Ballybay Lodge No 192 meeting 15.05.12



Brethren, I was delighted to receive an invitation from Wor Bro Graham Steenson PM to attend the May meeting of Royal Blues Lodge No 192 Ballybay on the evening of Tuesday the 15th May 2012 at 7.30pm. It was my pleasure, on the night to address the Rt Wor Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Armagh, the Wor Master and Members of Royal Blues Lodge and their visiting Brethren, and present some notes  on the Origins, History and Development of Freemasonry in the Ballybay area of County Monaghan.

My aim tonight is to help you all to realise that the Freemasonry of today has a long and vibrant history in the district. It dates from its earliest recorded beginnings in the year 1764, and from that dim and distant period, Masonic Workings have a continuous record of consolidation and development right up to the present time. My story is in essence the story of Ballybay, as the Masonic Order has always been a part of the town’s development, not some separate entity apart from it.


We will learn a little of the origins of the town, the origins of the Masonic Order, the early days of Freemasonry in the North and then we will go on to consider the growth of Masonry in the town, its contribution to the development of the area and its eventual development into this landmark building in the centre of Main Street, in the town. So Brethren lets begin!

Early History of the Town.

We are meeting tonight in Ballybay, a very old settlement, which took its name from the Irish  Beal Atha Beithe. Some of you will be familiar with the English translation – Mouth of the Ford of the Birch. This ford has been of great advantage to the development of Ballybay as it provided a convenient crossing place on the Dromore River for visitors travelling between Carrickmacross and Monaghan.

Colla da Chrioch was the first King of Ulster after its conquest by The Three Collas in the 4th century. He was the founder of Orgiall. The Clan Colla ruled over that kingdom and were styled Kings of Orgiall, down to the twelfth century. Oriel territory takes in the modern counties of Monaghan, Armagh and part of Louth.

In the 1690s and early 1700s Presbyterians came to the Ballybay area of Co Monaghan in sizeable numbers. They began to worship together at Derryvalley, 2 km west of Ballybay. The first congregation was known by the parish name of Tullycorbet. About 1698 the first minister, Humphrey Thomson was ordained and ministered until his death in 1744. His successor died after 3 years and no minister was found for a further 3 years. At that time the Secession movement had spread from Scotland to Ireland and Seceder evangelists were active in Monaghan, especially one called Thomas Clark. The Seceders had broken away from the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland.

It was also a time when the official Irish Presbyterian Church, the Synod of Ulster, was slow to establish new congregations, partly due to lack of a sense of mission and partly because the government grant given to supplement the meagre salary of ministers would be reduced for each minister the more of them there were, with only a fixed total sum to be shared.

By the late 1740s more congregations were needed and people were unhappy about the situation. The ministry of Scottish Seceders was welcomed with interest and enthusiasm, and a congregation was formed which later became Cahans. It was the first Seceder congregation in Co Monaghan. A small church was built. In 1751 Thomas Clark was ordained in a field thereafter known by the name of its owner, William McKinley of Caddagh.

Clark was a striking figure who ministered at Cahans and to another part of his congregation at Monaghan for 13 years, very effectively at first, although later he felt his ministry became less and less influential in the lives of his people. He was tireless on horseback visiting and ministering, preaching and teaching and establishing new congregations at Newbliss, Castleblayney and elsewhere. Determined opposition meant that he spent a term in Monaghan jail where he was allowed to minister to those who came to him.

He married a member of the congregation, Elizabeth Nesbitt and they had several children. Within 6 months in 1762 Thomas Clark lost his wife and a son. They are buried at Cahans. Less than 2 years later, after much heart-searching, planning and probably heart-break, Thomas Clark and 300 people, most of them members of his congregation, set out for Narrow Water, outside Newry, boarded a ship and sailed to New York where they all landed safely to begin a new life as pioneer settlers. This became known as 'the Cahans exodus', one of the great adventures of faith which deserves to be better known. That Brethren is a little potted history of Ballybay and district.

Another newcomer to the district in the eighteenth century was Hugh Jackson, who was attracted to this area due to its suitability for the production of flax and linen. The current layout of the town with a town square and streets radiating out ( in typical Plantation style ) has been credited to Jackson, along with the building of a new Market House, as well as many fine houses and Stores. He would build some fourteen linen mills in the immediate surrounds of the town, and by 1800, the development of the Main Street was nearly complete.

The Early Days of Irish Freemasonry.

The earliest surviving texts that talk specifically of Freemasonry are the Regius Poem and the Cooke Manuscript, dating from the year of 1390 and 1425 respectively. These are the earliest of that group of Masonic texts known to us today as The Old Charges.


Our earliest Irish Masonic artefact is the Baal’s Bridge Square, which was recovered in the year 1830 under the eastern foundation of the northern land pier on the King’s Island or English Town side of the Baal’s Bridge, which spanned the River Shannon at Limerick. This old brass square bears the date 1507 and has the following curious legend engraved thereon “ I will Striue to Liue with love and care * upon the level by the square”. This ancient artefact was presented to the Brethren of Triune Lodge No 333, Limerick, who have carefully preserved and kept it right up to the present time.


There are other tantalising references in the Seventeenth Century such as The Trinity College Tripos, which is a form of rhyming doggerel verse. In one such surviving example from the 1680’s there are references to being Freemasonised the new way, which by inference suggests there must have been an old way. More physical proofs come from our churches where we can see the memorial slabs to such eminent masons as Thomas Paps Freemason, who began work on the spire of St Nicholas’s Parish Church, Carrickfergus in 1614 and William Stennor, the Stonemason of Bangor Abbey who died in 1624.

 A similar slab bearing the square & compasses emblems can be found outside Antrim in the old burying ground attached to Shanes Castle, on the slab erected in 1684 to the memory of John Frew. In this case, as far as we know John Frew was not a working stonemason. We now start to find mention of private Lodges such as that held in Doneraile Court, Co Cork when the Lady Elizabeth Aldworth was made a Freemason in consequence of accidentally seeing part of the ceremonies in her fathers Lodge. Lady Elizabeth went on to become an active Mason and great benefactress to the Masonic Order, who on her death erected a brass plaque in her memory on the floor, near the pulpit in St Finbar’s cathedral in the city of Cork.

Now we are into the first half of the Eighteenth Century when we find our first records on the existence of The Grand Lodge of Ireland. Our first written record dates from St John’s Day, the 24th June 1725 when the Rt Hon The Earl of Ross was elected Grand Master for the succeeding year. Clearly Brethren this must have been a spectacular occasion with a parade of 100 Gentlemen all progressing across the Essex Bridge in Dublin in hackney coaches in escort to The Grand Master, who was conveyed in a fine chariot to his Installation at The King’s Inns on the Strand.

As the evening is wearing on I will now jump one hundred years to 1834 and the formation of the first Provincial Grand Lodge in Ireland which was based in the north of Antrim , in the area of Cary & Dunluce. Slowly the system of Provincial Grand Lodges evolved with the formation of the Provinces of Antrim Down, Armagh etc in the year 1868, within the boundaries that we know today.

Freemasonry in Ballybay and District.

On the 5th July 1764, The Grand Lodge of Ireland issued Warrant No 419 to Bros James Eakins, Thomas Boyd and John Potts to hold a Lodge in the town of Ballybay. James Eakins was the first Master and in the next 35 years, some one hundred and twenty five Brethren were registered in Grand Lodge records as Members of the Lodge. These were exciting years for Freemasonry, with the birth of the Volunteer movement and the struggle for equality for all, under the throne of the Hanovarians. However, the role played in Ballybay by the local Brethren remains unproven, as no relevant documentary evidence appears to survive. A second Warrant No 693 was issued by Grand Lodge on the 4th June 1789 to Bros Thomas Crawford, James Hamilton and Jacob Breaky, to hold another Lodge in Ballybay. This particular Lodge was not quite as popular as 419 and only recorded some 19 Brethren in the next 25 years.

You may be interested to learn that Lodge 419 worked quite a range of degrees under its blue or craft Warrant. In the manuscript records collected and preserved by the late Bro Francis Crossle, we find facsimile copies of a Craft Demit issued to Brother Joseph Brady of 419, Ballybay in 1797, a Royal Arch demit to Comp Joseph Brady of 419 Ballybay also dated 1797 and a Knight Templar demit to Bro Joseph Brady dated 1797. 

Clearly there was something present in the Freemasonry of that time that appealed across both class and creed. We need to consider the social situation in the 18th century, when society was highly stratified. The Masonic Order was the only organisation at that time which made no distinctions in either class or creed and gave all its members the opportunity to be treated equally with each other. Ulster at the time was a highly religious society and the celebration of the two St John’s Days went down well with all the various religious traditions.

In those far off days Brethren, the two St John’s Days were very special days for all Freemasons. Master’s were appointed usually to rule for the six months between each St John’s Day, The Brethren met early in the morning, settled their accounts, Installed their new Master and Officers and then marched off en-masse to the local assembly point, where the Lodges formed up in accordance with their Order of precedence ( highest numbers first ) with the host Lodge bringing up the rear. Brethren were smartly presented in their aprons and personal jewels, probably in silver or incised silver plate.

They were formed up two by two behind their Lodge Ensign and some times had a considerable walk to attend Divine Service, before walking home again. Once back in their Lodge-room they could then relax and enjoy their Installation Supper. Here in Ballybay, we still have preserved the old wooden batons carried by Senior and Junior Warden as symbols of their office. Whilst on Church Parade. However, it is a matter of speculation that the Lodge may also have had their own drum, Flag, Master’s Cloak, Tricorn Masters Hat etc.                                                   

Few Brethren of today really understand just how popular Masonry was in those distant times some two hundred years ago. The world was a very different place and the Masonic Lodge was one of the few places where all barriers of class and creed were set aside. Many exciting world events were taking place such as The American Revolution where the descendants of  emigrant Ulster Presbyterian families finally won their Freedom from the British Empire. In France the Old Order was about to be destroyed forever with the French Revolution and our coasts were being harried by French and American privateers. Men ( and indeed Masons ) such as Commander Francois Thruot, who captured Carrickfergus Castle in the 1760’s and Captain John Paul Jones, the famous American Privateer who sailed up Belfast Lough to Whitehouse and shelled the old Fort. 

We do know that the Rev John Rogers was active in the Volunteer Movement along with many of his congregation. He attended the 1782 Volunteer Convention in Dungannon.

These were times of great unrest and sadly some Masons and their Lodges became involved. These were the dark days of The United Irishmen when, for example,  Lisburn man Henry Munro was appointed Commander in Chief of the rebel army in Down just before the Battle of Ballinahinch. For a non military man he fought well, but ultimately failed due to a lack of ruthlessness. He was eventually captured, taken back to Lisburn and after a summary trial was executed. Many other Brethren, throughout the island of Ireland were imprisoned, deported or emigrated to places like Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand, where they were to play an important part in the development of these regions. Here again, our Brethren in Ballybay appear to have kept their heads down, and to have escaped the worst excesses of this dark period in our history.

For those that had remained uninvolved, life would slowly resume. In terms of Freemasonry both local Lodges, survived the 1798 Rebellion and continued into the new dispensation – The Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. By now the Linen trade was well established in Ballybay and district, and brought a measure of prosperity to some in the community.

Now to digress just for a moment, I would like to put a few bones on the Seton affair  and have a quick look at its impact on Ballybay  At the start of the Nineteenth Century, Alexander Seton, Barrister at Law was appointed to the position of Assistant Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Ireland. Sadly he was in many ways an unfortunate choice, and as a result of his wrongdoings Grand Lodge were forced to bring in an Assistant Grand Treasurer to sort out the resultant irregularities.

Seton was however a fighter, and took the opportunity to stir up unrest when the Grand Lodge of Ireland tried to introduce new Grand bodies to regulate the Royal Arch Chapter and the High Knight Templar degrees. Seton’s many activities eventually led to the formation of a rival Grand Lodge, known as The Grand East, which was based in Dungannon, Co Tyrone and took most of its support from the Province of Ulster. Rt Wor Bro Cmdr Keith Cochrane has researched a major Masonic history of this period, which is available from Grand Lodge office for anyone interested, in a more detailed analysis his work.

It was around the year 1809 that the Brethren of Ballybay acquired a copy of the newly published  Ahiman Rezon Laws and Constitutions of The Grand Lodge of Ireland printed by William Downes at The Quays Dublin.

The Lodges in Ballybay, like the majority of adjacent Lodges joined the Grand East for a short time. We find records of payments to Grand East in the period 1806-1809, but thereafter loyalty was returned to The Grand Lodge of Ireland. The entire revolt petered out late in 1810, and thereafter the lawyers took over including Wor Bro Daniel O’Connell, who was the leading silk for Grand Lodge.

On the 9th September 1822 Grand Lodge granted Warrant No 192 to the Brethren of Ballybay in lieu of Warrant  No 693, which was returned to Grand Lodge and destroyed. This is a good local example of a practice used by Grand Lodge in the first half of the nineteenth century to sell vacant Warrants and use the money from these sales to support the nascent Masonic Girls School in Dublin. Brethren in the local Lodges were keen to acquire these new Warrants, as they allowed Lodges to improve their position in the church parade when they acquired a higher Lodge number. The officers named on the new Warrant were William Cunningham, Master; John Jackson, Senior Warden; John M. Scott, Junior Warden …”

 A useful list of  degrees then being worked in the new Lodge No 192 are found in their earliest Minute book. These include the following Degrees:-

Excellent and Super-Excellent and Holy Royal Arch.

Knight Templars.

Mediterranean Pass and Knights of Malta.

Ark Mariner and Link of the Wilderness.

Knights of the Red Cross of Rome.

Knights of St, John.

The Holy Priestly Order.

In the 1840’s the Catholic Church under Archbishop Troy in Dublin finally began to enforce its Papal Bulls leading to the loss of many loyal Brethren including no less than the famous Daniel O’Connell himself, Past Master of Lodge 189 Dublin, Founder Master of Lodge 886 Tralee, the lead barrister who acted for the Grand Lodge of Ireland in the Seton affaire. It may surprise some to learn that O’Connell was an enthusiastic Mason, a noted Ritualist and Degree Giver, who eloquently described the Craft

 “ The basis of which is Philanthropy unconfined by Sect, Nation, Colour or Religion”.  I’m proud to restate this quotation today, as we still, as an order lay claim to this definition right up to the present time.


Tonight Brethren, we have covered a lot of ground very quickly, and I can only hope that this brief presentation will give you all a taste of the long and proud history of Freemasonry in this area. We have heard how the district of Ballybay came to be settled in the early sixteen hundreds, How the town played an important part in the development of the Presbyterian Church. We have learned that Freemasonry first arrived in area in 1764, some 248 years ago, and our presence continues to reflect the social and economic conditions of the area, right up to the present time.

We have now reached another crossroads in our development, and it is the wish of our Most Wor Grand Master that we continue to be an inclusive and welcoming organisation to all. This will not be an easy process as there are many closed minds against us. However, we are all being encouraged to take a pride in our membership, let our friends and family know that we are Freemasons and show others that we enjoy the social aspects of our Order. And not that you all need reminding, but always remember that we are a part of Society, and not apart from Society. Brethren, I thank you all for this opportunity to address you here tonight, and for the manner in which you have received these brief remarks.


Robert Bashford.

May 2012

See GALLERY for all photos