A new initative has recently begun in Sligo. Open Door Sligo appears quite covert, mainly because their facebook page is updated sporadically. The idea is similar to the Open Doors weekend, building of historical significance are opened to the public for an afternoon.
Advance booking is necessary, as space can be limited in some of these buildings. Open Door Sligo had co-ordinated a tour of Sligo's Masonic Lodge last year, and I was disappointed to have missed out, but now I had my chance! Masonic Lodges have always been a source of fascination to most people. Unlike churches and places of worship they remain closed places, accessible only to those who are members of the mysterious brotherhood. Some famous (and unexpected) Freemasons include Oscar Wilde, Clark Gable, Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Peter Sellers.
When we were all seated in the meeting room (where certain decorative features are modelled after the Temple of Solomon), we were given an overview of the Freemasons, and its history in Ireland, by Morgan McCreadie. Morgan is the assistant to the grand secretary of the Irish Freemasons. I had encountered Morgan before, when he spoke at the last Trailblaze event at Dublin's Masonic Temple. He is a most engaging and charismatic individual, and he did succeed in dispelling some popular myth around the Freemasons. In fact just yesterday he was featured in an Irish Times article on the subject of Freemasonry.
The house itself is in a state of disrepair, and relies on donations from members to fund repairs. You could say that the house was lacking a "woman's touch", as a few odds and ends were scattered untidily among the photos and paraphernalia. Freemasons meetings are first recorded in Sligo as far back as December 1760, but it wasn't until 1895, after years of tireless fundraising, that a purpose built meeting place was built in Sligo town. Jack and William Butler Yeats maternal grandfather, William Pollexfen was a member of the Sligo Freemasons Guild.
The Masonic Square and Compass, seen here on the front gate, and the clock on the mantlepiece, are recognisable as architect's tools and are used in Masonic ritual as emblems to teach symbolic lessons. No hierarchy exists in the guild, Morgan assured us, these are working men, and these tools allude to that, to the honesty and morality of their work. Freemason's meetings are ritualistic, which sounds somewhat hocus pocus, but really means that they follow a format that has changed since the formation of the brotherhood, which has become ritual.
There are currently 25,000 Freemasons in Ireland today. The Masonic Temple on Molesworth Street is open to the public, within working hours. The Freemasons discretely donate sums of money to various charities, something that is neglected to be mentioned in the press, further enveloping these societies in secrecy.
The elephant in the room, was the question of why women were still excluded from membership. Morgan gave us a simple, straight forward answer, the subtleties of which escape me now. Essentially, men need a place to gather with their fellow man, in an all male environment, men interact differently than in a mixed environment. Women behave differently together, they are multi-taskers, they make plans, men prefer to relax, knowing what to expect, or something to that effect. I was satisfied with his explanation, I have no desire to become part of the organisation, though now some of the secrecy has been removed, it's not as elusive to me as it once was.
Elements of their ritual still fascinate me, as the 'Freemasonry' wiki states "Freemasons use signs (gestures), grips or tokens (handshakes), and words to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors.", well this myth does hold true, as confirmed by Morgan.
All in all, an afternoon well spent! I'm thrilled to see initiatives like this taking place (this one was hosted by the Sligo Peace and Reconciliation Partnership, which aims to strengthen cross-border relations), arts and culture are underappreciated at local government level, are usually under funded if at all, if the turnout for this event is anything to go by, its doing something worthwhile.
Find out about future Open Door Sligo events via their facebook page.
Read more: Deconstructing a few secrets of the Freemasons (The Irish Times, April 30th 2013)