Social Enterprise Day 2021: Past & Present

Belfast Charitable Society Belfast Poor House Clifton House Management News Uncategorized

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is like any other business in that it works to deliver goods and services to make a profit. The difference is that they are driven by their social and environmental purposes and any profit made is reinvested towards achieving these purposes. Today, the government defines social enterprises as “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.”

The term social enterprise was first coined in 1953 and has been widely used since the 1980’s, however the principals recognised today as social enterprise are visible in the work which the Belfast Charitable Society was carrying out in the late 18th century.

                                                                                                                                 Our Past

                                                                                                                                 Water Pipes

The first foray into social enterprise was in 1790 when the Belfast Charitable Society (BCS) thought it should supply the town of Belfast with water. Duties were charged on water supplies at this time, but unsurprisingly not everyone was willing to pay. The Society believed if it took over the water supply there would be two immediate benefits; the health of the town would improve because they would supply clean water and the Society would benefit from the collection of water rates which would allow it to pay for the running of the Poor House. Between 1790 and 1840 the Belfast Charitable Society invested £30,000 in the water supply for the town, yet not everyone paid their dues to the Society! In the end the Society had to approach the government who ultimately set up the Belfast Water Commissioners to look after the water infrastructure of the town.

Clifton Street Cemetery

The Society’s next move into social enterprise was more successful. It decided a graveyard was required. This graveyard was to enable the Poor House to have somewhere to bury the dead from the House, but also to generate an income by selling plots in the cemetery. In 1797 the “New Burying Ground” was opened. Plots were very expensive with “walled plots” being sold for £12 10s. The “New Burying Ground” was so successful it had sold out by the 1820’s and additional ground was made available. Running the cemetery was not without its difficulties including warring families and the dreaded body snatchers, however it did provide an important source of income to the Society to support the Poor House. It also enabled the Society to teach new, but necessary, skills and to provide employment to the men of the Poor House and surrounding areas. Coffin makers, grave diggers, nightwatchmen and caretakers were all required and the Society were able to train and employ many people in these essential skills supporting them to become financially independent.

Our Present

Today Clifton House, the original Poor House, operates as a events and heritage venue. In keeping with our roots, it is run as a social enterprise. The income from our conference hire, tours and talks is one of the revenue streams which enables Belfast Charitable Society to continue the work of promoting philanthropy and addressing disadvantage 269 years after its foundation. Some of the ongoing philanthropic work of the Charitable Society is set out below:


Barbour Fund

This fund was set up through a partnership with the Hilden District Nursing Society, the Barbour family and BCS. Aims to support activities for older people, disadvantaged young people and skills development. To date over £180,000 has been awarded: creating training courses and jobs; providing bursaries; delivering activities and placing hundreds of volunteers with older people.

Great Place North Belfast

A 3-year project (2018-2021) of the North Belfast Heritage Cluster supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This local Heritage Cluster is comprised of 15 organisations responsible for historic buildings and sites stretching across one mile from the City centre into north Belfast. This project, led by co-funder BCS, will use the unique built heritage and authentic character to deliver and support regeneration in this part of north Belfast.

Mary Ann McCracken Foundation

The Foundation was set up by BCS to celebrate the life and works of this remarkable woman, and her legacy and relevance today. Looking at issues around poverty, modern day slavery, human rights and equality, it will raise awareness and promote conversations around these areas.

Family Early Intervention Support

BCS has supported two part-time home visitors and vouchers for local families in need for three years. Since Oct 2020 almost £6,000 of financial aid has been shared with 80 families (inc over 200 children). The need is identified through a multi-disciplinary approach (60+ organisations) considering North Belfast families facing hardship.

Black History Month 2021: Belfast and the Slave Trade

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As part of Black History Month this article explores the abolitionist and pro-slavery elements within the town of Belfast in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Waddell Cunningham

Belfast had many wealthy merchants who owned land, estates and businesses in the West Indies in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  As was the practice at the time, these estates and businesses would have exploited slave labour to harvest crops such as sugar and tobacco.  Waddell Cunningham, a member of the Belfast Charitable Society is probably the most infamous advocate of slavery in Belfast as he attempted to open up the town as a slave port.  Waddell had gone to America in the 1750s and with a business partner, Thomas Gregg, a founding member of the Belfast Charitable Society. Together they established a firm, which by 1775 had become one of the largest shipping companies in New York.  Both men made their fortunes and purchased an estate in the Ceded Islands which they called “Belfast.”

Other members of the Belfast Charitable Society were also involved in the slave trade.  Dr William Haliday, a physician to the Poor House, owned sugar estates on the island of Dominica.   Valentine Jones was another founding member of the Society.  He imported rum and sugar into Belfast as well as running a wine merchant business.  He had established a thriving agency in Barbados buying and selling to the planters. His eldest son, another Valentine, lived in the Caribbean for some 33 years and was elected a member of the Barbados House of Assembly.

Back in Belfast in 1786, a group of local businessmen considered launching a new Belfast-based slave-shipping venture that, in their eyes, might bring fresh prosperity to the town. Waddell Cunningham was the lead figure in this venture. For one local and radical citizen, this was anathema. On the night the prospectus was presented Belfast Charitable Society member Thomas McCabe attended the meeting and declared – ‘May God wither the hand and consign the name to eternal infamy of the man that will sign this document’. The venture never came to pass.

Thomas McCabe was not alone in fighting for the abolitionist cause in the town. The Northern Star, the newspaper of the United Irishmen movement which was operated by some members of Belfast Charitable Society, including Robert Simms and Samuel Neilson, would tell its readers that ‘every individual, as far as he consumes sugar products becomes accessory to the guilt [of slavery].’

Dr William Drennan (© National Museums NI)

William Drennan, visiting physician to the Poor House, and founder of the United Irishmen was responsible for helping to draw up a petition, which was passed around the town, collecting signatures against slavery. He hoped it would be a blow against those Belfast traders who sold such Caribbean products as molasses and rum as well as those who exported foodstuffs and shoes from here to the Caribbean.  Not untypical of the toasts offered at Belfast dinners in this era was the one suggested in 1792 by Belfast Charitable Society member and the owner of The Belfast News Letter, Henry Joy – ‘to Mr Wilberforce and a speedy repeal of the infamous traffic in the flesh and bone of man’.

Our next post will look at the visit of Frederick Douglass to Belfast and the abolitionist activities of Mary Ann McCracken.


Belfast Charitable Society & the Belfast Blitz: Return From Garron Tower

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Following air strikes in April 1941  those in charge of Clifton House set about making arrangements to get the residents and the staff out of Belfast. They ultimately settled on Garron Tower on the North Coast as a safe refuge.

Garron Tower was a quiet, isolated spot compared with life in the city of Belfast. Rationing also had an impact. In Belfast the relatives of the residents could have easily walked there for visits, however with petrol rationed, even those with cars did not have enough fuel to get to Garron Tower. The Matron requested additional games, gramophone records and a wireless to help the residents wile away the days.

The war rumbled on and everyone was keen to return to Clifton House. As 1945 was drawing to a close and it seemed the war had finally ended, the Committee went to the army, who used Clifton House during the war, to seek the return of the building. Five and a half years after leaving the House, the Belfast Charitable Society Board returned on 31st August 1946 and set about the mammoth task of to organising the transportation of our residents, equipment, furniture and staff back to North Belfast. It was an enormous relief to all involved when, on this day (25th October) 1946 the buses brought the last residents back.

Black History Month 2021: William John Brown and his escape from slavery

Black History Month 2021: William John Brown and his escape from slavery

Belfast Charitable Society Belfast Poor House Clifton House Management News Uncategorized University News

In August 1830 William John Brown appeared before the magistrate at the Belfast Police Court. Mr Brown, an enslaved man from America, entered the courtroom accompanied by members of the Society of Friends.

Newspaper reports describe him as looking crestfallen and physically frail- the fifty-year-old slowly took the stand and was said to have recounted his story in a feeble voice. William was enslaved as a young man in Virginia, but had worked his way out of bondage and received his papers of freedom. Now a free man he got married and had five children and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. However, in 1826 a band of slave speculators, commonly known as ‘slavers’, arrived at his family home where they manhandled him, placed a blindfold over his eyes, bundling him into a waiting cart and drove off. During the course of the attack, they also took possession of his cherished papers. Arriving soon after at a nearby port the slavers forced him to board a slave ship which set sail from Maryland and arrived in New Orleans. While in New Orleans he was sold numerous times and ultimately he was forced to load bales of cotton onto trading vessels, many of which were bound for Europe. One such vessel was the copper-bottomed brig the Planter owned by John Vance, a cotton and cloth merchant based in Donegall Place, Belfast.

Brown managed to secure the trust of one the Planter’s crew. Buying a dollars’ worth of biscuits from him. Brown told his sympathetic confidante that, once the cargo was loaded, he was going to escape from his captors. Once the last bale was in the ship, Brown made his way into the brig’s hold and hid inside a bale of cotton as the Planter set sail for Belfast. During the voyage, he kept himself alive on his dollars’ worth of biscuits and only ventured out at night for water. As the brig was being unloaded in Belfast, Brown made good his escape but was spotted by a crewmember who informed the police. While in custody, the police contacted the philanthropic Quakers who appeared in court to lend their support to Brown’s testimony and to vouch for his character. Having listened intently to his story the Magistrate felt proud to announce that the man who stood before him was no longer a slave and that he would leave his court room a free man.

William John Brown went on to find employment as a labourer in Belfast, living near Smithfield Market. However, the trials and traumas of his life finally exacted their toll. He died in November 1831 and was buried  in an unmarked grave in Clifton Street Cemetery run by Belfast Charitable Society. A tragic note beside his entry in the burial records that his wife and children were still enslaved in America.


Mr Girmondi, Dancing Dogs & the Belfast Poor House

Belfast Charitable Society Belfast Poor House Clifton House Management News Uncategorized

There have been some unusual donations to Belfast Charitable Society over the years, many of them recorded on huge wooden boards with the details of donors stencilled on. On this day (30 September) 1818 Mr Girmondi, who was in Belfast entertaining the citizens of the town, became one of these donors. Girmondi was the proprietor of a troop of ‘Dancing Dogs’ and he donated a days takings from his exhibition to the Poor House in order to support its work.

You too can support the work of Belfast’s oldest charity! Our weekend tours offer something for everyone- from our Friday afternoon Mary Ann McCracken Walking Tours, to our Saturday and Sunday  tours of Clifton House and Clifton Street Cemetery.

Come along and discover the stories for yourself!

For more information and to book click here

Hello Autumn!

Belfast Charitable Society Belfast Poor House Clifton House Management News Uncategorized

Hello Autumn!

Where did the summer go! At Clifton House it went in a blink of an eye as we prepared ourselves for re-opening. Our new immersive house tours have been running for four weeks now, and we have settled into our stride. More importantly you have told us you love them!

You love the history and the stories that surround this beautiful Georgian building, and you especially love our new augmented reality app, which, for the first time, lets our visitors see what life was like in Clifton House in the late 18th century when it operated as the city’s Poor House.

We have availability throughout September, so if you haven’t been yet, now is the time! Check availability and book online here

#OnThisDay 1752 Belfast Charitable Society was founded

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At the George, 28th August 1752

The evening of Friday 28th August 1752 was cool in Belfast. After closing up their businesses and homes, a group of nineteen merchants, burgesses [councillors] and the local vicar, made their way to the George Inn at the corner of North Street and John Street (now Royal Avenue). It was there in the George Inn that these gentlemen formed the Belfast Charitable Society, to address poverty and help the poor. The names of the founders were recorded in the first minute book of the new society, which is now held in the Clifton House archives:

Margetson Saunders Esqr. Sovrn [Mayor] in the Chair

Revd. Mr. Saurin Valentine Jones William Stewart
Mr Jas. Adair Geo: Black Thomas Bateson
James Getty Samuel Smith John Hyde
Geo: Ferguson James Hamilton Saml. Hyde
Chas Hamilton George Macartney
Willm. Wilson James Ross
Robt. Wilson Thomas Gregg

At this time the population of Belfast was expanding at a great pace due to the growth of its port and the textile industry. The poor lived in ‘ill-ventilated hovels’ with little or no sanitation, and the town’s inhabitants had a limited diet. There was very little provision or support for the poor and so the Belfast Charitable Society set about providing assistance to alleviate the worst of the poverty prevalent in Belfast, mainly through the construction of a Poor House and Infirmary.  It raised the money through a lottery scheme and donations, with the Poor House and Infirmary opening its doors in 1774.

Two hundred and sixty nine years later, we remember these philanthropic individuals for planting the seed of what would ultimately become a Belfast institution. Many of these men did not live to see the project completed. However, their drive and enthusiasm led to the construction of a home for the poor and sick, which would provide relief for thousands of men, women and children through the years.


The Founding Members Biographical Notes

Prior to the construction of the Poor House, members of the Belfast Charitable Society were officially appointed as ‘Overseers of the Poor’ in December 1757. Those appointed included the Rev James Saurin, James Getty, Samuel Smith, Valentine Jones, James Adair, John Hyde, and George Ferguson.

Margetson Saunders was the first chair of the Belfast Charitable Society. Margetson was Sovereign (Mayor) in 1752, but he had previously held the position three times in the 1730s, and then again in 1754.

Rev James Saurin was the grandson of the French Huguenot Jean Saurin. James’s grandfather fled France due to religious persecution. James Saurin was born in London in 1719 and married Jane Duff. He became Vicar of Belfast in 1747, a position he held for 26 years. The Rev Saurin used his position to lobby Lord Donegall for the land required for the Poor House. He lived to see the laying of the foundation stone of the Poor House, but passed away two years before the building opened in 1774.

James Adair was a partner in the first private bank in Belfast with Daniel Mussenden and Thomas Bateson, a fellow founding member of the Belfast Charitable Society. Their bank opened in 1752, but was dissolved by 1757. This bank was involved in the second unsuccessful lottery scheme run by the Belfast Charitable Society.

James Getty was the son of the Rev James Getty of Inveraray, Scotland. James Getty Jnr was a Belfast merchant and his signature appears on a number of petitions to notable figures in relation to Irish free trade and the impact of the American War on the merchants of Belfast. Many other founding members also signed these petitions including Thomas Greg, George Ferguson, William Wilson, Robert Wilson and Valentine Jones.

William Wilson was a merchant with interests including coal, tobacco and textiles imported from Glasgow. He was also amongst the signatories of a minority report on financing Belfast’s first police force.

Robert Wilson is believed to be the same Robert Wilson who sold carpets and fabrics in Belfast and who also owned a bleach green at Castlereagh during this period.

Charles Hamilton was a Scottish merchant who came to Ireland to expand his business ventures. Unfortunately, he was not successful and his businesses failed. When he died of typhus in 1759 he left his widow and three children with a large amount of debt. His widow sent one of her daughters, Elizabeth, to live with a prosperous Scottish aunt and uncle. Elizabeth Hamilton would grow up to become a well-known novelist, satirist, educationalist and essayist.

Valentine Jones was a merchant with West Indian interests. The Valentine Jones dynasty, which had premises at Winecellar Entry off High Street, Belfast, were wine merchants and rum and sugar importers. They had established a thriving agency in Barbados where they bought goods from the planters and also sold goods to them. Thomas Bateson, another founding member, was Valentine’s partner. Valentine was involved in a number of public projects in Belfast including the Lagan Navigation proposal, the Brown Linen Hall and of course, the Belfast Charitable Society. The money from his West Indies trade provided substantial finance for these projects.

George Black held the position of Sovereign on five occasions (1775, 1776, 1782, 1783 and 1785) and was later appointed Vice-President of the Belfast Charitable Society. George was the brother of Dr Joseph Black, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, who was famous for his work on carbon dioxide and latent heat.

Samuel Smith, born 1693, was a leading Presbyterian in Belfast and a member of the First Congregation in Rosemary Street. He resided in High Street with gardens extending to Ann Street. He passed away in 1760 aged 67 years.

James Hamilton was appointed as an ‘Overseer of the Poor’ in 1757 and went on to serve at least two terms as Sovereign of Belfast in 1761 and 1769.

George Macartney served as a Sovereign of Belfast. His family line had a proud tradition of serving as burgesses and as Sovereigns. It is likely that the George Macartney who was present at the first meeting of the Belfast Charitable Society was the Sovereign of the same name who donated the ‘Poores Money’ to the Society in 1768.

James Ross was a merchant who owned a number of vessels in Belfast including the brig Koulikan and Ross. The ship registers show the Ross travelling between Belfast, the West Indies and New York. He is a kinsman of Waddell Cunningham, another merchant, who was involved in the Belfast Charitable Society.

Thomas Greg set up a shop in North Street in the 1740s selling provisions including French wine, Spanish fruit, London porter, coal and blue powder for bleaching linen.
Thomas bought a small ship and renamed her The Greg which he used to trade with the West Indies. Through his American trade he acquired a merchant partner in the United States, Waddell Cunningham. Thomas invested in Plantations in the West Indies, and his brother John purchased slaves for the Greg and Cunningham ‘Belfast’ Sugar Plantation in Dominica. He spent much money searching for coal and mineral deposits in the northern counties of Ireland. Thomas invested in the Lagan Navigation; glass manufacturing in Belfast; and founded the Downshire Pottery. When Waddell Cunningham returned to Ireland, the two partnered again to establish a vitriol works for bleaching linen at Lisburn in 1766. In 1783 Thomas was a founding member of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and in the same year, for reasons unknown, he refused a Baronetcy.

William Stewart built his family seat at Wilmont (now Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park), about 1765, which included an extensive farm, with a sizeable bleach green. William was a merchant with numerous interests including a partnership in the Newry Flour Mill Company and shares in the Belfast Discount Company. The Belfast News-Letter of 4 March 1766 records him selling Bristol Crown glass, Welsh slates, lignum-vitae and various kinds of forest trees from premises at Drumbridge. He also donated £300 to the building of the Linen Hall in Belfast in 1782. William Stewart is commemorated by a tablet in the porch of Drumbeg Parish Church.

Thomas Bateson was a business partner of Valentine Jones and his name frequently appeared in advertisements offering for sale large quantities of West Indian produce. Thomas was also a partner in the firm Mussenden, Bateson and Co, wine merchants, in Winecellar Entry, Belfast. Bateson and Mussenden also collaborated with James Adair to open Belfast’s first bank. Thomas resided at Orangefield House, Knockbreda and Thomas’s grandson Robert resided at Belvoir Estate. Robert continued his grandfather’s philanthropy during his time as landlord giving each of the poor in Knockbreda a bed to help alleviate their poor living conditions.

John Hyde was active in all manners of public life in 18th century Belfast. His main business venture was in partnership with Mr Legg in the Rosemary Street Sugar House.

Samuel Hyde, of Hydepark, was the second name on a list of subscribers in 1740 to a petition from the merchants of Belfast to the Government respecting the conditions of the town’s docks.  Samuel was a founding member not only of the Belfast Charitable Society, but also the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, He died at his house in Castle Place, Belfast. His daughter Elizabeth Hyde married another founding member Thomas Greg.

Belfast Charitable Society Today

269 years after its foundation Belfast Charitable Society continues to benefit the people of Belfast by supporting various charities and philanthropic causes. For more information on its philanthropic projects please click here

On This Day 1818: An Unusual Visitor to the Belfast Poor House

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On Saturday 22 August 1818 the Belfast Poor House had a rather unusual visitor. Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia dismounted his carriage at the stone steps in front of the building and was given a tour of the institution by members of Belfast Charitable Society.

The Grand Duke must have been impressed by what he saw as he was shown through the corridors of the Poor House, as he made a substantial donation of £54 to support its work- the equivalent of over £5,000 today. His name was subsequently added to one of our donation boards which originally hung in the main entrance hall.

Mary Ann McCracken (1770-1866): Faithful Until Death

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On this day in 1866 the people of Belfast learnt of the death of Mary Ann McCracken. She had lived through some of the most turbulent years of Irish history including the 1798 rebellion, the Great Famine and the Industrial Revolution. Passing away aged 96, Mary Ann lived into a period where photography was becoming popular. We have one photograph of her but this image of an older lady masks the strong willed and determined character that she possessed throughout her life.

Mary Ann never married, or had any children of her own. However, after the execution of her brother Henry Joy McCracken for his role in the 1798 rebellion, Mary Ann took in his illegitimate daughter Maria. Not all members of the McCracken and Joy families were supportive of Mary Ann’s actions. Her brother John McCracken wrote to his sibling Frank, “We have got an addition to the family since you were here, it is a little Girl said to be a daughter of poor Harry’s, it was bro’[ught], against my inclinations.” However, over time the family appear to have accepted Henry Joy McCracken’s daughter; and Mary Ann and Maria lived together for the rest of Mary Ann’s life.

Through her long life, Mary Ann remained committed to the same principles that had driven Harry, as she called him, to the scaffold. It was the drive for social justice that motivated the McCracken siblings, not nationalism as we know it today. Daniel O’Connell’s campaign to Repeal the Union was, in her eyes, misjudged. In a letter, reflecting on these events she believed his focus should have been on the abolition of tithes, a fee paid by people to the Church of Ireland as an early form of income tax. This once again illustrates her predominant interest in the welfare of the poor.

Mary Ann and her sister Margaret were strong characters and set up their own muslin business. The sister’s enterprise appears in the 1809 Holden’s Directory as Margaret McCracken & Co. Muslin Manufacturers, 37 Waring Street. During times of hardship and economic instability the sisters continued to employ their staff, whilst other companies were letting people go to cut costs. The sisters took the burden of losses themselves, as Mary Ann “…could not think of dismissing our workers, because nobody would give them employment.”

Mary Ann McCracken was 57 years old when the Ladies’ Committee was formed in 1827. The first matter they considered was a method to instruct the girls of the Poor House in crafts that would provide a livelihood for them. The Gentleman provided a grant of 30 shillings which Mary Ann was to use to purchase tambour frames, piercers and muslin so they could do white embroidery work. Nothing escaped the attention of Ladies Committee and their projects included getting blinds fitted in the hospital, straw mats to protect the mattresses from wearing on the iron bedframes and fireguards in the children’s rooms. Mary Ann served as Treasurer, Secretary and Chair of the Ladies’ Committee at various points.

As well as her interest in the Poor House, Mary Ann was also intimately connected with the Ladies Industrial School from its inception in 1847. Mary Ann’s name is recorded as a committee member in each of the school’s annual reports from its foundation. She was given the position of President of the school which she held until her death. No correspondence survived from her during the Great Famine, but it is clear that she would have felt heartbroken at the destitution, death and famine during the period, and would have witnessed the poor from rural areas flooding into Belfast seeking some form of relief. She was also a member of the committee set up in Belfast to abolish the use of climbing boys in chimney sweeping and was involved in early women suffrage campaigns and prison reform schemes.

Mary Ann McCracken was not parochial in her social reform activities. She was very active in anti-slavery circles in Belfast and practised what she preached in abstaining from eating sugar, a product of the slave trade and the West Indies plantations. In her 89th year she was still standing by the gangway of ships in Belfast harbour, bound for America, handing out abolitionist leaflets to Irish emigrants.

Mary Ann McCracken was buried in the McCracken family plot in Clifton Street Cemetery. When her friend, Thomas Russell, a United Irishman was executed for his role in the 1803 rebellion, her last act of service to him was to cover his grave with a plain tombstone engraved with his name in the Parish Graveyard in Downpatrick. She did the same of her friend, Jemmy Hope another United Irishmen who fell into poverty after the rebellion. Sadly, the same service was not provided for Mary Ann upon her death. Mary Ann outlived her generation and her grave remained unmarked for 43 years until Francis Joseph Bigger erected a headstone to commemorate her in May 1909. The inscription ‘wept by her brother’s scaffold’ frames the narrative of this remarkable woman in terms of her brother’s role in 1798.

Mary Ann lived for another 68 years after the execution of her brother, involving herself in many worthy causes. Here at Clifton House we are trying to reclaim her place in Belfast and Irish history. The Gaelic inscription on her headstone reads ‘Dileas go h-Eag’ (Loyal/Faithful until Death), and we like to think of those words as a reference to her loyalty and faithfulness to social reform and the poor of Belfast and further afield. The motto of this remarkable woman, which accurately sums up her character, was that it is better ‘to wear out than to rust out’.
Today Clifton House are fortunate to retain the Ladies Committee Books as part of our extensive archive which gives us a tremendous insight into this stalwart of Belfast Society.

On this day 1770 the abolitionist, philanthropist & reformer Mary Ann McCracken was born

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On this day, 8 July 1770, Mary Ann McCracken was born to Captain John McCracken and his wife, Anne McCracken, née Joy.
Mary Ann McCracken would go on to led one of the most remarkable lives in the history of Belfast. She was an abolitionist, social reformer and activist who fought for the rights of women and championed Belfast’s poor throughout a long life that encompassed the most turbulent years of Irish history.
A key figure in the Poor House Ladies Committee, where she helped educate and secure apprenticeships for hundreds of children; she was a teacher at the Lancastrian School for decades and later served as President of the Ladies Industrial School.
Mary Ann as a life-long abolitionist, founded the Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League and even in her late eighties, she could still be found on the docks, handing out anti-slavery leaflets to emigrants embarking for the slave-owning United States.
Tonight at 7pm, on the anniversary of her birth, we are holding a special free event ‘A Tale of Two Women: Mary Ann McCracken & Baroness May Blood’ to mark the occasion as part of #MaryAnn250. Spaces are still available via our website.
Belfast Charitable Society launched the Mary Ann McCracken in January 2021 to not only increase awareness of Mary Ann’s life and legacy, but to explore her relevance in the 21st century. For more information on the Foundation and it’s work click here.