On 17 January 1786, 'a number of respectable Inhabitants of this Province, natives of the Kingdom of Ireland,' met at Halifax's Golden Ball tavern, kept by John O'Brien, to establish The Charitable Irish Society. Together, these 'Gentlemen, Merchants and others' declared their 'affectionate and compassionate concern for any of the Irish Nation, who shall be reduced by sickness, old age, shipwreck or other misfortune,' and pledged to provide for 'the relief of such of their poor and indigent Countrymen and their Descendants as may hereafter be found worthy of their countenance and protection.'
Two hundred and twenty-five years later, The Charitable Irish Society continues as a force for good in Halifax. Their mandate has changed and broadened over two centuries, and the Society now offers scholarships, supports Irish Studies at St. Mary's University, and in the continuing spirit of its founding principles, provides 'grants to local charities and organizations active in caring for the sick, the elderly, women's and children's organizations and others in need.'
Beyond philanthropy, the Charitable Irish Society has a rich history of contributing to the social and cultural life of Halifax. Banquets, balls, picnics and special outings, funeral processions and services for deceased members, and of course the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, were always significant events in a community strongly shaped by its Irish population and heritage.
The Society's extensive surviving records date from 1786 and are held at Nova Scotia Archives. The virtual exhibit presented here draws on minute-books, petitions and letters, photographs, print material and memorabilia to showcase the Society's activities and interests across its 225-year history. Nearly 100 items are featured, grouped around the general themes of initial organization and membership; philanthropy; parades and social functions; and a gallery of presidents from over the years. Two background articles by the Society's long-time historian, Robert P. Harvey, provide additional information on the long life of this venerable Halifax institution and philanthropic organization.