In early September 2007 the Masonic Hall in Tuckey Street in Cork city was open to the public as part of Heritage Week. An elderly gentleman approached one of the stewards and told them that he had two minute books from the Bandon Lodge, which he had purchased in a book shop about eight years before.
The members of the Bandon Masonic Lodge (Lodge No. 84, the last of several lodges in the town) were very excited by this news, as lodge books were missing and it was hoped that the books in question would fill the gaps and ensure that a continuous run of minutes from its foundation in 1738 would then be available. However, when the books were handed in sometime later it was discovered that while one was a Masonic book, it was from a long defunct Bandon lodge. But the second book was from an Orange lodge, of which there used to be eight meeting simultaneously in the town. At one point Bandon lodges represented one third of those in County Cork Grand Lodge and equaled Cork city itself.
The minute book for Royal Williamite LOL 798 starts in 1878 and concludes in 1891. At that time, according to Dr. David J. Butler, the Provincial Librarian and Historian of the Masonic Order in Munster, there were two lodges which met in Bandon, both sharing a lodge room. Dr. Butler, who researched the Grand Lodge of Ireland archives at Schomberg House, found that by 1891 Royal Williamite LOL was the only lodge meeting in Bandon, although he feels there may have been others meeting privately.
In June 1918 the Central Committee minutes state in relation to County Cork that the books of the County Grand Lodge and the warrant and books of LOL 983 in Cork city had been deposited in the Grand Secretary’s office (in Dublin) and that their meetings had been suspended until after the war. In December 1918 there were no returns received from Bandon or Cork and in December 1919 a final return was made by Bandon. Cork city lodge did not resume meeting after the war.
The situation was tense in Ireland at that time, as the Home Rule debate , the War of Independence, the Treaty and the Civil War took centre of the political and social stage. For small minority Protestant communities in Ireland it was not a good time. Dr. Butler has handed over the old minute book to the care of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, where it has a treasured place in the archives. “It is unknown in whose home these minutes of Royal Williamite LOL No. 798 Bandon lay, until perhaps and executor’s sale or house clearance or other led to their purchase by Schull Books of Ballydehob and subsequent sale to this gentleman who donated both to the Masonic Province of Munster,” says Dr. Butler. “There is no trace, as yet, of earlier or subsequent minutes of the lodge at this stage, or of the lodge seal; however it is entirely possible both survive, as it is known that some Orange sashes still do in that district. More recently a contact of mine revealed that the lodge seal of LOL 983 in Cork is still in the Cork area,” he says.
Orangemen can be pleased that Dr. Butler felt motivated to present the old minute book to us and that it can now be preserved as an almost forgotten part of Irish Orangeism. The book itself is absolutely fascinating, not least since it lists the names of the members attending each meeting. On March 12, 1884, for example we learn that those attending the meeting were Henry Forde WM, William Hudson DM, Captain John Clerke Emerson, Denis Gallagher, William Good, Joseph H. Allen, John Hudson, Nathanial Sutton, Thomas Roycroft, James Allen, Henry Bigwood, William Savage, Thomas Damery, William Peterson, Percy Sullivan, Thomas Keynes, Richard Forde, James Russell, George Good, William Forde, Richard Leonard and Thomas Beamish.
The minute details that three new members were initiated, John Branigan, William Halnan and George Turpin and paid their four shillings dues.
The writing in the book is fine copperplate and there is much to dip into in terms of local and Orange history. Interestingly the seal which the lodge was using was titled Bandon Orange Lodge 798, although the lodge was titled Royal Williamite.
The roll of members is also contained in the book and shows forty members including at least three clergymen.
The roll is a useful historical archive in its own right, detailing when the members were initiated and also their address. One of the last entries, for July 6 1891, highlighted that a Bro. John Crawley from Toronto was present and spoke of the progress of Orangeism in Canada. It is tremendous that the minute book has both survived and now come home. Maybe others will follow from the Cork area…