I believe that freemasonry in Fife is largely sectarian.

I believe that freemasonry in Fife is largely sectarian.

My perception of freemasonry in Fife is that it is largely sectarian and this influences me as I am largely Irish-descended, and, nominally at least, Roman Catholic.

While it is self-evident that freemasonry is sectarian in the narrow sense of the word, I believe that in parts of Scotland it is largely sectarian in the broader (anti-RC) sense of the word.

I am not alone in this view as many others believe that Freemasonry in Scotland, and in particular in the Central Belt, is sectarian. Since this aspect of the organisation is peculiar to Scotland (and Northern Ireland) I feel it is necessary to examine it, so that the visitors to this website from outwith Scotland – of whom there are many from near and far – will better understand this blog.

In making this assertion about sectarianism, I realise that it is wrong to generalise, but we all do it.

For instance, political correctness dictates that we treat all people regardless of gender, race, religion or whatever as being equal and having the same characteristics, but forgive me if I do not bet any money on a female Japanese boxer winning the world heavyweight championship anytime soon.

No, that title will be in the hands of male African-Americans for the foreseeable future, or at least it is odds-on that it will be. Well, at least that is my expectation, based on my lifetime experience.

My, not inconsiderable, experience of freemasons in the working class areas of Fife is that they will typically be male (of course), Protestant, Rangers supporting, Tories, with Orange Order sympathies if not membership.

Now, that is not to say that there will be no freemasons who are Roman Catholic, Celtic supporting, Socialist, Irish Republicans. But while I have known hundreds of my stereotypical Protestant freemason I have known only a few R.Cs in the Craft, and none that I can think of that have all four opposite characteristics to their Protestant brethren.

The Mason Boyne video clip below satirises the stereotypical Scottish Freemason/Orangeman. But is the Mason Boyne caricature a fanciful myth? Or is my generalisation that freemasonry, is, in the main, a Protestant/Orange sect accurate?

Historical facts support my impression.

There are historical factors that would support my perceptions, but they are rarely discussed. Charles Oakley, the Glaswegian historian, famously commented: “There is no subject which writers and speakers about Glasgow are less willing to tackle than that of the Irish in Scotland.”

That observation strikes a chord with me and it is notable that while schoolchildren in Birmingham, England might be taught about anti-Irish, and by extension anti-RC prejudice in Fife in the nineteenth century LINK, their peers in Fife would know nothing of the bitter hostility shown by their ancestors to their fellow Britons at the time of a Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger of 1845-48.

Of course had the circumstances been reversed and unskilled and largely uneducated Scottish workers starving with hunger were flocking into Ireland to undercut the wages of the equally disadvantaged native labourers a similar reaction would have been understandable.

What is difficult to understand is why the well-educated clergy and government in Scotland fostered and propagated this bias long after its causes had gone. Pro-Protestant, anti-Irish political parties attracted significant percentages of the popular vote in Scotland almost 100 years after ‘The Irish Famine’.

The mass immigration of Irish into Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century was made up mostly of RCs who were shunned by the Church of Scotland dominated establishment, while their Protestant/Orange countrymen were welcomed as prodigals returning home.

While the two camps lived and worked, mostly in harmony, there was a division in the two cultures with regards to religious worship and schooling, and it is hardly surprising that the social/fraternal societies of the two religious denominations differed as well.

RCs were forbidden from becoming freemasons by Vatican edict and were encouraged by their church to join Catholic groups such as the Knights of St. Columba. The predominately poor and uneducated working class Irish RCs were also largely supporters of the Labour Party as they saw them as being the party of the workers and the party with sympathy for Irish nationalism.

Protestants were indoctrinated by their church in believing that the RC Irish incomers (though not their Protestant/Orange fellow countrymen) were of an inferior race and intelligence.

The Protestant Irish immigrants were seen by the Church of Scotland as seeds of the Ulster Plantations returning to their roots and it would be natural for this group to support the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party LINK.

The close links between the Church of Scotland, Freemasonry and Orangeism are well documented, the Orange Order was formed by freemasons LINK and its ethos, ceremonies, organisation and structure based on Masonic lines, so there is no surprise that these societies were predominately Protestant.

Historical sectarianism endures.

While all of these things happened a long time ago it is not surprising that freemasonry contains some residual elements of its nineteenth century character. It was after all only in the twenty-first century, 2002, LINK that the Church of Scotland officially forsook its anti-Irish/anti-RC views and apologised for its earlier racism against Irish RCs.

At about this time the church also had some doubts as to the advisability of its ministers and members belonging to the Orange Order and the Freemasons, and with regard to the freemasons, in 1987 they were said to include many of the church leaders and half of the elders.LINK

The church reported in 1989 which said that their members should consider their position regarding membership, and church premises should not be used for Masonic meetings, but stopped short of proscribing these organisations.

A man I feel I should mention was the Rev Malcolm A. Ritchie a retired Church of Scotland minister who befriended me while supporting my PE306, and was instrumental in having the 1987/89 motions of disaproval and banning Masonic meetings in church permises carried, (a  motion that was opposed by the Rev. Salmond who tabled an amendment that the assembly should simply let the damning report lie on the table; see video below). The Rev. Ritchie supported the report and was very firmly of the opinion that “Christianity and Freemasonry are not compatible” and felt strongly enough to write to the Justice Secretary, Jim Wallace in these terms. LINK

Another minister who was critical of the Orange Order’s marches and their followers conduct was the Rev Cowie, my school chaplain, who hoped that orangemen in his congregation did not conduct themselves in the manner he had witnessed others doing. Conduct that the good man wrote to the press about. LINK

Despite these reservations as recently as the 1970s a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev. Allan G. Hasson, was the Most Worthy Grand Master of the Orange Order of Scotland LINK. More recently the minister of St Oswald’s Scottish Episcopal Church, Maybole, the Rev Ian Meredith, was the latest in a long line of Protestant ministers to hold the post of Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.

In 2005 another Scottish Episcopalian minister, the Rev Canon Joseph Morrow of St. Ninian’s church Dundee, was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scottish Freemasons. The current Senior Grand Chaplain of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Scotland is the Church of Scotland minister the Rev. Iain R. Ramsden.

So despite the Church of Scotland declaring in 1989 as to having “very real theological difficulties” with freemasonry the Masons are still part of the established Scottish church and one of their ministers, the Rev. John Jenkinson, of Falkirk, a Masonic Past Senior Grand Chaplain, claimed he had ’no idea’ what the problem was. Jenkinson stated: “I am a past senior grand chaplain, which many Church of Scotland ministers have been before me – some of them Moderators. Suddenly they are persona non grata.”

The cosy relationship between the Protestant churches in Scotland and the Masonic and Orange orders is hardly surprising. The Orange Order originated in Northern Ireland in 1795 and is in many ways identical to the Masonic order. Its ritual, symbolism, degree structure and organisation are similar because it was based on the Scottish Masonic order, which can trace its roots back to the 15th century. LINK

Perhaps the organisation that best illustrated the intertwining of Protestantism, Freemasonry and the Orange Order is the old Rangers football club (now liquidated), described by its then owner Sir David Murray as a Scottish institution second only to the Church of Scotland.

Murray’s praise for that club was recently echoed by the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond (probably a Mason himself) who described the former Rangers (then facing administration) as a “huge institution, part of the fabric of the Scottish nation”.

This accolade, despite the fact that the club owed huge amounts to creditors including the taxman and for almost a hundred years had employed discriminatory employment practices by refusing to employ RCs. This bigotry took place while the quintessentially Masonic club (Ibrox was described by one Mason as the biggest lodge in the country, which meets every second Saturday) allowed Orange Order services at its Ibrox stadium and courted the Orange pound with orange strips etc.

Even the Masons accept they are perceived as sectarian.

Following some correspondence in 2004 I was invited to drop in to Freemason’s House, the HQ of the Craft, by the then Grand Secretary, Colin ‘Martin’ McGibbon. I took Martin up on this offer one day while in Edinburgh and found the jovial Martin – an avid Rangers supporter – a charming and very gracious host.

Over coffee Martin told me of how, while visiting the USA he was taken by the number of Masonic/Shriner bumper stickers on cars proudly proclaiming the owner’s allegiance to the Craft. “Can you imagine me leaving my car in Glasgow with one of these on, it would get wrecked” he exclaimed.

Martin insisted that the image of freemasonry as being anti-RC was a misconception, and though predominately Protestant, the Craft was open to all. I do not doubt his sincerity and, technically, he may have been correct, but the reality is somewhat different.

Martin showed me round the Grand Lodge Museum and introduced me to the historian Robert Cooper who showed me the museum collection which included the late King’s Masonic apron. Mr Cooper was cooler than Martin, but he did offer to answer any questions he could and sometime later I took him up on this.

I don’t think there is any dispute that the Scottish Masonic movement is as Martin described. He had earlier sat in on an interview by Stephen Breen and Nic Outterside of The Scotsman newspaper on 4 July 1996 with the Grand Master Mason Lord Burton of Dochfour, who accepted that, in Scotland, Freemasonry is perceived to be an overwhelmingly Protestant craft. LINK

Researching my family tree has a twist of Orange.

When preparing a family tree for future generations of my family I needed a photograph of my wife’s great grandfather whom I knew to be a Mason (as was his son and grandson, my wife’s father), and hoped that a photo of him might exist in whatever lodge he belonged to. I wrote to Robert Cooper with such details as I had and he provided me with the name of the lodge (Lvdge of Dunfermling No 26 ) and the address of the Lodge Secretary who I wrote to.

The Lodge Secretary and Past Master wrote back to me and was unable to help with my photo request, but it turned out that I knew of him, and in fact the last time I had seen him was when he was leading a band of Orangemen/Apprentice Boys (some from Townhill and some from Liverpool) in a walk past my house a few years ago!

The fact that the leader of the Orange feeder procession, or walk, was also a leading light in the Masons did not surprise me, rather it reinforced my perception of the Craft, or at least some parts of it.

Fife Masonic Lodges Orange connections.

I don’t think I am being unrealistic in my view and can cite other examples, such as the lodge in Kelty – where I have visited on social occasions – which is also used for practicing and (as with many other Masonic lodges in Fife LINK) is a venue of the Young Cowdenbeath Defenders Flute Band and for Loyalist Discos.

The Orange Orders using Masonic Halls is not uncommon and there was the recent case of a member of the Ulster terrorist group the UDA having a recruitment drive/fund-raiser at St Kenneth’s Masonic Lodge in Kennoway, Markinch, Fife, when it was said armed and uniformed UDA men strutted their stuff.

This information only came to light by accident when police raided the home of a man in connection with a completely separate matter and when they searched it, they found a weapon, ammunition and paramilitary paraphernalia that had been used by him for UDA initiation ceremonies at the Kennoway lodge over an 18-month period. LINK

At the time of the Kennoway incident the Provincial Grand Master, David Wishart of Dunfermline immediately withdrew the lodge’s Masonic charter LINK, but later claimed he had been duped by non-Masons and rather sheepishly had to reinstate it, saying that there was no bar on Orangemen joining the Masons.

The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland published a newspaper article about the Kennoway Lodge affair on their website and appended it with a “Note”, which bizarrely reminded their members that the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland was not a Masonic body! So it seems like I am not alone in wondering whether or not the Orange and Masonic orders are two sides of the same coin.

In effect the “Note” defended the Craft by using those two well-worn pillars of defence in the Scottish legal system: “We didna’e ken” and “It wisnae us!” LINK

Perhaps the Masons in Scotland are different from elsewhere because they are so numerous – according to Masonic figures, there are more Masons per head of population in Scotland (about 2.93%) than in any other country in the world; more than four times higher than England LINK – and consequently recruit from a wider base, recruiting the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Another reading of the Masons own statistics might conclude that – as half our population is female – six in 100 Scottish men are Masons!

To see the Masons as others see them

I am aware that the Masons would like us to see them as a couthie wee group of middle-aged, middle-class, Burns-lovers; chubby chaps with beards who treat old-age-pensioners at Christmas and generally indulge in philanthropic acts, spreading happiness and wellbeing in the community.

That is of course one side of the Craft, but there is another side……….one with an Orange flavour that is not so appetising.

I have not gone out of my way to prove my perception of an Orange connection within the Masons of Fife, but it is hard to ignore it, especially when it manifests its presence outside of my living room window, accompanied by the beat of a big drum.