On Wednesday 9th November, Belfast Charitable Society celebrated being ‘the first great charity of this town’, with the launch of a new book charting its history in developing Belfast.

Belfast Charitable Society was established in 1752 with the purpose of raising funds to build a poorhouse and hospital for the
poor of Belfast; twenty years later, the foundation stone of the Poorhouse was laid. From here the Society would go on to assume increasing responsibility for a range of matters relating to health, welfare and public order, and its members would play a key part in the civic life of Belfast.

It continues to provide vital social services to this day and its Poorhouse, now Clifton House, is still one of the finest buildings in the city. During the century following the establishment of the Society, Belfast was transformed from a relatively small mercantile town into a major industrial city, a transformation that was accompanied by political upheaval and the major societal challenges associated with rapid industrialisation and urban growth.

Taking as its focus the work of the Society, the global connections that influenced its thinking and the societal issues it sought to address, this fascinating volume provides valuable insights into the wider social, economic and political life of the nineteenth-century Irish town of which the Society became such an iconic part.

Edited by Professor Olwen Purdue of Queen’s University Belfast, and published by Irish Academic Press, this new collection of essays explores the social history of Belfast from the foundation of Belfast Charitable Society in 1752 through to the point at which Belfast emerged as a major industrial city at the end of the nineteenth century.

Sir Ronnie Weatherup, President of Belfast Charitable Society, who hosted the book launch event at Clifton House, commented “Belfast Charitable Society, from its outset in 1752, was invested in looking after the welfare of the people of Belfast. As the town continued to grow, the Society became increasing concerned about issues such as health, migration and within a global context, slavery and revolution. This new book ‘The First Great Charity of this Town’, published to mark our 270th anniversary, helps us understand the role Belfast Charitable Society played in addressing these issues in Belfast and beyond.”

Essays within the book have been written by a range of leading scholars in their field, such as Ray Gillespie, Jonathan Wright, Ciaran McCabe, Christine Kinealy and Gerard McAtasney. The Foreword was written by Professor McAleese.

Professor Olwen Purdue commented “ ‘The First Great Charity of this Town’ is a fascinating and detailed account of the Society’s history, and influence, on the development of the town. Its historical importance manifested itself through a wide range of issues, many of which have been addressed in the essays of this volume, thus providing a deeper understanding of just how significant Belfast Charitable Society was at that time”.

The First Great Charity of this Town is available to buy now from Clifton House, your local book stores and online via Irish Academic Press for £24.99.