Conspiracy theories have abounded about its supposed global influence. It is said that some of the most high profile US President were Freemasons, including George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.
‘The Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell was a Freemason until he resigned following a condemnation of Freemasonry by Pope Leo XII.
Dan Brown – best known for the Da Vinci Code and shining a spotlight on groups such as Opus Dei and Knights Templar, wrote a 2009 novel The Lost Symbol, which suggested that the US government was secretly run by a coven of Freemasons practising sinister rites.
Those initiation rites apparently include drinking red wine out of a skull. The man being initiated must be blindfolded, with a rope around his neck and a dagger placed at his breast. A mock murder is performed as part of the ceremony.
While there are aspects to Freemasonry that are kept secret – only taught and revealed to those who go through the initiation – that is to keep them in a proper perspective and context of meaning, insists the head of the association in the city and county, Basil Fenton.
Membership is open to “all men of integrity and goodwill, irrespective of colour or creed, on condition that they profess a belief in a supreme being”.
“How they choose to worship Him is not of interest to us,” explained Basil. “You have to believe there is something bigger than us so an atheist cannot join.”
Believers in Buddha or Muhammad would be welcome, he insists.
“You’ve also got to be living in good repute,” intones Basil, who bears the title Provincial Grand Master South Connaught.
Just who decides whether a man is living in good repute is seemingly a complex process. Once somebody applies to join the Masons, there is a lengthy scrutinising period. For people unknown to the current members, that may take up to a year.
Traditionally, applicants were nominated by members who were family members. Now men are making an application with no previous Masonic history.
“If a guy applies, somebody will agree to meet with him, assess his expectations and let him know what’s he’s letting himself in for. People believe we’re into all sorts. Mysticism or weird practices – sacrificing goats and other animals, mystic practices – and we don’t.
“He will examine his moral worth – it’s not about whether he’s rich, poor or otherwise, it’s about his perceived position in the community,” reveals Basil.
“If somebody comes from nowhere, two people have to get to know him over six months, that could be meeting once a month. After that time if acceptable, he will be nominated and seconded in an open lodge.”
A “known rogue or criminal” is unlikely to get past the examination. However people who have made mistakes on their way through life will go through more questioning and scrutinising, but may make it through if they have changed their ways.
Basil was appointed as provincial grand master in 2005 by headquarters in Dublin. He leads the 110 members in the region who are members of four ‘lodges’. The Province of South Connaught consists of Galway City (Lodge 14), Ballinasloe (Lodge 137 which meets in Athlone), Athlone (Lodge 101) and Roscommon (Lodge 248).