Skip to main content

Eire, Theosophy in

The first lodge of the Theosophical Society (TS) in Eire was established at Dublin in 1886. The Dublin Lodge was probably the third or fourth lodge to be granted a charter in the Theosophical Society (Adyar). Poor records make it uncertain at what address the Lodge was inaugurated, but by 1892 it was located at 3 Ely Place and in 1896 was moved to 13 Eustace Street. Charles JOHNSTON and Claude Falls Wright were among the founding members and among the small group of members were James Morgan PRYSE, William Butler YEATS, and George William RUSSELL (AE).

During the early years, the Dublin Lodge was encouraged by the visits of the International President Henry OLCOTT, Annie BESANT, and William Quan JUDGE, the latter, being Dublin born, was particularly at home in that city.

The Judge dispute, which occurred in 1895 and resulted in about three-quarters of the American Section leaving the Adyar TS, found a substantial number of the Dublin Lodge members loyal to Judge and, as a result, the Dublin Lodge became attached to the new American Society. In 1904 a lodge reformed under the presidency of Russell which was attached to the Adyar TS, but, after about four years, on the death of the then International President of the Adyar TS, Henry Olcott, drifted away from the parent body and became the Hermetic Society.

Shortly after the withdrawal of the Dublin Lodge members for the second time, a small number of students of occult subjects commenced meeting at the home of James Henry COUSINS; they invited Besant to address a public meeting in Dublin and she did so in 1909. This resulted in considerable interest in theosophy and a new Dublin Lodge was formed together with an additional one called the Irish Lodge, both attached to the Adyar TS. One of the members of the Irish Lodge was Frank Sheehy Skeffington, a very active supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, who was shot during the Sein Fein Rising in 1916. In 1910 two more lodges were formed in Dundalk and Enniscorthy.

The total number of lodges having reached five, a general meeting of Irish theosophists was called in 1911 with the aim of forming two more lodges so that an Irish Section of the Adyar Society could be established, but this failed in its objective due to the disintegration of the Wexford and Dundalgean Lodges. A renewed attempt to form a section was made in 1912, Pierce Leslie Pielou having been appointed Presidential Agent, but before the required number of lodges could be formed World War I broke out which resulted in a scattering of members until eventually only seven remained.

The Belfast lodges, although they too suffered various problems, joined forces and remained an active center.

The war continued to ravage Europe and conditions were far from fortuitous, but nevertheless theosophical activity continued in Eire and Northern Ireland. Two members were particularly energetic with propaganda; Isobel King, at the time Honorary Secretary of the English Folkstone Lodge, and Robert Ensor who was in Eire with the Canadian troops. Ensor was appointed Propaganda Manager by the Presidential Agent and was successful in stimulating interest in theosophy which hitherto had been lacking.

Due to the financial help given by the English Section, it became possible to acquire premises for the headquarters in Dublin in 16 South Frederick Street. At this time the required seven lodges being in existence, a charter was applied for and granted on August 25, 1919. Annie Besant, the then International President of the Adyar TS, referring to the application for an Irish Section charter, said, “The birth of an Irish Section is of great significance to the Theosophical Movement, especially in the West. Ireland is to the West that which India is to the East in particular and to the world in general — the great home of spirituality. When the rest of Europe was plunged in darkness consequent upon the destruction of the Graeco-Roman civilization, Ireland remained the home of learning and sent her missionaries throughout the continent. . . .” Although this comment was well meant, it does tend to glamorize the situation in Ireland.

By 1938 there were eight lodges in Ireland: Dublin (1909), Irish (1909), Belfast (1910), and Lotus (1913) were the oldest surviving, and these, together with Erin (in Belfast), Hermes (Dublin), Maiden City (Londonderry) and Cork, made up the Irish Section. In addition there were a number of small study groups in various country centers.

The outbreak of World War II dealt yet another blow to the cohesion of theosophical work, although the Republic of Ireland (or Eire) remained neutral, Northern Ireland was heavily involved. After the war there was an increase in membership of the TS in Northern Ireland, but this was not maintained. At the time of writing (1997) theosophy is at a low ebb in Eire, with only the Dublin Lodge surviving. The Section Charter was withdrawn and the members were so advised in a letter dated January 1989.