Morningside Masonic Association

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The John Abbott Story

MOST Scots can name at least one Freemason. Rabbie Burns for a start.

But as Brother John Abbott reeled off the names of eminent members of the Craft over the years, the number and range of those who have been or still are Masons is astonishing: George Washington, the first president of the United States; Hollywood star John Wayne; boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson; author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle; golfer Arnold Palmer; astronaut Buzz Aldrin; explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, and many others.

A Couple of names, however, would not have been a surprise to those who believe that the Masons have an adverse influence on the fortunes of their football team.

"Brother Alistair McCoist, who was initiated into Lodge Thorntree 512 in Thornliebank, Glasgow in 1984, the same year he scored a hat-trick for Rangers in the Scottish League Cup final against Celtic; and let's not forget Brother Walter Smith (current Rangers FC manager)," said Brother Abbott.

But, before Celtic supporters reading this think that their suspicions have just been confirmed, he highlighted the famous Scottish sporting date of May 25, 1967.

"Six of the Celtic team that won the European Cup that day - and legendary manager Jock Stein - were also Freemasons," he added.

To think these players could have been exchanging "funny handshakes" at the end of their matches with the same referees who are sometimes referred to as "masons in the black" by some football supporters is, to me, mind-boggling.

This and many other startling facts were provided by Brother Abbott in his lecture to Lodge St. John Fisherrow No. 112 last month.

It was part of the Musselburgh Lodge's open night, which was arranged to demonstrate to the public that Freemasonry "is not a secret society, but a society with secrets".

As well as the 44 masons in their full regalia who attended, 22 members of the public did so as well.

Afterwards, Lodge secretary John Stewart said: "We were very pleased with the turnout and a lot of the people who came along showed great interest.

"We would be pleased to get more members if they wanted to join."

However, he confirmed that, other than the conditions that Masons are male and over the age of 18, there is no bar against anyone at all joining.

He said: "There are people of many denominations within Freemasonry and many Catholics across the world are Freemasons.

"The number of Catholics in 112 is unknown, as we don't ask anyone their religion when they join."

Musselburgh's Masonic connections date to the 16th century.

Then, there were two Lodges active in the town, Aitcheson Haven and Musselburgh Kilwinning.

Lodge Aitcheson Haven has the oldest known minute book, now displayed in Edinburgh's Grand Lodge.

Musselburgh Kilwinning met in Kilwinning Street, where one can still see Masonic emblems on the wall of the building.

Lodge St. John Fisherrow No. 112 was chartered on March 15, 1768.

The original charter is displayed in the Temple and was signed by Brother The Right Honourable, 8th Earl of Dalhousie, Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason.

The original Masonic Hall was situated in Bridge Street. The buildings were demolished to make way for the Brunton Hall, and the Lodge moved to its present premises in Balcarres Road in the 1920s.

Probably the most famous member of Lodge No. 112 was Lt. Col. Archibald Henry Buchanan-Dunlop, who played a leading part in one of the most famous episodes in the First World War - the football match between British and German troops on Christmas Day, 1914.

He had been a professional soldier years before in South Africa, serving for 15 years, and retired back home to Scotland to take up the position of arts teacher at Loretto School in Musselburgh, where he was a former pupil.

When the call to arms came for the Great War, he volunteered and soon found himself at the front line in Belgium, where the extraordinary football match took place.

The Daily Sketch newspaper in 1915 said of him: 'One of the moving spirits in this wonderful Xmas truce.'

Initiated into Freemasonry whilst serving before the war in South Africa, Buchanan-Dunlop joined and became a Past Master of both Lodge St. John No. 112 and The Loretto Centenary Lodge No. 1373.

It would have been no surprise to Freemasons that one of their own had played a leading part in the Christmas football match, as it demonstrated one of the three main principles of Freemasonry - brotherly love. It was a principle that inspired Burns in many of his poems, one of the most famous being 'A man's a man for a' that'.

The second of the principles is relief, which is probably the most contentious of the three. Many outside the Craft believe that its members use its network as a means to gain unfair financial advantage in business and trade.

No matter the truth and extent of it (and how would we really ever know?), there is no doubt about the amount of time and money that Lodges across the country and beyond invest in charities in the wider community.

To date, the Grand Lodge of Scotland has donated more than £500,000 to the Children's Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS).

The organisations that Lodge St. John Fisherrow No. 112 has helped since 2006 include Children First, Deep Sea Fishermen, Riding for the Disabled in East Lothian, Dementia Action in Musselburgh and the recently formed Boys' Brigade of Musselburgh Pipe Band.

The third principle of Freemasonry is truth.

It was the theme which Brother John Abbott concluded his lecture by quoting Shakespeare's Hamlet:

"This above all: to thine own self be true,

"And it must follow, as the night the day,

"Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Brother Abbott did not mention Shakespeare in his lecture on 'Famous Freemasons'.

But could probably the world's greatest ever writer have a been member of the Craft?

If he was, why did he put the words into the mouth of such an unsympathetic character as Polonius, who no audience member could ever shed a tear when he is murdered by young Hamlet?

Could the Bard of Avon, therefore, have been anti-masonic? We will probably never know.

However, the Freemasons, that society with secrets, shares one thing with that most secretive of writers.

That there will always be more questions than answers about them, and I'm sure that they prefer it that way.



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