There is considerable evidence of Masonic Lodges meeting in Ireland prior to the eighteenth century. The story of the "Lady Freemason", Elizabeth St. Leger, also dates to a time prior to the existence of the Grand Lodge.
During the eighteenth century most Lodges met at inns, taverns and coffee houses. The meetings of the Grand Lodge however, generally took place in civic and guild buildings.
In 1869 the present, purpose built headquarters of Irish Freemasonry, Freemasons' Hall, opened, housing dramatically decorated Lodge rooms, a library, museum, offices and dining areas.
HISTORY OF IRISH FREEMASONRY IN NATAL A background to the formation of Irish Freemasonry in South Africa The year was 1895, and at that time Freemasonry in South Africa was was practiced only under the English, Scottish and Nederlandic Constitutions. It so happened that His Grace, the Duke of Abercorn , Grand Master of Ireland, was visiting Cecil John Rhodes (also a Master Freemason) as a guest and staying at Groote Schuur in Cape Town. It came to the knowledge of Worshipful Brother Dr. Edward Henry Croghan, an eminent member of the medical profession living in Johannesburg Dr. Croghan (a Past Master of both the English and Scottish constitution) was a staunch son of Ireland but had to all intents and purposes become South African, nevertheless his allegiance to his Country of birth inspired him to sponsor and develop Irish Freemasonry in South Africa. On learning of the visit to South Afroca of His Grace The Duke of Abercor, Grand Master of Irish Freemasonry, Wor. Bro. Croghan travelled by coach from Johannesburg to Kimberley where he transfered completing the rest of the trip to Cape Town by rail to seek a meeting. Armed with memorials from ;Johannesburg Lodge(English Constitution} The Golden Thistle (Scottish Constitution)The Star of the Rand (Nederlandic Constitution) and with the assistance of Bro. Cecil John Rhodes, with whom Dr Croghan had become close friends whilst practicing on the Kimberly Diamond Fields, a meeting with The Grand Master was arranged. The record shows that The Grand Master received Wor. Bro. Croghan in a most cordial and fraternal manner and having heard the submissions made and being infected by his (Dr. Croghan) enthusiasm, the Grand Master graciously acceded thereto and granted a Dispensation for the formation of the first lodge in South Africa under the constitution of Ireland. The dispensation, dated 2 February 1895, was in due course confirmed by the Grand Lodge and implemented by the issueing of a Charter bearing the Number 159 on the Roll of The Grand Loge of Ireland. The second followed soon thereafter St Patricks Lodge No 199 in Cape Town was consecrated in 1896 The untimely death of Wor. Bro.Dr E.H. Croghan on the 29 March 1900, whilst on active service during the Anglo Boer war denied this founder of Irish Freemasonry in South Africa the destinct honour of becoming the first Provincial Grand Master of South Africa. This appointment went to Rt Wor. Bro. Dr. Sir Kendal Franks who was installed by The Grand Master, His Grace The Duke of Abercorn on 3 March 1904. Rt Wor Bro. Dr. Sir Kendal Franks was knighted by His Majesty, King Edward vii for ourstanding public and military service. The first quarterly communication of the Provincial Grand Lodge of S.A. was held at the Masonic Temple in Plein Street, Johannesburg on 13 February 1905 with Hibernia Lodge being the only Natal Irish Member Lodge. Irish Freemasonry in Natal can be traced back to1903. Bro J McCarthy (later Provincial Grand Master) - and a number of Brethren signed a petition to form an Irish Lodge in Natal. Two names were put forward for this Lodge viz. St. Finbars and Hibernia. Hibernia Lodge was constituted on 19 July 1904. The ceremony took place in the Masonic Hall in Smith Street (opposite Greenacres) and although no longer a Masonic Hall the lane is still known as Masonic Grove. Another seven more Irish Lodges were formed between 1904 and 1930. These being St. Finbars (1908), Ulidia (1910), Civic (1926), Marine (1928), Inyati (1928), D'Urban (1929), Parkhill (1930). At that time Natal Lodges fell under The Provincial Grand Lodge of SA Northern. PGL NATAL constituted in 1932 On the 1 July, 1932 the Provincial Grand Lodge of Natal was constituted at that same Masonic Hall in Smith Street, and RW Bro W. Owen Roberts was installed as the first Provincial Grand Master. The ceremony was carried out by RW. Bro. J.G. Croghan, the PGM of SA Northern at the time. RW. Bro. Roberts was in fact the PGM from 1932 until the time of his death in 1940. It was under the stewardship of RW Bro. Roberts that the PGL Benevolent Fund was set up on a sound base. Much of the assistance given in the 1930's was to poverty stricken masons as this was the time of the great world depression. A number of very successful dinner dances were being organized and became known as the Annuity Fund Ball. Early in 1933, two Irish representatives were appointed to the Wesley Francis Memorial Fund. A joint project with the ENGLISH CONSTITUTION. The Francis Wesley Fund makes educational grants to deserving scholars. This fund is still supported by Irish Lodges in Natal today. The Installation of our second PGM, RW. Bro. Capt. Jeffray McCarthy also took place in the Masonic Hall, Smith Street, Durban on the 5 June, 1941. The Installing Officer was the ruling PGM of SA Northern IC, RW. Bro. Dr. Robert Ray and was assisted by distinguished representatives of our Sister Constitutions (with whom we still enjoy excellent communication) RW. Bro Jeffray McCarthy was a very active Freemason and during his period as PGM until the time of his death in 1958, no less than seven new Irish Lodges were constituted: Northway (1945), Donoughmore (1946), El Alamein (1947), [Dick King (1950),] Gingindlovu (1952), M'bulwana (1955), and Highway (1956). In March 1958, RW. Bro Ben Leathwhite was installed as PGM at the Berea Road Temple, by the Installing Officer RW. Bro. Lt. Col. Adendorf, PGM SA Northern. At the time, the Irish Constitution was often referred to as the poor relation of Freemasonry in Natal. RW. Bro. Leathwhite set about raising the standard of the workings within the Lodges and was instrumental, after much opposition from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, in having Irish rituals printed for the Brethren. In 1967, after going through some difficult patches, and struggles, M'bulwana Lodge in Ladysmith saw fit to surrender their Warrant.. In 1966 the Grand Master, the Rt Hon. the Earl of Donoughmore visited Natal. A dinner was held at the Old Marine Hotel on the Esplanade. A first degree working was held under the banner of Marine Lodge. The Grand Master was impressed with the working and thanked those members of various lodges who took part.. The Grand Master Lord Donoughmore, was later abducted and held hostage by the IRA who treated him roughly. After his release he continued his duties as Grand Master and corresponded with RW. Bro Leathwhite on a regular basis. In 1973, Yellowwood Park Lodge was constituted by RW. Bro. Leathwhite, who later contacted lung cancer and passed on in 1974, he was succeeded by his Deputy, VW. Bro Geoff Neale who was installed as PGM on 28 September 1974. To the horror and sadness of all Freemasons in Natal RW. Bro. Neale suffered a heart attack exactly one week after he was installed and died.. Succeeding RW. Bro. Geoff Neale, was his Deputy - RW. Bro. Fred Hall, who was duly installed in 1975, by Installing Officer RW. Bro. Thompson PGM Cape. The installation took place at the Scottish Temple in Hunt Road. Under RW. Bro. Fred Hall, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Natal acquired debt-free ownership of the Concord Masonic complex in Rossburgh (which is today the home of PGL Natal). The adjoining property 27 Folkstone Road was also purchased and in due course demolished and in its place rose a complex of eight residential flats to house needy persons. In recognition the complex was named "Hallpark". In 1978, a Past Master's Lodge, the Geoffrey L Neale Lodge was constituted During RW Bro Hall's term we enjoyed a visit from the Grand Master of Irish Freemasonry, the Hon Marquis of Donegal and Lady Donegal and a banquet was held at the Durban Country Club. RW BRO Hall was responsible for instigating establishment of the Masonic Services Committee. On a regular basis this committee entertained the elderly Masons, Masonic widows, and the like to social lunches and teas. It was during the course of 1986, the Grand Lodge of Ireland brought into effect a 10 year rule which restricts the holding of office in a Grand Lodge, Provincial Grand Lodge or any subordinate Lodge to that term, and that effectively brought to an end brought an end to the term of office of RW. Bro. F. Hall as PGM of Natal. That year the Grand Master appointed RW. Bro. Ronnie Warren and he was installed on the 12 March 1987 by the Marquis of Donegal, who was visiting at the time.. The installation took place at the Berea Road Temple. RW. Bro Ronnie Warren was formerly the head of Irish Royal Arch Masonry in Natal. An office he vacated upon being appointed PGM. Early in 1987, the Geoffrey L Neale Lodge handed back the Warrant. However on the positive side Gingindhlovu Lodge acquired land and built their own Masonic complex in Mandeni. These premises were consecrated by RW. Bro. Ronnie Warren on 3 June 1989. The offices of the PGL were moved from Berea Road to the upper floor of the Rossburgh Masonic Complex at 17 Folkstone Road, Rossburgh. In 1991 Slemish Lodge was constituted at Berea Road the ceremony being carried out by the PGM. On 18 July 1991 Wexford Lodge was constituted in Port Shepstone. Dignitaries came from far afield as the Transvaal, Sister Constitutions were present. The entire ceremony was carried out faultlessly (including the Investiture of the Lodge Officers) by RW. Bro. Ronnie Warren. The ceremony lasted nearly two hours. On 16 March 1995 Rt. Wor. Bernard Pearce was installed as Provincial Grand Master of Natal . The installing officer was The Grand Master, The Most Wor Bro. Darwin Templeton. It was Rt Wor Bro. Pearce's greatest wish to stem the decline in membership. He formed a committee to investigate and to make reccommendations. Rt Wor Bro. Pearce was admired by all for his oratory ability. Rt. Wor Bro. Peter Marx succeeded as Provincial Grand Master on 28 December 1999 and was inducted by Rt Wor Bro. Bernard Pearce on 22nd February 2000. Another two lodges handed back their warrants viz Highway Lodge and Civic Lodge. During 2004 Northway Lodge decided to hand back their warrant. During November of 2004 the Board of General purposes considered a proposal from Bro Clive Herron of Marine Lodge 627 I.C. and agreed to launch a website for the Provincial Grand Lodge. Bro. Clive Herron was appointed the webmaster and the layout was left to him. The website was first hosted on 15th February 2005 Hibernia Lodge at it's April 2005 meeting had a proposal on the order paper to hand back the warrant. The meeting was attended and addressed by the Provincial Grand Master Rt Wor Bro P.J. Marx and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Rt Wor M.P. Gwynn both of whom appealed that they reconsider moving to Rossburgh and changing the format of the lodge as there had been requests for a Lodge of Research. The meeting agreed to move to Rossburgh wef. 17 May 2005 and then to discuss the format the lodge would take. Following the retirement of Rt Wor Bro Russell Cowdry - Rt Wor Bro Jimmy Brown was installed as PADGM on 4 August 2005. In the BOGP report for May 2006 it was announced that Grand Lodge of Ireland had accepted the resignation of Rt Wor Bro Peter Marx as Provincial Grand Master of Natal and had agreed that Rt Wor Bro Michael P Gwynn be installed in the office. The induction will take place an an Occasional Provincial Grand Lodge Communication to be hosted by Hibernia lodge (the oldest Irish Lodge in Natal) and will take place in the Rossburgh Irish Masonic Centre 6th September 2007 Mr Zolani Skithi (first Black under the Irish Constitution Natal) initiated into St Finbars Lodge Following the resignation (due to ill health) of Rt Wor Bro JWR Brown PDGM of Natal the Rt Wor Provincial Grand Master MP Gwynn appointed Rt Wor Bro Tom Holden as PDGM and Wor Bro Gideon Swanepoel as PAGM both were invested at an Occasional Provincial meeting hosted by the Irish Mother Lodge in Natal - (Hibernia Lodge) on 18 March 2008 Sadly Rt Wor Bro JWR Brown passed away on 23rd April 2008 4 September 2008 St Finbar's Lodge became the second lodge in Natal to celebrate 100 years. A lodge of Dedication was conducted by the PGM and officers of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Natal. Dispensation was received from Ireland for family and non masons to be present and the ceremony was conducted without displaying Masonic signs
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