Freemasonry: The Naked Truth

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Freemasonry in Newry

Becoming a Freemason in Newry

Becoming a Freemason

There are a number of masonic manuscripts that are important in the study of the emergence of Freemasonry. Most numerous are the Old Charges or Constitutions. These documents outlined a "history" of Masonry, tracing its origins to a biblical or classical root, followed by the regulations of the organisation, and the responsibilities of its different grades. More rare are old hand-written copies of ritual, affording a limited understanding of early masonic rites. All of those which pre-date the formation of Grand Lodges are found in Scotland and Ireland, and show such similarity that the Irish rituals are usually assumed to be of Scottish origin. The earliest Minutes of lodges formed before the first Grand Lodge are also located in Scotland. Early records of the first Grand Lodge in 1717 allow an elementary understanding of the immediate pre-Grand Lodge era and some insight into the personalities and events that shaped early-18th-century Freemasonry in Britain.

Other early documentation is included in this article. The Kirkwall Scroll is a hand painted roll of linen, probably used as a floorcloth, now in the care of a lodge in Orkney. Its dating and the meaning of its symbols have generated considerable debate. Early operative documents and the later printed constitutions are briefly covered.

The schism between French and English Freemasonry is popularly supposed to originate at a general assembly of the Grand Orient de France in September 1877. Accepting a recommendation in a report by a Protestant minister, Frédéric Desmons, the assembly, on a majority vote, amended its constitutions to read "Its principles are absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity". The words "Its principles are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and human solidarity" were struck out. The United Grand Lodge of England's (UGLE) response was a resolution in March 1878 that "the Grand Lodge, whilst always anxious to receive in the most fraternal spirit the Brethren of any Foreign Grand Lodge whose proceedings are conducted according to the Ancient Landmarks of the Order, of which a belief in T. G. A. O. T. U. (the Great Architect of the Universe) is the first and most important, cannot recognise as ‘true and genuine’ Brethren any who have been initiated in Lodges which either deny or ignore that belief". Relations between the two governing bodies effectively ceased, purportedly because the French body had removed the requirement for a belief in a supreme being. However, UGLE had just entered into fraternal relations with the Grand Orient of Belgium, which had removed the Great Architect from its constitutions in 1872, a relationship which lasted until 1921. The reasons for the split are obviously deeper and more complex than the official records suggest.

Mutual distrust between English and French Freemasons was apparent in the 1850s, when French Masonic refugees were appalled at the relationship between UGLE and the Monarchy, aristocracy, and the Anglican church. The English distrusted the mysticism of French Masonry, and its ideals of Fraternity and Universality.

Desmons' review had been prompted by the Lausanne Congress of Supreme Councils of 1875. Eleven countries were represented at an attempt to unify the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. An agreement on colonial lodges would have seen the UGLE as the only recognised masonic Grand Lodge in British colonies, in spite of the Scottish and Irish lodges already flourishing there. The Scottish delegate, Mackersy, who also represented Greece, withdrew. His letter of withdrawal cited his jurisdiction's disagreement with any shift from the requirement for a member to believe in a personal god. He said that he believed the congress would agree to a non-requirement, or the specification of a vague universal principle. In avoiding ratifying a treaty which would obliterate Scottish lodges in the colonies, Mackersy sparked a debate that led to the removal of a requirement for an open volume of scripture in French lodges. The English interpretation of this as a slide towards atheism was probably partly prompted by the difficult political relationship between Britain and France at that time.

The gulf between UGLE and GOdF widened due to the French body's active engagement in politics, on a personal and organisational level. All discussion of politics and religion is expressly banned from English lodges.

Legacy of the Schism: during the First World War, many American lodges relaxed their opposition to the Grand Orient de France to allow servicemen to engage with other masons while in France. Many of these continue to allow their members to associate with continental Freemasons.

In December 1913, UGLE recognised a new Grand Lodge in France. The basis of this recognition was the series of obligations that the Independent and Regular National Grand Lodge of France (later the Grande Loge Nationale Française) imposed on its lodges. These were:

While the Lodge is at work the Bible will always be open on the altar.

The ceremonies will be conducted in strict conformity with the Ritual of the "Regime Rectifié" which is followed by these Lodges, a Ritual which was drawn up in 1778 and sanctioned in 1782, and with which the Duke of Kent was initiated in 1792.

The Lodge will always be opened and closed with invocation and in the name of the Great Architect of the Universe. All the summonses of the Order and of the Lodges will be printed with the symbols of the Great Architect of the Universe.

No religious or political discussion will be permitted in the Lodge.

The Lodge as such will never take part officially in any political affair but every individual Brother will preserve complete liberty of opinion and action.

Only those Brethren who are recognised as true Brethren by the Grand Lodge of England will be received in Lodge.

These "basic principles" were accepted by UGLE itself in 1929, and written into its constitutions.

Newry is a city in Northern Ireland, divided by the Clanrye river in counties Armagh and Down, 34 miles (55 km) from Belfast and 67 miles (108 km) from Dublin. It had a population of 26,967 in 2011. Newry was founded in 1144 alongside a Cistercian monastery, although there are references to earlier settlements in the area, and is one of Ireland's oldest towns. The city is an entry to the "Gap of the North", 5 miles (8 km) from the border with the Republic of Ireland. It grew as a market town and a garrison and became a port in 1742 when it was linked to Lough Neagh by the first summit-level canal built in Ireland or Great Britain. A cathedral city, it is the episcopal seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dromore. In 2002, as part of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee celebrations, Newry was granted city status along with Lisburn. The name Newry is an anglicization of An Iúraigh, an oblique form of An Iúrach, which means "the grove of yew trees". The modern Irish name for Newry is An tIúr, which means "the yew tree". An tIúr is an shortening of Iúr Cinn Trá, "yew tree at the head of the strand", which was formerly the most common Irish name for Newry. This relates to an apocryphal story that Saint Patrick planted a yew tree there in the 5th century. The Irish name Cathair an Iúir (City of Newry) appears on some bilingual signs around the city.

In AD 835 the Danes again made a sudden incursion into Newry, with a large body of Danes landing at Inbher-Chin-Tra-gha, or Newry, and raided the area before attacking Armagh, where they set fire to the churches and university, plundering gold and other items from them and killing an estimated one thousand people in the city and surrounding area. The Victorian era historian James Henthorn Todd goes into further detail in his 1867 Volume, (Chronicles and memories of England and Ireland in the Middle Ages) recording that the abbey was attacked in AD 824. A small medieval town was on the site to the north and south of the abbey, which was rebuilt in 1142 (Keating G) by King O Carroll of the Oriel at the request of Saint Malachi (Ibid). The landing stage of the abbey was situated close to the western bank of the Newry River in what is now Kilmorey Street. From these early times, it was the main pier and port of the town; it remained as such until the construction of the new canal took place. The abbey was later converted to a collegiate church in 1543, before being surrendered to the Crown in 1548. The abbey is seen to be giving its earnings to the Crown almost 200 years before this date. It is described as being one of the richest and largest in Ireland. The Vikings attacked the Abbey many times, slaughtering its occupants. The town was granted its first charter between 1157 by High King of Ireland Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn. In 1162 the monastery was attacked and raided by the Chiefs of Irish clans. De Courcy's lordship ensured a safe spell for the abbey after he had built several castles in and around Newry. These were typical Norman affairs, of motte-and-bailey construction.

In 1539 an English mercenary, Nicholas Bagenal, fled to Ireland after murdering a man in Leek, Staffordshire, apparently with the aid of his two brothers. After some time in the employment of the O Neill he reached a high status, was granted a pardon in 1543, and became Marshal of the army. During his early years in the Louth area he lived at Carlingford where his son Henry was born. Lord Bingham is seen sending Oriel labourers to Newry in 1546 at which time Bagenal is seen restoring the castle of Newry, which belonged to Hugh O Neill, being first built by John De Courcy in 1186 (De Arcy McGee See also Lewis 1815). Not long after this the Marshal, in 1552, secured a 21-year lease on the Newry property, which was confiscated from the Cistercians. The castle was then razed to the ground by Shane O'Neill, who banished Bagenal from Newry in 1566. The nearby convent was also part of the Abbey, and is mentioned in the Bagenal patent. A small medieval church can be found in its grounds. The abbey site is mentioned in the rent rolls of 1575, and said to consist of a church, a steeple, a cemetery, a chapterhouse, dormitory and hall, two orchards and one garden, containing one acre, within the precincts of a monastic college. During the 1689 Raid on Newry, Williamite forces under Toby Purcell repulsed an attack by the Jacobites under the Marquis de Boisseleau. At the period of the Battle of the Boyne, the Duke of Berwick set fire to the parts of the town which he had restructured to defend it, (see Berwicks Journal). Schomberg sent troops in during the early hours of the mornings when seeing the flames, they successfully extinguished them. While it is believed that King William may have stayed at a Newry Castle, the story is a far-fetched one. King William took a portable wooden bedroom with him on this campaign, which he called his "coach". (see The Impartial History by Rev Story) The King refused to sleep in castles or houses, preferring to be amongst his men.

One of the main castles of Newry at this date was an ancient abbey building which stood at Mill Street corner, in the northwest end of the abbey complex. Its remains were finally demolished in 1965. The other abbey buildings were once used by Bagenal (30-odd years), as pigsties and stables, according to the O'Neill website. These buildings lay neglected when King William passed through the town. For over 100 years they were nothing more than great massive stores or sheds in the background and not considered as part of the town. Isaac Corry demolished some of them in the early 1800s. Those he did not demolish were turned into homesteads or warehouses. Included were the 140 feet of the great church that was constructed in 1142. He demolished its altar and completely dug up the ancient graveyard beside the church, removing ancient bones by the cartload to St Mary's at Chapel Street. While there was deep mourning from the Catholics of the town at these actions, no one complained because of Corry's status. The graveyard is currently a carpark for Lidl and the great church is now a museum: Bagenal Castle. By 1881 the population of Newry had reached 15,590. Newry Urban District Council was unusual in that during the period from the 1920s to the 1960s it was one of only a handful of councils in Northern Ireland which had a majority of councillors from the Catholic/Nationalist community. (The others were Strabane UDC and a handful of rural district councils.) The reason, according to Michael Farrell, was that this community formed such a large majority in the town, around 80% of the population, making it impossible to gerrymander. Also an oddity was that for a time it was controlled by the Irish Labour Party, after the left wing of the Northern Ireland Labour Party defected to them in the 1940s

Population    26,967 (2011 Census)

Irish grid reference  J085265


Newry, Mourne and Down


County Armagh and County Down

Becoming a Freemason in Northern Ireland

Becoming a Freemason in United Kingdom

Post town      NEWRY

Postcode district      BT34, BT35

Dialling code            028

Police Northern Ireland

Fire     Northern Ireland

Ambulance   Northern Ireland

UK Parliament        

Newry and Armagh