except one; Bros. Johnston and Longford being the only members of 51 present. It does not appear, however, that the coalition was so complete as is suggested by the above resolution. Masonic Lodge 111 did not wind up its affairs, but manifestly continued working under its own Warrant, and with considerable success, as is testified by the present position of this highly respected and well worked Masonic Lodge.
Minute of 27th December, 1864:-
“Passed – That Bro. Lyons be not charged fees whilst living beyond his cable tow.” This is a practice that has not been perpetuated, as members are now expected to accept with membership all the responsibilities attached to it, no matter where they may be resident.
At this time a wave of prosperity set in, and the efforts of the brethren, who had been working the Masonic Lodge through a period of great depression, were rewarded by a large influx of members, on transfer, affiliation, and initiation, which placed it upon a most successful footing, and the attendance at the monthly meetings became correspondingly large.
The secretaryship had been held by Bro. Longford through a lengthened period, and it was no doubt a great satisfaction to him to see the prosperity which had ensued. On resigning his office, a hearty vote of thanks was accorded to him for his services, in which the present brethren will join, knowing how much they owe to his faithful attention at a time when it was so much needed. He was succeeded by Bro. J.D. Templeton in 1866.
On March 7th, 1866, a balance of £59 2s. 0d. was declared in favour of the Masonic Lodge, which speaks for itself. Indeed, it is remarkable that at no time was there a deficiency of funds, even when the paucity of members might have suggested it.
On 6th January, 1869, in the last minute recorded in the old book, I find that accounts amounting to £55 18s. 1 1½d. were passed : enough, surely, for one night.
In May, 1870, the Masonic Lodge removed to the New Masonic Hall, Arthur Square, having arranged with the House Committee to take over its furniture and belongings: a relic of which may still be seen in the Arch-room, in the shape of the S.W.’s chair, which bears a plate showing the previous ownership. It does not, however, appear that the change of address contributed to the continued success of the Masonic Lodge for a manifest falling off took place, both in attendance and in the number of admissions, which fell much below the previous year. However, I find that a small number of faithful brethren, worthy successors of that trusty few who piloted the old craft successfully through the shallow waters of the early ‘6o’s,’ stuck closely by the old number, and worked it once more over a critical period: amongst whom honourable mention may be made of Bros. S. Abernethy, R. Corry, and J.D. Templeton, to whom much credit is due for their assiduous labours.
Bro. Samuel Abernethy’s unwearied and lengthened services were formally recognised on March 15th, 1876, when he was made the recipient of a P.M.’s jewel; and again, in January, 1888 (on his retirement from the Masonic Lodge, in consequence of failing health), he was presented with a handsomely illuminated address album, and was made an honorary member. His interest in the Craft has never relaxed, and the affairs of 51 in particular never fail to rouse his interest and enthusiasm. The brethren cherish lively recollections of his genial and animated presence, as well as of the earnest and impressive manner with which he always conferred the degrees, and his welfare and happiness are subjects of the warmest interest to all who have the pleasure of knowing him.
The Masonic Lodge continued working, “in peace, love, and harmony,” through the early ’70’s, with but a meagre average attendance. In 1875, however, with the advent of a number of enthusiastic musical brethren, success again ensued, and the Masonic Lodge continued to advance in prosperity and popularity until 1880, when it touched its highest level, which position it has steadily maintained up till the present time.
It was the writer’s privilege to introduce a musical ritual into the various degrees and ceremonies, which tended to greatly enhance their solemnity and impressiveness, as well as making them more attractive. This innovation was viewed with no favourable eye by the older members of the Craft in Belfast, who were so jealous of the old landmarks, that anything in the shape of a novelty at once excited their opposition. The music was, however, such a palpable improvement, and commended itself so much to the best judgement of the brethren generally, that soon the murmurings ceased, and it became the established rule to have music to all the ceremonies. It is gratifying to think that 51 is not now the only Masonic Lodge which indulges in this practice many Lodges in Belfast having adopted the “Ode Card,” which has received the sanction and approval of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland.
The fame of the musical powers of 51 having become known, the committees of the local Charities resolved to utilise them in the cause of the widow and orphan, and accordingly invited the Masonic Lodge to give a concert in aid of the Masonic Charities of Belfast – an invitation which was at once accepted, and heartily entered into. The concert was given in the Victoria Hall, on February 15th, 1878, and proved a great success, a handsome sum being realised after paying expenses, which was equally divided between the Charities; and in recognition of this effort, Bro. Saml. Abernethy, as a P.M. of 51, was made a life member of both committees.
The programme was sustained (with one exception) entirely by the members of 51 and their lady friends, and is of historical interest, as being the inauguration of that series of concerts which led up to, and are now merged into, those annual meetings, so well known and so highly appreciated, and which have tended to bring these Charities into that popular favour which they now enjoy.
As Masonic Lodge 51 was the originator of the series, it seems a fitting coincidence that no performance has since been given without at least one representative of that Masonic Lodge contributing to it, and it has been the pleasure and privilege of the writer to conduct, not only this inaugural concert, hut many others of the series. It may be interesting to have the programme of this performance recorded in this place, and it is here appended:-
There follows a copy of the programme
The large influx of well-known amateurs, who threw themselves heartily into the business of Masonry, and by the exercise of their talents made the ceremonies impressive, and the pleasures of the refreshment board attractive, won for the Masonic Lodge the sobriquet of the “Musical Lodge,” and what with solos, both instrumental and vocal, – part songs, duet’s, and trios, the first Wednesday in the month was always looked forward to with pleasurable anticipation. All things are, however, subject to change, and our Masonic Lodge is no exception. Some of the brethren referred to have left the city, some have “crossed the bar,” and other circumstances have contributed to reduce their numbers but although we cannot boast of so many musicians as formerly, I trust it will be long ere Icabod will be pronounced, or that our good old Mother loses her reputation for either music, mirth, or hospitality.
It may seem invidious to mention any names in this connection, but I cannot refrain from giving honourable mention to Bros. J. M’Wade, H. Campbell, David Brittain, W.E. Bullick, A. Anderson, Hiram Galloway, John Dickson, Kenneth Stewart, Nevin H. Foster, A.P. Dalzell, A. Cotter, and W.J. Devers, who have, one and all, contributed materially to the success of the Lodge music.
When the “Hall Purchase Scheme” was proceeding, 51 was not lukewarm in its support, the sum of £109 being subscribed. In connection with this matter, Bro. Alex. Anderson P.M. 51, P.P.J.G.W. deserves more than passing mention, having given much of his time (in conjunction with Bro. Thos. Nesbitt, D.P.G.S.) in ventilating the scheme amongst the lodges sitting in the Hall, and it is gratifying to know that if is now placed upon so safe a footing, and that the building soon will belong absolutely to the Masonic body, clear of debt, as a central meeting place, with a settled income, which will be available for Masonic charitable purposes; all who have helped to this desirable end have reason to congratulate themselves upon the result, and to no one is the credit due more than to Bro. Thos. Nesbitt, whose indefatigable efforts are worthy of the heartiest commendation.
The Hall was originally subscribed for in £1 shares by the Masons of the district, and cost some £12,000. It was erected from plans designed by our late lamented Pro. G. Master, Sir Charles Lanyon. The foundation-stone was laid on 24th June, 1868, with full Masonic ritual, the procession being large and imposing, notwithstanding the unfavourable weather. In the evening there was a banquet, which was largely attended, and the proceedings passed off with great enthusiasm.
The result, however, was a financial failure, and the property in a few years passed out of the possession of the fraternity into the hands of a Building Society, which held a mortgage upon it; but the building has now been acquired on such terms as will effectually secure it to the Craft for all time to come. Trustees have been appointed in the persons of Bros. Wm. Joseph Stokes, P.P.J.G.W., P.M. 88; Wm. John Williamson, P.M 103; and Thos. Nesbitt, D.P.G.S., P.M, 97.
The Trust Deed has been carefully drawn up to the satisfaction of all concerned, signed by the trustees and committee representing the lodges, and by Bro. A. Thompson, P.J.G.W., P.M. 51, as chairman of the final meeting summoned for the purpose. He i6 worthy of special mention, as a prominent member of 51 who assisted in bringing to a definite conclusion this important arrangement, whereby the Hall has been acquired for a net sum of £3,500.
We frequently hear it remarked by those who have no knowledge of Masonry that she exists solely for the purpose of cultivating the social pleasures but this is a great mistake. Masonry has higher and loftier aims than the mere pleasures of the table; and if I were asked to name some of them, I would point to those noble schools in Dublin, where 130 orphan girls and boys, children of deceased Irish Masons, are educated and trained in such a way as to fit them for entering upon the struggle of life, with advantages and prospects of success which they could not otherwise have possibly had.
I would point to the local Belfast Charities, which annually spend about £1,000 in relieving the wants and distresses of the widow and orphan, as well as of destitute brethren, who, perhaps, through no fault of their own, have become reduced to indigence and want. Should such an one be found sick and needy, he is carefully nursed and tended ; and in case of his death, Bumbledom is not allowed to
“Rattle his bones over the stones,
“lie’s only a pauper whom nobody owns”;
for there is a plot of ground in the Borough Cemetery consecrated to Masonry, in which he will be reverently interred.
I would remind them of the fact that over £100,000 are annually subscribed by Freemasons of the United Kingdom towards masonic charitable purposes, and ask, “Do these facts not speak for themselves ? Are such results fit subjects for scoff and ridicule, and unworthy of consideration ?” – Surely no one would reply in the affirmative.
The social aspect is, no doubt, an important part of the general constitution. Friendships are made and cemented at the social board, which otherwise might be difficult of attainment; but sociality, as a part of Masonry, is only of secondary consideration, and merely an adjunct to the greater principles of universal Morality, Benevolence, and Charity.
Men may have the desire for ameliorating the lot of those less fortunately circumstances than themselves, but, individually, may not find favourable opportunities: Masonry, however, supplies these, and gives ample scope for the exercise of those kindlier feelings of sympathy and brotherly love which are at once the pride and boast of the Craft.
The record of our Masonic Lodge in this matter, although the sum total may not be so very great, still, considering the class from which our members are drawn, is not to be despised as unworthy of being recorded in this place.
Towards the various Masonic charities we have contributed, to the end of 1892
The Belfast Widows’ Fund £154. 13s. 0d.
The Belfast Charity Fund .. 90. 10s. 6d.
In the Masonic Orphanage for Girls, Dublin, the following endowments have been made:-
W. M. £10. 0s. 0d
S. W. £10. 0s. 0d
J.W. £10. 0s. 0d
Bro. W. T. Braithwaite, P.M. £10. 0s. 0d
The bazaar which was so successfully carried out in Belfast in 1883, for the benefit of the local Charities, was heartily supported by this Masonic Lodge, and a total sum of £200 was placed to its credit in that undertaking.
In the general management of the Masonic Lodge, “The Board of General Purposes” performs a useful and important work. It consists of all the P.M.’s, the W.M. and Wardens for the time being; its duties are to assist the W.M. in the management of the Masonic Lodge, to consult and discuss all matters in which the general welfare is concerned, such as the admission of candidates, elections, &,c., &c., so as to be able, after due deliberation, to advise and regulate all business that may be brought before the Masonic Lodge with premeditation, and not in a haphazard manner.
The influence and action of this committee has hitherto been attended with the happiest results, its establishment having led to an harmonious union between the members of the Masonic Lodge generally, and the P.M.’s in particular, and to the prevention of any friction, which sometimes is the cause of unpleasantness. It has also been the means of preserving the active interest of the older members, and keeping them together in a way that otherwise might have been difficult, the result being a sympathetic, friendly, and harmonious working together for the best interests of the Masonic Lodge, which is now in a flourishing condition, both numerically, financially, and in point of attendance: a condition which, it is to be hoped, may long continue, so that it may be enabled to maintain the noblest traditions of the Craft, which are worthy of the heartiest support of every brother.
In the latter end of 1877 the following important resolution was issued by The Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland to all lodges under its jurisdiction, and ordered to be recorded on the minutes: –
“Whereas, the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland has received official notification that the Grand Orient of France has altered the first article of its constitution from its previous form, and omitted therefrom, as one of its fundamental principles, a belief in the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland hereby resolves That the Grand Orient of France having, by such alteration, rendered admissible, as members of lodges within its jurisdiction, individuals who do not believe in the existence of a Personal Deity, has thereby caused a breach in the foundation of Ancient Masonry, and acted in violation of the first great principle of the Order, and, therefore, the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland declares that it cannot continue to recognise the Grand Orient of France as a Masonic body, and directs all lodges working under the Irish constitution to decline receiving, as Masons, any person hailing from the Grand Orient of France, or front any subordinate Masonic Lodge under its jurisdiction.”
This resolution received the fullest acceptance from all Masons outside the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient of France.
There follows a copy, and translation of the Constitution of the Masonic Order of France
The principles of Masonry are so broad and wide in their application, that both Jew and Gentile, Christian and Mohammed, can meet upon a common platform, and greet each other as brothers ; but whilst she favours no particular form of religion, and recognises no Church, she demands, as a fundamental principle, a belief in a Supreme Being and the Immortality of the Soul. It is only against the Atheist that her portals are closed ; and so long as this principle is maintained, together with the twin attributes, Benevolence and Charity, she may be considered to be established upon a foundation at once strong, safe, and secure; but should the time ever come when these fundamental principles should be allowed to lapse, when they should cease to be chief corner stones in the foundation, from that day the superstructure may be expected to crumble into ruins.
In the history of human institutions, Freemasonry has a unique record. No other can boast of such antiquity, or of having so successfully withstood the shocks of time, and the attacks of enemies both from within and without. Successive occupants of the Papal throne and their agents have hurled the thunderbolts of Rome against her, have issued bulls and excommunications, times without number, and used every means in their power to stamp the Order out of existence, but all in vain. Freemasonry stands immovable and impregnable in her inherent strength; and notwithstanding persecution, envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitable ness, she is numerically stronger, and socially more powerful, to-day than ever she has been before. Kings, princes, and potentates do not hesitate to patronise the Order and join in its assemblies, and “have not thought it beneath them to exchange the sceptre for the trowel.” The principles upon which she is founded are unassailable in their integrity; the principles of brotherly love and charity are so broad and universal, that Freemasons only smile in derision at the fulminations of Rome, well knowing that the evils attributed to them are non-existent.
The Order is non-political and non-sectarian, and based upon the truths of a morality that finds acceptance with every creed, and, in the observance of which, men are drawn to each other in a union of sympathy, which is calculated to make them better men and better citizens, better fitted to live their shortened lives in this world, and better prepared to enter upon the life of immortality in the world that is to come.
It should be the earnest endeavour of every Mason to soften and subdue those selfish passions with which all are more or less imbued, and to foster and encourage those kindlier feelings of peace and go6d-will to men, which should be the key-stone to every Mason’s heart. The great and immutable truths of cripture furnish moral lessons and precepts which are incontrovertible, and form a common basis upon which all men can agree; and so long as Freemasonry holds steadfastly by these truths, she can and will defy all the powers that man can bring to bear against her.
Compiled by Bro. Samuel Leighton 1893.