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‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland


Lynn Brunet

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. This book identifies many similarities between the spaces and activities they evoke and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland experienced by both men during childhood.
Many of these Irish societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic Order. Freemasons use the term ‘spurious Freemasonry’ to designate those rituals not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. The Masonic author Albert Mackey argues that the spurious forms were those derived from the various cult practices of the classical world and describes these initiatory practices as ‘a course of severe and arduous trials’. This reading of Bacon’s and Beckett’s work draws on theories of trauma to suggest that there may be a disturbing link between Bacon’s stark imagery, Beckett’s obscure performances and the unofficial use of Masonic rites.


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Chapter Two Perambulations with the Men of No Popery: Orange Order Themes and the Irish Warrior Tradition in the Art of Francis Bacon 37


Chapter Two Perambulations with the Men of No Popery: Orange Order Themes and the Irish Warrior Tradition in the Art of Francis Bacon A number of the visual elements in Bacon’s paintings, interpreted along- side some of the comments the artist has made, could be read as reflecting the themes, symbols and activities of the Orange Order. The colloquial term for Orangemen is the ‘Men of No Popery’. While Orange Lodges were not officially recognised in the Kildare district when Bacon was a child the possibility that, behind closed doors, Orange elements could have been woven into an irregular version of Royal Arch rites is not out of the question. Orange Lodges were prevalent in the British army and membership of the Order was perceived as an expression of loyalty to British values.1 However, enquiries into individual membership of the Order during the period of Bacon’s childhood have proven fruitless as any records from the period in the south of Ireland had been completely lost or destroyed during the Civil War.2 Also, as Tony Gray observes, the Order has never made a practice of recording its membership as a means of protecting its members.3 The Bacon household was frequented by many men, among them a soldier who visited the young Francis’s nanny.4 One of the anecdotes Bacon told in later years was that this soldier would lock him in a cupboard so as to have uninterrupted time with his sweetheart. Anthony Cronin comments on a discussion he had with Bacon...

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