17 Mar

History isn’t kind in that convenience rewrites important moments. It is a source of Irish pride that James Hoban, a Mason chose the birthplace of Irish Freemasonry, Leinster House, after which to model Americas executive mansion. While it is fun that every St Patricks Day front lawn and South lawn fountain waters go green at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Presidents House, the first public building built in DC. White House goes green every St Patricks Day. It is a tribute to Ireland to remember the history of the where and the why.

There is a greater honor due to James Hoban, a young Irish immigrant, from County Kilkenny, Ireland. James bought a one way ticket, in 1783, from Ireland to Philadelphia the then capital of the United States. Hoban, a Mason, searching for work as an architect, placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Evening Herald. Hoban had studied architecture in Dublin. James had won an award from the Dublin Society for his “Drawings of Brackets, Stairs, Roofs, etc.” Work was slow to come. Hoban moved to South Carolina. James found work. Hoban designed the Savage’s Green Theatre, laid out a plan for an orphan asylum, Prospect Hill, an Edisto Island plantation house plus.

The Commissioners of the District sought designs for the planned for executive mansion. A $500 award was offered to the winning architect. Amongst the hundreds who submitted designs, Thomas Jefferson submitted his designs anonymously. Hoban submitted a design, too. Hoban’s design was based on the Leinster House in Dublin- Georgian in style, a giant portico, mid center of a three story building, a Renaissance style architecture, tall windows, taller pediments- palatial in organization and design. July 18, 1792, the Commission of the District awarded James the $500 award. James Hoban, the son of Edward and Martha, born in 1758, was invited to “oversee and implement construction of the President’s House” set in “The Barrens” by Pierre L’Enfant, with a view of the Potomac River.

Hoban’s inspiration for the People’s House, was the Leinster House built by James Fitzgerald the 20th Earl of Kildare. Leinster House is located on Kildare Street in Dublin, just south of Trinity College. The neighborhood sure had its share of celebrities in the Nineteenth Century. Living around the corner from the homes of playwright George Bernard Shaw, 61 Harcourt Street and Bram Stokers home at 62 Harcourt Street. Abraham Stoker wrote Dracula.  Fitzgerald began building Leinster House in 1745, the same year Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated at Culloden. Fitzgerald received his title after having married Emily Lennox, the daughter of the Duke of Richmond, godfather to King George II. George II made James the Viscount Leinster in 1749. George III titled James the the Duke of Leinster in 1766.  

Fitzgerald became a leader in Irish Freemasonry. His nephew Lord Edward Fitzgerald who founded the United Irishmen and launched the Illuminati uprising of 1798. He failed. The lodge founding paper,s for both the Grand Masters Lodge of Dublin and the Knights Templar Kilwinning Lodge No 75, disappeared in the 1790s. Request to form the Kilwinning Lodge No. 75, also known as the High Knights Templar of Ireland, was submitted by James Fitzgerald and Dr George Cunningham of Dublin, in writing, to Thomas Arthur of Irvine Scotland. The letter was written April 26, 1779. Fitzgeralds ancestor, Maurice Fitzgerald, organized banking houses in Dublin. Templars, under the leadership Roger le Waleis, moved from Templemore, the Templars stronghold on Irelands southern coast, to Dublin in 1204, lasting strong for a century. The disappearance of the founding papers for the Grand Lodge of Ireland has never been satisfactorily accounted for. A century later, in 1849, the then Duke of Leinster, said it was on January 3, 1749, the 20th Earl of Kildare founded the Grand Masters Lodge.

 Saturday, October 13, 1792, Hoban, amidst a group of Masons, Georgetown Lodge No. 9 of Maryland, laid the cornerstone of the White House. November 15, 1792, the Charleston City Gazette reported “On Saturday the 13th inst. the first stone was laid in the south-west corner of the president’s house, in the city of Washington, by the Free Masons of George-town and its vicinity, who assembled on the occasion. The procession was formed at the Fountain Inn, Georgetown…The Ceremony was performed by brother Casaneva (a typo–it was Peter Casanave–J.T.), master of the lodge, who delivered an oration well adapted to the occasion” “the inscription on the brass plate,” inside the cornerstone “ran:”   “This first stone of the President’s House was laid the 12th day of October 1792, and in the 17th Year of the Independence of the United States of America”, listing the names – George Washington, President; Thomas Johnson ; Doctor Stewart, Commissioners; Daniel Carroll; James Hoban, Architect; Collen Williamson, Master Mason; Vivat Respublica.” Live the Republic. The Gazette news story continued “All those listed were Masons, with the possible exception of Thomas Johnson.”  George Washington was not present that Friday, Columbus Day. Washington was in Philadelphia. Some have written there was significance to the day the cornerstone was laid, the day before Black Friday, “Friday the Thirteenth,” October, 1307, the day the Knights Templar were overthrown in France. King Philippe IV began the end of the Templar order, attacking Templar churches all around France. Four hundred and eighty five years earlier.

Eleven months after the White House cornerstone was laid, the first DC Masonic lodge was formed, “Three Ancient York (Rite) Masons, then resident in the federal city, had submitted a petition, praying for a warrant to convene and work as Masons. These were James Hoban, C.W. Stephenson and Andrew Eustace. The petition was granted, and Hoban became Master of the newly-formed Federal Lodge No. 15.” The date was September 6, 1793. For the next forty years, the White House took a lot of Hoban’s architectural attention. Hoban established St Patricks, the first Catholic Church, in Washington DC. The year was 1792. Hoban worked in committee to build St. Peters Church on Capitol Hill. The year was 1820. Pope Clement VII had banned Roman Catholics from joining Masonic lodges, decrying Masonic membership “an occasion of sin.” Hoban, a Mason, risked excommunication from the Catholic Church.

The White House has undergone fires and refurbishments. The brass cornerstone plate was supposedly left where it was laid in 1792. Supposedly. Summer of 1814, British Admiral Cockburn led his army on an offensive against Washington DC, from where they landed at Head of Elk, Maryland. Cockburn defeated the Americans at Bladensburg Maryland. Washington was occupied by British troops led by General Robert Ross. Clouds filled the skies. All federal buildings including the White House were set ablaze. Torrential rains, the act of God, saved the Executive mansion, putting out the flames. Hoban and his fellow Mason Benjamin Henry Latrobe had work to do. Latrobe, who designed the original St. John’s Church, had failed, six years earlier, to persuade President Thomas Jefferson to make “improvements” to the White House. Latrobe wanted two porticos added to the White House- one on the north side familiar to a Greek temple and a second south side portico familiar to an ancient solar temple. The South Portico was finished in 1824, facing the sun and the Washington Monument, a 555 foot obelisk standing, according to some, exactly city center. The South Portico is in a straight line across from the George Washington Masonic Memorial, sitting atop a hill, a replica of the lighthouse that guarded the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. The town is called Alexandria, too. Hoban based the architectural improvement on Latrobes design. The north portico was finished in 1829, two years before Latrobe died. The day was December 8, 1831.

The cornerstone of the George Washington Masonic Memorial was laid November 1, 1923. November 1 is All Saints Day in the Roman Catholic calendar.

When in DC, on St Patricks Day, don’t just pass the Shamrock inside the White House a tradition started by President Truman, don’t just THINK Irish, THANK IRISH….


"Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, hush now, don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that's an Irish lullaby."

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