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Prince Masons of Ireland

Brother Gerald Fitzgibbon, President of the Grand Chapter of Prince Masons of Ireland and Sovereign Grand Commander of the Thirty-third Degree, presided at the Triennial Convocation of the Grand Chapter of the Prince Masons of Ireland held on May 19, 1909. Brother Fitzgibbon submitted at that time some historical notes regarding the several developments of the organization over which he presided.

He pointed out that the course of Freemasonry in Ireland is distinguished and has been peculiarly affected by two incidents. The first was its complete exemption from the differences of the Ancient and Moderns which divided Great Britain for more than sixty years and was happily closed on Saint John's Day, 1813, by the establishment of the United Grand Lodge of England. Irish Freemasonry owes much to this exemption and especially the primitive simplicity of its constitution, rites and workings. The other incident was personal and was the unexampled reign and influence of Augustus Frederick, Duke of Leinster, Ireland's only Duke, as he was then. For more than sixty years, 1813-74, he was the Grand Master of the Craft. He obtained and worked every Degree and became the head of every governing Body in the Order.

He was installed in 1817 as Sovereign Commander of the Metropolitan College of Heredom which then ruled the Rite of Perfection. As Sovereign Grand Commander he was named in 1824 in the Warrant which constituted the Irish Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree. First principal in 1829 of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter, in 1836 he headed the Supreme Grand Encampment of Knights Templar. He presided over the Grand Council of Rites from 1838 until it merged into the Grand Chapter of Prince Masons, of which he was the first President. It is literally true that he left his mark upon every part of the Irish Masonic system. He was ever jealous of innovation. He disliked histrionic display. To him Irish Freemasonry owes the simple dignity of its ceremonies (see Ireland). Brother Fitzgibbon also says

As to the History of Craft Freemasonry, I do not sympathize with those prosaic Annalists who deny, or who refuse to accept, anything of which it is impossible to produce better evidence than tradition or probability.

On the other hand, I cannot go with the opposite school of historians who invest Freemasonry with every attribute which imagination can supply. Our Irish tenacity of the principle that Masonic knowledge should be communicated by oral tradition only, makes it especially difficult for us to produce such ancient documentary evidence; but I am convinced that long before the transition from Operative to Speculative Freemasonry probably for centuries, possibly even before the days of Solomon, the Craft existed as an organized Society or Guild. Personally I believe the genuine Freemasons were made in Germany, and in England too, throughout the Middle Ages.

The change took place during the close of the seventeenth and the opening of the eighteenth century. Evidence is accumulating that it was gradual and not simultaneous in different countries. Ireland was very early in the field. Recent research among the manuscripts of Trinity College has brought proof to light that Freemasonry of the speculative type was known within the precincts of Dublin University before the Revolution of 1688. The German historian Kloss, quotes an official list issued in l788 by the Grand Orient in France in which a Lodge in Walsh's Irish Regiment, then in the French service, is stated to have been constituted in 1688. When the Grand Lodge of Ireland, for the first time in the history of Grand Lodges, issued numbered Warrants to subordinate Lodges, Lodge No. 1, Cork, on submitting to its Jurisdiction, claimed, and got. the first place upon the Roll, by right of its previous existence as an autonomous Body--in effect as a Grand Lodge in Munster. The independent authority of the Master of a Munster Lodge, as early as 1713, rendered the initiation at sight of the Lady Freemason as an Entered Apprentice not merely possible, but, in a sense, regular. Before 1743--how long we know not--the Royal Arch existed here, It is believed to have been an early development of the Chair Degree of the Ancient Craft. It differs in Epoch, in Legend, and in Status, from the Royal Arch as known elsewhere. So long as the Mark Degree has been worked in Ireland it has always been subordinate to the Royal Arch, and a necessary qualification for admission to it.

One of the most significant circumstances in the whole history of Irish Freemasonry is recorded by Frederick Dalcho, the chief promulgator of the Rite of Thirty-three Degrees. On February 20, 1788, a Royal Arch Chapter working in Charleston under 3 Dublin Warrant, formed a junction with "the Sublime Grand Lodge of South Carolina," and its members were received, free of expense, into the high Degrees worked by that Lodge, and were acknowledged as high as the thirteenth Degree inclusive" (see Daleho's Masonic Orations, page 64). That Sublime Grand Lodge was then working the Rite of Perfection of Twenty-five Degrees, and in 1801 it constituted itself as the first Supreme Council for the United States of America of the "Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite" of Thirty-three Degrees.

Why Scottish is a question, That Rite was promulgated on December 4 1802, and every Regular Supreme Council of the World now, directly and indirectly, holds a Warrant in which the Charleston Council is styled the Mother Supreme Council of the World, The acknowledgment by this indisputable authority of the Irish Royal Arch as the Thirteenth Degree established conclusively that our working up to that Degree is equivalent to, and dispenses with, all or any of the lower Degrees worked elsewhere.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland, and the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree for Ireland, have never recognized any Side Degrees or By Degrees whatever. Every Degree worked in Ireland is a Regular Degree, and when lawfully conferred, it confers all Degrees below it, as a qualification for advancement in the Ancient and Accepted Rite. Among the degrees of which the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third Degree for the United States were in possession in 1801 Dalcho mentions " the Royal Arch as given under the Constitution of Dublin" (see Dalcho's Masonic Orations page 69). No similar recognition was accorded to the Royal Arch of any other Constitution.

Chivalric or Templar Degrees have, at all time since their introduction in Ireland, been included with but above the Royal Arch, and with but below the Rose Croix, as essential qualifications for the higher Degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. It is an interesting question, too difficult and too obscure for me, how far these Templar Degrees owed their introduction into Ireland, and soon afterwards from Ireland into Great Britain wand the American Colonies to the Jacobites. The Wild Geese flew far and wide, and Irishmen were on both sides in most of the fighting, during that stirring time.

Craft Masons, whether Irish, French or German, when they came here from the Continent, seem to have communicated any Degrees which they had obtained abroad to those whom they deemed qualified to receive them at home. The first Templar Degrees of which we have authentic record, were conferred in Craft Lodges; but probably before 1769, and certainly from 1774, Chivalric Degrees have been continuously worked in Ireland and none but Royal Arch Freemasons have ever been admitted to them. The Degrees which are now governed by the Great Priory in succession to the Early Grand Encampment and the supreme Grand Encampment of Ireland, have, since the Convent General Contention of 1895, been recognized by our Supreme Council as covering the Regular Degrees from the Fourteenth to and including the Seventeenth. I now come to the Rose Croix. We believe Ireland to have been the first English-speaking country to receive the Eighteenth Degree. The Irish Templars first obtained it from France at the hands of Pierre Laurent and Emmanuel Zimmermann, on January 20, 1782, and it has ever since been rigorously reserved for Templar Masons. The " Kilwinning " and "Original " Chapters, which still exist, date from that day, and they constituted a Governing Body for Prince Masonry; of which, through the Council of Rites, our own Grand Chapter is the lineal successor. This Chapter remained the independent and autonomous Governing Body of the Rose Croix until it came under the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree in 1905. We had an Irish Rose Croix Chapter working in Lisbon until 1872, and we have reason to believe that our Original and Kilwinning Chapters are both older than the Bristol Chapter, which derived its knowledge of the Degree from Ireland.

On February 17, 1796, a Grand Sublime Council was opened in Dublin by the Rose Croix Freemasons, for working still higher Degrees; and on June 1, 1802, under a French Constitutional Warrant, the " Metropolitan College of Heredom of Ireland" was opened in Dublin under the authority of Emmanuel Zimmermann, with John Fowler for its first Grand Commander, as the Governing Body of the "Order of Philosophical Freemasonry in all its Blanches." This College continued to confer and to govern the higher Degrees of the Rite of Perfection until 1824. These included the Degrees now known as the Twenty-eighth and Thirtieth Degrees, and the Highest or Sublime Degree, the Twenty-fifth in number, which is described in the Minutes of the College as the Ne plus ultra of the Science of Freemasonry this Kingdom.

This is the very phrase by which Dalcho described the Thirty-third and last Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. It was not known in Ireland by that number before 1824, because the "Rite of Perfection" consisted of Twenty-five Degrees only, and continued to be worked until 1824, but it is capable of indisputable proof from existing documents that this "Sublime Degree" combined in itself the essentials of both the Thirty-second and the Thirty-third Degrees as now known to us.

In an extant O.B. "ratified in Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, on May 26th. 1811," again "verified on June 25th, 1825," and attested under the hands of John Fowler and the Duke of Leinster, who were the first and second Grand Commanders of the Metropolitan College of Heredom, we find that those who were admitted to the Sublime Degree of the Rite of Perception bound them selves to acknowledge no higher Degree, and undertook to discharge the Duties of Inspectors General. Thus, step by step and without a break, we can trace all the Degrees at any time worked in Ireland from the First or Entered Apprentice Degree, to the Highest Degree of Inspector General, as forming one continuous series, in which each Degree is required to qualify its possessor for further advancement.

It remains to explain the occasion and the manner of the Institution of the Rite of Thirty-three Degrees. Soon after the establishment of speculative Freemasonry and throughout the eighteenth century, there arose in Europe and in America, new and fanciful "Degrees," to be reckoned by hundreds, some say by thousands, and fantastic "Rites," all purporting to be Masonic, were invented in divers countries. All "the wisdom of the Egyptians" the Magi and the Mystics, Hermetie and Cabalistic conceits, and Occult Science falsely so-called were engrafted upon the primitive Masonic stock, obscuring the Symbolism and debasing the teaching of the Ancient Craft. The career and the fate of Cagliostro are enough to indicate the danger which threatened the reputation of Freemasonry in the end of the eighteenth century. We owe the formulation of the Ancient and Accepted Rite to the original Supreme Council of the United States, now of the Southern Jurisdiction. Its object was to identify genuine Freemasonry, to check further innovation, and to procure acceptance for a rational Standard of Uniformity.

The framers of the new Rite took the appropriate motto Ordo ab Chao (Order from Disorder). In 1801 the Sublime Grand Lodge of South Carolina constituted itself the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree for the United States; and on December 4, 1802, it addressed a Manifesto to the " Free and Accepted Masons of all Degrees, Ancient and Modern, over the Two Hemispheres," with the object of inducing them to join "one Band of the Brotherhood to dwell together in Unity," holding the same principles, and, so far as possible, adopting the same ceremonies. This action has been justified, and it has been rewarded, by the general adoption of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. The Manivesto bears the names of Colonel John Mitchell as the Grand Commander. and Dr. Frederick Dalcho as the Lieutenant Grand Commander, of the United States of America, each styling himself a "Sovereign Grand Inspector of the Thirty- third Degree." It embodied a Report signed by Daleho, stating the principles on which the Rite had been framed, and these were elucidated by certain Orations in which he advocated its adoption, and which have since been regarded as Masonic classier

The Rite retained all the essentials of the Rite of Perfection. Though the number of Degrees was raised from Twenty-five to Thirty-three, the Highest Degree of the older Rite retained its pre-eminence, though it was divided into the Thirty-second and Thirty-third Degrees. This division was justified by attributing the status of a distinct Degree to the appointment by Frederick the Great of a Council of Nine as the Supreme Executive of the Rite of Perfection. The full number of Degrees was made up by recognizing seven selected Degrees of lower grades. Considerable liberty was exercised by each Jurisdiction which adopted the new Rite, as well as its Ceremonial, as in the choice of the Degrees which should be worked, thus it was that in Ireland much of the ancient working of the simpler Rite of Perception has been retained, and Side Degrees have been omitted.

Ireland's connection with the change was intimate and remarkable. Our Metropolitan College continued to work the Rite of Perfection until 1824, but in and after 1802 it was in direct fraternal communication with the Supreme Council of the United States--just as the Irish Royal Arch had been with the Sublime Grand Lodge of Charleston in 1788. Colonel John Mitchell is believed to have been initiated in an Ulster Lodge before he went to America. Frederick Oaleho is believed to have been initiated in Saint Patrick's Lodge, No. 656, under the Irish Constitution, at Baltimore in Maryland. Hence their intimate knowledge of Irish Degrees, and of Irish working. That Dalcho was a "friend" of John Fowler, the Commander and an Inspector-General of the Metropolitan College of Heredom from 1801 to 1817 appears in the Minutes of our own Supreme Council of the correspondence between them, which began before 1802 and continued until it w as ended by the Bar of 1812. This correspondence ultimately but not until 1824, led to the acceptance of the Warrant which constituted our Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree under the Duke of Leinster as the first Sovereign Grand Commander for Ireland.

I close by mentioning an earlier but most interesting incident, of which you can see the significance for yourselves. Soon after the promulgation of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, John Fowler, on behalf of the Original Chapter of Prince Masons and of the Metropolitan College of Heredom for Ireland, of which he was the Commander, asked his friend Daleho for permission to print in Dublin the documents relating to the New Rite. The request was regarded as an honor, and was at once granted.

Here is a copy of the Book! (See Doctor Dalcho's Masonic Orations, Dublin, printed by John King, Westmoreland Street, 1808.) It is headed by a copper-plate w engraving of the Arms of the Metropolitan College of Eleredom of Ireland. In these Arms the initiated can trace insignia of every Degree worked in Ireland, from the Rose Croix to the Inspector-General s Degree. These include the Standards of the Thirty-second Degree and the Eagle of the Thirty-third Degree the Austrian and Russian Imperial Eagle introduced into Masonry by the Emperors of the East and West, which recent archaeology has identified with the Totem of the Accadian City of Lagash dating back two thousand years before the Christian Era, and brought into Europe by the first Crusaders. The Dublin edition of Dalcho's book was printed seventeen years before the Thirty-third Degree was known or authorised to be conferred by that number in Ireland. Ireland in 1824, England in 1845, and Scotland in 1846, for the first time accepted patents or constitutions tor Supreme Councils of the Thirty-third Degree.

In 1811 a copy of this book was presented by the Metros politician College to the Duke of Kent as the Illustnous Commander of the Governing Body of the Sublime Degrees in England and it was acknowledged by a gracious letter from Kensillgton Palace, expressing the gratification with which that introduction to the Ancient and Accepted Rite had been received. I trust that the dates and incidents which I have mentioned will incline you to be faithful to the traditions of Irish Masonry, and will increase your respect and affection for the simple but solemn ceremonials to which we have been here so long accustomed. I have tried to show that the impressive Formulanes of the old Rite of Perfection still survive among us under the rule of the more modern Council to which you now bear allegiance; and also to give you grounds for believing that for more than two hundred years Ireland has held a forward place in the ranks and progress of Freemasonry.

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