By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster has released an updated edition of John Day’s “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Largely because the re-release contains a considerable lot about Day himself, about whom I previously knew only a little more than I do about Ralph P. Lester.
Oh, and I got to contribute to the appendix 🙂
The new edition was officially released during the kick off the Cork Heritage Week in County Cork, Ireland, in August. Amid the initial speeches and celebrations, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster Grand Librarian and Archivist, W.Bro. David J. Butler, presented the first copy of the fifth edition to The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Councilor John Sheehan.
For those who don’t already know, “Memoir of the Lady Freemason,” of which the first edition was prepared and published in 1914, is about as close to a definitive biography as we have about the life and times of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth. Though the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster’s website still refers to Aldworth as “the only Lady Freemason” – they’ve always been very friendly and cordial with me – it’s more accurate to say she was the first known woman Freemason in the modern history of the Craft.
Alworth was about 17 and was still Elizabeth St. Leger when she was initiated on a winter evening in 1712 into the Lodge that met in her family home at Doneraile Court, near Mallow in North Cork. The family long has told the story about how she fell asleep in the library, woke to find a Masonic meeting going on, tried to sneak out, was caught and the Lodge decided to make her a member.
She so continued as a Freemason, including at least one term as Master of the Lodge, until her death at 80 in 1775. She is buried in the Davies’ family vault, under the Cathedral of St. Finbarre’s in Cork.
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster long has had a warm place in its heart for Aldworth. A portion of its website and museum are dedicated to her Masonic relics and memory.
A new relic turned up in time to be included in the latest edition of “Memoir of the Lady Freemason,” a photo of the silver chalice dedicate by Aldworth to Newmarket Church, which remains in use at St. Mary’s Church of Ireland at Doneraile. Bro. Butler tells me that the chalice long “was hidden in plain sight” and that his friend, Canon Eithne Lynch, allowed a photo for the new edition.
The new edition also includes very informative additions in the appendix by Butler, me and noted Irish historian Cal Hyland.
Butler’s appendix entry is about Day himself and I’m very happy to know Day better. When I first was studying the lives of early women Freemasons, Day’s work, along with that of a very few others, was very important in pulling together what information still exists about Aldworth. I won’t spoil it for you 🙂
The new edition’s release comes only a couple of months after Doneraile Court opened its doors to the public for the first time in 50 years, according to a press release issued by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The 600-acre estate had been to The Irish Land Commission in 1969 and much of the property was opened as a park under The Forestry Commission in 1984. The Hon. Desmond Guinness and The Irish Georgian Society spent about 18 years and 500,000 pounds restoring the house, which has been under the oversight of The Office of Public Works since 1994.
Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Department Minister Josepha Madigan congratulated the Office of Public Works on the house’s restoration, according to the press release. “Ireland’s unique heritage is a gift to us all,” Madigan was quoted in the press release. “I would encourage everyone to take time to visit this wonderful 17th century country home if you are in, or visiting, the North Cork region.”
I would like to do just that, one day. I don’t know that the library where Elizabeth Aldworth reportedly fell asleep (it should be the first room on the right as one enters the front doors) still exists but it would remain a sort if Masonic pilgrimage even if the library is gone.
I can’t yet post a link for anyone who would like to purchase a copy of the latest edition of Day’s “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” as the link is not yet available. (We are Freemasons, not Barnes and Noble.) For now, if you want a copy, send a missive through the ether via the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster’s website and I’m sure it’ll get sorted. All proceeds from sale of the new edition are donated to charity.
As soon as I hear about an active link, I’ll update this blog.
 Ralph P. Lester is the reputed author of “Look to the East!” (Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, New York, 1876), a much beloved/vilified exposure of the ritual of Freemasonry’s first three degrees, and that’s about all that’s known about him. Unlike Day, Lester might be a pseudonym.
 Specifics about Aldworth are based on my own research, which relies heavily on Day’s work, and as such it open to much heated debate. If you want to read more about why I have come to the conclusions that I have about Aldworth, you can ferret out a copy of my own “Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons.”