Sunday, 19 September 2010

Freemasons Hall (Arthur Square)

Belfast’s Masonic buildings have long been on my wanted list for this blog. They seem to be the very definition of ‘Hidden Belfast’. Buildings in plain sight but also places of ritual, mystery and wonder to all but the initiated. 

Belfast has a long Masonic tradition, it’s earliest lodge was the “True Blue” Lodge No.182, which was originally warranted on the 5th October 1748. The Arthur Square Masonic Hall and was built in 1868-1870 and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon (himself a provincial grand master mason) Lanyon is responsible for many of Belfast’s finest and most unique buildings from Queen’s University, Crumlin Road Courthouse/Gaol to the Linenhall Library and Customs House. It would be no exaggeration to say that Lanyon’s buildings (this being one) continue to define the character of modern Belfast.

This strangely shaped building with an almost venetian design is today right at the very heart of modern Belfast’s shopping centre being right at the entrance of Victoria centre Today it is home to not one but over 100 different Masonic lodges.

The First floor has the two standard blue “Craft lodges” used in Masonic ritual, These are standard lodges used by all masons. Containing the common symbolic items of Masonic ritual of Candles, holy books ,Gauges, squares , gavel and trowel reflecting freemasonarys historic evolution from the medieval craft guilds. I am told the goals of freemasonary are that of personal growth and charity work.

Upstairs is a Royal Arch Freemasonary Room featuring much in the way of symbolism related to the templar knights as well as two large Egyptian mummy caskets, which I was told following a question that they serve no practical or symbolic purpose?

Here is a video detailing much of the goings on in the Arthur Square building (prior to refurb)

The building was extensively renovated in past few years you can see some pictures of the renovation itself here.

Today the hall continues to host the Donegal club as it has since 1878 named after the George Hamiliton the 3rd Marquis of Donegal (Provincial grand master) now called the Donegal Masonic Club. 

The top floor houses function and dining rooms containing some fabulous oil paintings of various masons of note. The building appears to have been home to a caretaker in the past as well, who lived in a flat contained inside the building. 

Incidentally, I have often wondered why there is a plaque to Henry Joy Mc Cracken one of the founding members of the United Irishmen and a leader of the 1798 rebellion is on the front of the Rosemary Street Masonic hall. On the Arthur Square Hall Website it states that Henry Joy was also a Mason.  

 I suppose this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, Mc Cracken was also a prominent industrialist, a Presbyterian, and a man instrumental in the Belfast Poor house to which the Masons also donated. It seems ironic that today that this Freemasons hall stands so close to where Henry Joy was executed July 17 1798 in “Cornmarket”. Interestingly a number of other men were executed with Henry Joy being the only one spared the spectacle of his head being removed and mounted on a spike for public display.

A big thanks to the Masons of Arthur Square who were generous hosts and were surprisingly happy to answer our questions. A really fabulous building too.