On Wednesday 26th January 2022 the Belfast Charitable Society hosted their 250th AGM, and celebrated 270 years, with a special online event featuring Sir Ronnie Weatherup, President of the Society, and Dr Éamon Phoenix, notable local historian. Through a fascinating conversation, Sir Ronnie and Dr Phoenix examined Belfast’s oldest charity through its buildings, people and influence across the centuries.
Belfast Charitable Society was officially established in 1752 by a group of local merchants and burgesses (councillors). After closing up their businesses and homes, nineteen of these gentlemen made their way to the George Inn at the corner of North Street and John Street (now Royal Avenue) where the Society was officially formed with an aim to tackle poverty and help the poor of Belfast. 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.
Sir Ronnie Weatherup, President of the Belfast Charitable Society (BCS) commented “The history of the Belfast Charitable Society is intertwined with the history of Belfast itself. At the time of its inception, the population of Belfast was expanding at a great pace due to the growth of its port and the textile industry. The poor were living in appalling conditions and on a very limited diet. Prior to the establishment of the Society there was very little assistance to alleviate this poverty. The Founding Fathers of BCS saw this need and set about working to address it. Two hundred and seventy years later Belfast Charitable Society is still addressing need and disadvantage in Belfast and its neighbouring environs, tacking issues such as poverty, equality and care for the elderly.
The Society, and Clifton House which was built by Belfast Charitable Society as a Poor House and Infirmary, has survived some of the most turbulent periods in Irish history! Dr Éamon Phoenix explains “The History of the Belfast Charitable Society offers a fantastic insight into the challenges of life itself in the 18th Century. Outwardly the Society was making philanthropic history while behind the scenes the group of people driving this work were perceived as ‘a hot bed of radicals’! These individuals, and the Society as a whole, were instrumental in the development of Belfast – challenging eighteenth century beliefs on slavery, reform and society and ultimately spearheading rebellion.”
The talk was delivered by zoom, and was very well received.