The history of ‘The Baal’s Bridge Square’
All the clues tend to suggest that the Craft was flourishing in Ireland in the 16th century. It is not possible to be dogmatic about the issue though as no records remain to prove that the Guilds or Lodges then existing performed any esoteric ceremonies. There is one piece of ‘evidence’, however, that is quite compelling; this being the so called, ‘Baal’s Bridge Square’.
In 1830 a four arched, Tudor bridge over the River Shannon in County Limerick was being replaced, during excavation work for the new structure, a surprising discovery was made: beneath the eastern corner of the foundation of the northern land pier on the English Town end of the bridge, a stone mason’s square was dug from the clay. This small artefact, measuring just 5 7/8 inches (149 mm) from tip to tip, was inscribed with a phrase recognisable to today’s Freemasons, and the location in which is was buried indicates that a Masonic custom (still in vogue today) was being practiced in Ireland more than 500 years ago.
One might argue that such a tool could simply have been dropped and lost during the construction of bridge surrounded by clay, mud and flowing water, but was it a lost working tool or had it been deliberately placed in position? Was it a small offering or blessing for the work ahead to progress smoothly and safely? The reason that we can be fairly certain that it is the latter is due to the fact that, when started correctly, at the foundation of any new building, it is at the north-east corner that the first block should be laid. Secondly, although badly corroded, the text engraved on The Baal’s Bridge Square is still legible and reads: “I WILL STRIVE TO LIVE WITH LOVE & CARE. UPON THE LEVEL. BY THE SQUARE.” The Square bears the date 1507 and this could well be the start date of the construction of the Tudor period bridge. To that end, in the book ‘The Marencourt Cup and Ancient Square’ by H. F. Berry, Assistant Keeper of the Irish Records, Brother Berry records that “Ball’s (or Baal’s) Bridge is a beautiful structure, of a single arch, built in 1831, to replace an ancient bridge of the same name, which consisted of four aches, with a range of houses on its west side. The date of the erection of this ancient structure has not been ascertained, but possibly the old square, dated 1507, may have been placed, under the foundation stone in that year.” In any case, Brother Furnell informs us that the old bridge is certainly mentioned in records of 1558.
Today ‘The Baal’s Bridge Square’ is carefully preserved by Union Lodge No.13 in Limerick, Ireland. Union Lodge was warranted in 1732, but is probably “time immemorial”, like so many others of our old Irish, Scottish and English Lodges. The illustration below is an exact facsimile of the face and obverse sides of the original Square, reproduced from a rubbing made by Bro. James Le Gear, the courteous Secretary of Triune Masonic Lodge No.333, Limerick.
In 2002 a limited edition of 500 replicas in ‘distressed’ silver, hall marked and numbered, were struck from a mould taken from the original. Each came in its own presentation box accompanied by a certificate of provenance together with a history of the artefact. The replicas were created to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the founding of the Provincial Grand Lodge of North Munster in 1842, and were available to purchase at a cost of 195 Euros each. The proceeds went toward the Masonic Centre near King John’s Castle in the old city, overlooking the River Shannon and not far from where the Square was first discovered in 1830.
Reference: ‘The Marencourt Cup and Ancient Square’ by H. F. Berry (1905)
Special Thanks to Mike Shinners for supplying us with his Photo of the New Baals Bridge in Limerick. You can find some more work by Mike here.