Today, 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. Professor Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, was in attendance giving invited guests an opportunity to hear her speak of the important role the Society played in ‘her North Belfast’.

Book Cover

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. For further information on Belfast Charitable Society, and its philanthropic work today, visit