Limerick Masons open doors to public
One of the oldest society's in the city has opened its doors to the people of Limerick and invited the public to "come and see" its new facilities.
The Freemasons, now based at the Masonic Centre, King's Island, as a worldwide organisation has often been slammed for the secrecy that surrounds it.
However, the Provincial Grand Master for the North Munster Freemasons, Hugh Milne, said that a new era of openness was promising a great future for the society which had been in the city for more than 500 years.
"We are trying to open up a lot more so people can see what we are doing. We now have a permanent location that we can invite people to come and see. We have had an exhibition by the Market Artists. A PC training course commenced here this week that's being done in association with FAS. It will be held here over 14 weeks," he said.
"It's working on the concept of sharing and being a good neighbour. We are anxious to share our new facilities. Obviously, the purpose has to be compatible to the facility, but it was built in such a way as to appeal to the community and to State agencies. Last year, Limerick Civic Trust had their prize-giving here for their Limerick You Don't See competition," he said.
The Freemasons moved into their new premises last September and it includes two meeting rooms, a museum, and a dining room, which also acts as an exhibition hall complete with adjustable lighting and picture hanging facilities.
"Before we didn't have an identifiable premises. We couldn't do much until we had moved into our new building.
"The Market Artists want to hold an exhibition here again in November. This year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, who was also a Freemason. We are planning on celebrating that with a concert, hopefully in the autumn," said Mr Milne.
He said that the Limerick premises - which forms part of an old church and the stables of the Bishop's Palace - is one of only a few purposely built masonic buildings.
"It was quite an occasion when it was opened last September as there are very few new masonic buildings and this is the first purpose-built one in a long time."
Mr Milne also pointed out that the Freemasons enjoyed a colourful history in Limerick, with well-known figures, including the Barringtons, Shaws and Roches, being involved in the society.
"We have the relic of the Baals Bridge square. It was found under the bridge in 1830 and it dates back to about 1507. It's widely regarded as one of the oldest masonic artefacts in the world.
It is very strange to find something as old as this, especially in Ireland, considering there are only about four pieces of furniture from Ireland left in the world that are over 500 years old.
"This is a priceless artefact. Of course we don't have the real one here - that's in the bank, but it shows how well established the Freemasons are in Limerick," he said.
Another artefact traced to the Limerick Lodge, is the Marencourt Cup, which was commissioned in 1812 to mark the benevolence of a French captain during the Napoleonic wars.
The silver cup, which cost £100 to make, was to be awarded to a French captain, a Freemason, who made a gentleman's agreement that an English captain, Joseph Webb, could go free on the condition that he secured the freedom of a French hostage and that if he didn't, he would give himself up to the French within one year.
"The French prisoner wasn't released so Capt Webb returned to France and discovered that Capt Marencourt had been captured and so went back to England.
"The Freemasons in Limerick commissioned the silver cup, which along with a suitable address would be forwarded to Capt Marencourt on his release. Sadly in the meantime he died in North Africa and never received his cup. It was eventually returned to the Lodge in Limerick where it has been carefully preserved ever since," Mr Milne said.
"And just to dispel a few myths surrounding the society - we don't care who you worship, just that you believe in a God. Another taboo subject is politics. We don't discuss who you support or don't support. We are very much non-political.
"So come visit the premises for yourself. It's about camaraderie and friendship. And members are encouraged to be part of, rather than apart from, society," Mr Milne said.