The Masonic Female Orphan School, Dublin
1792 – 1972
In 1792, seven Irish Freemasons formed themselves into a Modest Society for the Schooling of the Orphan Female Children of Distressed Masons. From its beginnings in Domville’s Lane, the school expanded gradually. It was financed by subscriptions from members and by the proceeds from various charity sermons and benefit plays.
Initially, the girls were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic but this was later expanded to include domestic service and dress making. By the time the school moved to Burlington House in 1852, French and German had been added to the curriculum.
By 1875 there were forty-five pupils at the school and it had out grown its premises. A new site of c. 10 acres was found on the Merrion Road, Ballsbridge (the current Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge) and work commenced in 1879. The building was designed by John McCurdy and William Mansfield Mitchell and built by Messrs. Gahan & Son. Money was raised by subscriptions which amounted to £12,732.l8s.ld.
A ceremony took place in June 1880 involving a procession of pupils, freemasons and the architects. At the north-east angle of the foundation; coins, documents, and gifts were placed, along with the day’s newspapers; before the foundation stone itself was laid by the Duke of Abercorn.
In 1882 the new school opened and a “Grand Masonic Bazaar”, held at the Exhibition Palace of the Royal Dublin Society, raised £6,000 to help defray the costs of furnishings, appliances for teaching, for the establishment of a library and for laying out the garden and grounds. The school, forming two sides of a quadrangle and entered beneath a corner tower was equipped with school rooms, dormitories and recreation and dining areas.
The Centenary of the school was celebrated in 1892 with the Masonic Centenary Bazaar held in the Royal Dublin Society’s grounds. It was held over five days and drew an attendance of over 96,000. £21,629 19s 4d was raised for the school. The main hall was set up as a 17th Century market place and the south hall as old Dublin. In addition to browsing the many stalls, selling everything from lace, silver and furniture to flowers, sweets and fruit and vegetables; the visitors could have their fortunes told, take part in cycling or athletics tournaments, or enjoy the refreshments on offer. Further entertainment was provided by way of concerts, conjuring shows, fireworks displays and games of musical whist with living cards, the first performances of their kind ever given in Europe.
The Masonic Female Orphan School continued to prosper and the number of pupils rose to over one hundred. In 1900 they were honoured by a visit from Queen Victoria and her daughter Princess Beatrice.
During the 1916 Rising, military authorities took possession of the school and converted the premises into a temporary barracks, where some five or six hundred troops were quartered for about a fortnight.
The school remained in Ballsbridge until 1972 when it was sold to the Royal Dublin Society and renamed Thomas Prior House. The successor to the School is the Masonic Girls Benefit Fund which provides for the cost of the maintenance, education, advancement, and benefit (including medical care) of daughters of deceased Freemasons or of members who have fallen on hard times.
Rebecca Hayes – Archivist
Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland