Irish Connections - a personal account
An Address given by WBro Bruce Kells, PGS, on behalf of the
Hawke’s Bay Research lodge No 305 to Lodge Turanganui No 1480 (EC) in Gisborne on Saturday, 21st July 2012
I am sure you are all aware that the Irish love to tell stories. Getting together for fun, feasting, frivolity and story telling, is a custom they called Ceilidh Crack. I will leave the three “f”s for later in refectory whilst I now concentrate on my own story telling. The story begins when I started to look into my ancestry quite a number of moons back. Of course with the surname Kells, I always had a promising start as the name is linked to probably the most famous laminated book in history, The Book of Kells.
In the early 1970's, when I was living in Te Puke, I was contacted by a publisher who was selling limited edition facsimiles of the four gospels that make up this volume, with a view to selling me a copy. Whilst the prospect of owning a limited copy appealed to my ego the fact that it was in Latin, along with its cost, decided me against purchasing it. I have lived to regret that on a number of occasions, as the twenty or more colourful pages of Celtic symbols in the front were worth the cost alone. I can't with any certainty trace my origins back to this book, which was written, it is believed, around 800AD by the monks of the St Columcilles (often incorrectly called St Columba's) Monastery at Iona off the coast of Scotland. This was the time the Vikings started raiding the settlements in those parts with a view to looting their treasures. The monks are supposed to have fled with their book to Kells in Ireland. Today it rests in Trinity College in the city of Dublin having been there since at least 1661, though the town of Kells is trying to get it back.
Kells is in County Meath, which borders County Cavan from where I trace most of my ancestors. In fact they came to Ulster as part of the “plantations settlements”. Under this system the finest Irish land was divided into plots, usually of 1,000acres, by the English and granted to 'undertakers' - not the guys who stick you in a coffin, but the men who undertook to run these estates and settle them with people of English and Scottish extraction. Pastor Robert Kells, who was born in Northumberland County in England in 1699, arrived at a place called Templeport, where he became a preacher and lived to the ripe old age of 106 years 2 months and 3 days. My ancestors still live on the lands they acquired as part of a commission under George III’s reign (1760-1820).
The next step on my journey took place a few years after my grandfather died in 1964. Whilst I had been brought up as a Protestant and attended Presbyterian Sunday Schools, my parents were not very religious. It came as a surprise to me to learn that granddad belonged to the Orange Order of Lodges in New Zealand. Dad only brought this to my notice when he learned that I had become a Freemason in 1976.
So my next challenge was to find out whether there was any connection between the Orange and the Freemasons lodges. By way of background I found out that my grandfather had joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force in 1912 and either resigned or was thrown out (possibly for drunkenness) sometime around 1918. At this time most of the Ulster (northern) counties were united in wanting to maintain their connections with Britain, whilst the southern counties were moving towards the establishment of their own Free State. When Britain created Northern Ireland as a separate semi-autonomous state in 1921, only six of the original twelve counties that had formed Ulster were in it. County Cavan in which my grandparents now resided (at Baillieborough) was not part of it. I don't know whether this was the catalyst for their move to New Zealand but they set sail in 1922, when Dad was just five years old.
Granddad got a job in the railway workshops in Lower Hutt and must have joined the Orange Order soon after arriving, as he became Master of Lodge No 36, first in 1935-36, then again in 1941-42 and finally in 1951-52 (as shown on the collar that I have inherited). I don't know much about the Orange Order of Lodges in New Zealand but from an interview I saw on TV (on the same afternoon that Lawrence Milton had been interviewed on the National Radio by Chris Laidlaw - March 11th) with the head of the order, I did learn that their leader, who is called a president, is currently a woman. Whilst their members have to believe in a Supreme Being like us, in their case they must declare themselves as Protestants as well. Clearly it is more Christian centred than our own order, and in that regard it probably has more in common with some of the side orders in Freemasonry. My researches suggest that they have replaced the Small Purple Degree with the Royal Arch Purple Degree so that they now have a First Degree (Orange Degree), a Second Degree called the Small (Plain) Purple Degree and a Third Degree called the Royal Arch Purple Degree. What each of these degrees focuses on, I am not party to; maybe there is someone here who can enlighten me?
I now come to the third step in my Irish Connections. That was when I visited Ireland with a view to meeting some of my relatives in the school holidays of 1995-96. It was when I was staying with relatives in Londonderry in December 1995 that the next development took place.
To understand what happened I need to give you a bit more Irish history. Let us take a time capsule back to the late 1600's when the Cromwellian era was coming to an end and there was a fair bit of anti Catholic and anti Irish sentiment around. The English Parliament in 1653 had passed a law to confiscate all Catholic owned land in Ireland, which was followed up with the Ulster Plantations. As part of the Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles II (a protestant king) ruled and whilst he didn't share Cromwell’s enthusiasm for radical social engineering, he still wasn't interested in restoring land or position to Ireland's Catholics. So when James II (a Catholic) ascended to the throne in 1685 there was much excitement through Ireland, especially when he appointed Tyrconnell his viceroy in Ireland. Encouraged by this show of faith, Tyrconnell set about raising a Catholic army. This sent alarm bells ringing in England, which resulted in James fleeing to France. In his absence the English Parliament gave the crown to his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband William of Orange. Many in Ireland still supported James who decided to borrow an army from King Louis XIV of France (a fellow catholic) and sailed to Kinsale harbour (near Cork) in 1689. He joined up with Tyrconnell's Irish army and set about establishing his power base. As part of this campaign, James laid siege to the walled city of Londonderry in the very north of Ireland. The gates of the city had been closed to Catholic armies as early as December of the previous year. When James arrived and ordered them to surrender, the governor of the city (Robert Lundy) was prepared to capitulate but legend has it that a group of fifteen Apprentice Boys shut the gate and vowed not to surrender. The siege lasted until July 28th, 1689, when some Dutch merchant ships sailed up the River Foyle, broke the barricading boom and saved the remaining 4,000 occupants from starvation (half the city's original population). To commemorate this act of bravery and, I suspect, to show their everlasting defiance of Catholicism, the Association of Apprentice Boys of Derry was set up with the help of the Orange Lodges in 1814. In typical Irish fashion they celebrate the end of the siege on the first or second Saturday in December by marching around the 8ft wide walls surrounding the city, followed up with the burning of an effigy of Robert Lundy.
As it happened I arrived in Londonderry just prior to this celebration. Being aware of my Protestant background, the family invited me to join their celebrations, which I did, but not before I was initiated as an Apprentice Boy. This was a relatively simple ceremony and at the time I didn't really know what I was letting myself in for, which is really no different from what happened when I joined Freemasonry. To me, at the time, it seemed like re-enacting history and not unlike Guy Fawkes' Day although there was a lot more passion shown for this event with all the bands that came from near and far to lead the march, imbibing in the customary liquid refreshments to oil their endeavours.
As far as the Apprentice Boys Association is concerned they have a Constitution like any association, with monthly meetings. A President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Chaplain, five committee members, Tyler and two auditors conduct their business. A minimum of seven members is required to conduct a meeting. Once the outdoor celebrations have started in December, no member is allowed to leave the ranks without the sanction of the President. The President also has the power to request any member under the influence of drink to leave the ranks, remove his regalia and have the member dealt with at the next meeting of the club. They also have a General Committee governing the clubs as we have a parent body to manage the organisation of our Lodges. I have a Certificate and Book of Constitution here to validate my experience.
My next connection occurred in 2009 when my wife and I went to Ireland to visit our daughter who had been working there for five years. As part of our travels we visited Newgrange and our guide on that day in August was under the impression that it was most likely a ceremonial mound associated with burials, a view which Knight and Lomas in “Uriels Machine” have strongly contested. For those who are unaware, Newgrange is situated on a bend in the River Boyne, which issues into the Irish Sea at about 53.5 degrees North. It has been dated at 3,200 BCE (Before the Christian Era) and as such predates the Pyramids of Gizza by some 700 years. Knight and Lomas regarded this megalithic site as a place for astronomical observations. They believe it was constructed to measure the movements of the planet Venus. In this way it provided the occupants with a time keeping system or calendar. Its entrance is aligned to the rising point of the winter solstice sun, whilst the mound at Knowth, a few kilometres away, with its East – West alignment honours the Equinoxes and the rising and setting sun on those days. The quarters of the year that these observations provided and the celebrations they heralded, linked the lives of men with the seasons and the movements of the sun.
The two mounds that I have mentioned form part of an area called Bru na Boinne (palace or mansion of the Boyne), which encompasses about forty mounds of which the three major are Newgrange, with its quartz facade, Knowth and Dowth. Dowth has yet to be evacuated but Knowth is actually larger and older than Newgrange by a few hundred years, but, like the other two, is aligned with points on the horizon. Dowth is in fact oriented towards the SW where the sun sets, whilst Newgrange is aligned towards the SE where the sun rises on that same day. All three rests upon rings of huge kerbstones each stone about four feet high by six to seven feet wide, many of which are decorated by runes (symbols). The name Dowth comes from the Gaelic word 'Dubad', meaning darkness, which is no surprise for it is aligned to the sunset on the winter solstice, and is thus associated with the darkness of winter. I have Chris McClintoch to thank for this last piece of research, and it is no surprise that he is an Irishman.
The last step of my story takes place just last year when doing some research I came upon this book called “The Craft and the Cross” by Chris McClintoch, which was published in 2010. He investigates the common origin of Freemasonry and Christianity in what he maintains, by way of very exhaustive research over eight years, to be the “True Story of the Sun of God” (with ‘sun’ spelt S-U-N and not S-O-N). I will not here go into detail about his thesis, as that is a story for another time and place. However, I will select an item from his book, which has pertinence to my story.
I made reference earlier to Knight and Lomas's contention that it was the planet Venus that was the basis for the construction of the mound at Newgrange. All astrological studies of Venus have agreed that it follows a path in the skies, which repeats itself every eight years. If its position is noted once every 584 days over five cycles, i.e. eight years, it has in the process traced an irregular five-pointed star. Venus, we know, features in the studies of many old world civilisations as shown in Egyptian and Sumerian temples. It also stands at the head of the stairway to heaven in the Tracing Boards in Irish Constitution Lodges, along with the sun and the moon.
If we trace the pattern that Venus takes over eight years we get the following irregular star: -
McClintoch maintains that in doing so it has traced the progress one makes through the offices in a Masonic Lodge. Beginning in the SE with the Junior Deacon, then up to the Senior Deacon, back down to the Junior Warden, then to the Senior Warden, and finally up to Master at the top of its cycle before dropping back to JD. The relative positions of those offices, he claims, are no accident. In a traditional Irish Lodge room the officer’s positions are exactly as shown.
Let us transfer ourselves for a moment to a temple about 3,200 BCE when the sun is about to rise over the Eastern horizon. The senior priests of one of the temples of the sun get ready to perform one of their daily tasks, i.e. to record where the sun rises, where it sets, and when it reaches its zenith on the meridian. Now the marking of the sunrise required two men, one of whom had a straight pole called a solar gnomon (think pole or wand). By setting the pole vertical against the sunrise, the shadow it cast on the ground would be marked with a chalk line. One man was needed to hold the pole whilst it was the job of the other to make sure it was vertical using a square, and then chalk the shadow line when the sun first breaks the horizon. Over the days the shadow line got closer and closer to the pole until it stopped altogether (the sun stood still!). This marked the solstice. Likewise two men were required for marking the angle of the sun at the end of the day.
The other daily task was to mark the moment the sun reached its highest point on the meridian in the south. This latter task required only one man with a plumb line. Holding the plumb line over a N/S line drawn on the ground he knew the sun was exactly in the south when its shadow fell along the N/S line, indicating noon. The shortest shadow would be on the day of the summer solstice, while the longest shadow marked the winter solstice.
The three principal officers of the modern lodge occupy positions in the East, South, and West. The Master wears a collar from which hangs a ninety-degree square, the Senior Warden's is a level and the Junior Warden’s is a plumb rule. All of these emblems are tools for laying-out or checking the vertical or horizontal. The Master’s place is in the East to mark the angle of the sun as it rises. Behind him, or further to the east, between him and the rising sun, is the Senior Deacon with his wand that doubles as a gnomon for casting the shadow. In the Irish Constitution the deacon sits at the back of the Chair of the Master or at the right if so permitted. So the Senior Deacon is placed further east than the Master, which is between him and the rising sun. The Master and Senior Deacon may sit side by side, but his proper place is enshrined in the wording of the ritual. The jewel around the Master's neck is a square - the tool he needs to place against the deacon’s wand to ensure that it is a true vertical. Close at hand among the working tools that lie on the altar, is the skirrit or chalked line with which he marks the shadow line, to record the position of the rising sun.
Similarly we have the Senior Warden in the west with his assistant the Junior Deacon on his right and are therefore between the Senior Warden and the setting sun. In the south, of course, we have the Junior Warden whose symbol of office is the plumb line, with plummet affixed. This is precisely the tool he would require for marking the moment the sun reaches its zenith on the meridian. He needs no assistant. His duty, when asked, is to “observe the sun on (or at) its meridian, to call the Brethren from labour to refreshment, and from refreshment to labour.”
McClintoch asks if it is merely coincidence that the principal officers of a modern Masonic Lodge are of the right number, the right tools, and in precisely the same positions to carry out the duties of this priesthood?
Brethren, this is only one of many of the situations put forward in Macintosh’s thesis - that Freemasonry has preserved the rituals and customs of the pre-Christian societies. I use this example because Venus is the ruling planet for the month of October in which my birthday falls and I will be taking much more interest in it in future. In the process of reading this book I have become aware of the more esoteric meanings behind the exoteric demonstrations of our fraternity.
As Freemasons we are taught to study the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Astronomy and astrology clearly lie within the compass of this exhortation and for those of you, like me, who are seeking the truth about the origins of Freemasonry, I strongly recommend Chris McClintock’s book to you.
Thank you brethren for listening; are there any questions?