The Story of Atholl
On 17th July 1751, about 80 mainly Irish freemasons from 6 Lodges, disillusioned by the way freemasonry was becoming modernised, met in Committee at the tavern to consider setting up a rival Grand Lodge. The meeting was soon followed by the founding of the Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institution.
The new body immediatley began accusing the old Grand Lodge (formed in 1717, and dubbed the Moderns) of introducing innovations and claiming that only themselves preserved the Craft's old customs.
The significant impact on British Freemasonry by the more progressive Grand Lodge of the Antients was enhanced by the arrival in London during 1748 of Laurence Dermott, a journeyman painter by trade. He had learned his freemasonry in Lodge No.26 of the Irish Constitution where, apart from other offices, he had been Secretary, and in 1746 became Right Worshipful Master.
Dermott became the Secretary of the Antients and his career in London was extremely successful. The inevitable improvement in his social status was largely due to his untiring energy. He never pretended to be scholastic, but he cultivated his mind and acquired knowledge of languages and of literature and history. His notable achievement being the writing of the Constitutions of the Antients, "AHIMAN REZON" (faithful brother secretary) which became the foundation of many other Constitutions, some still in use today. In the Americas his Constitutions were adopted by Masons who formed the Grand Lodges of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virgina, New York and the Canadian Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia.
Dermott soon realised that to give his Grand Lodge the needed status, it was imperative to have a figurehead in much the same way as enjoyed by the older Grand Lodge, and he persuaded a number of Brethren who had the required social standing to help. Among these were the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Atholl who were to serve the Antients so long and so well.
John, the 3rd Duke of Atholl, was elected Grand Master Mason of Scotland on 30th November 1773 and, as he had already been installed as Grand Master of the Antients in 1771, was in the unique position of holding two Grand Masterships in the same year. It was his influence upon the Order that brought about the title of 'Atholl' Masons.
His death in 1774 caused much concern as it was not easy for the Antients to find somebody of eminence to give his name and time to a voluntary Order. Fortunately John left a son who inherited his title in 1775. Being only 19 years old and not a Freemason, he immediately applied to the Grand Master's Lodge No.1 and was initiated there on 25th February 1775. As a matter of urgency the three degrees were conferred upon him at the same time! At the same meeting he was also installed as Master of the Lodge! At the next meeting of Grand Lodge he was proposed as Grand Master of the Antients and was installed as such on 25th March 1775.
Over the years many Freemasons on both sides worked diligently to remove the misunderstandings and enmity between the rival Grand Lodges, but none more so that the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Atholl, in the desire for a Union, which happily took place in 1813.