HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE SOCIETY
The Irish have been on Prince Edward Island since the end of the French Regime in 1758. Indeed, many of the Island’s early colonial administrators were from Ireland. The first Governor, Walter Patterson, was born in County Donegal. By 1798, the Irish made up approximately fifteen percent of the Colony’s population. In addition to their role as early administrators, the Irish were represented in almost every trade and profession. Over the next fifty years Irish immigration continued to grow until, by the middle of the 19th century, they constituted approximately twenty-five percent of the population and were the second largest cultural group in the colony.
In response to the needs of the poor in the colony, as well as the needs of Irish immigrants, the Benevolent Irish Society was established in Charlottetown in 1825. Its first Patron was the Governor of the day Irish born John Ready. The first Executive consisted of Fade Goff – President, Francis Longworth – Vice President, Rev. Alexander Thomas Fitzgerald Treasurer, and Charles Desbrisay – Secretary.
The Society was incorporated by an Act of the Provincial Legislature in 1882 and is one of the oldest organizations in the province. During its long history, it has counted among its membership some of the province’s ablest and most prominent citizens. Its members have contributed immensely to the province and the nation in every field of endeavour.
During the first 160 years of the Society’s existence its charitable work was paramount. This was the era before the evolution of the modern welfare state when the needy depended for support on the churches and private charitable organizations. With the advent of the welfare state this role has been taken on primarily by the various levels of government. Since the 1980’s the emphasis of our Society has turned increasingly to the cultural and heritage objectives of the organization. We are working to preserve and promote the history, culture, and heritage of the Irish community on Prince Edward Island; which now constitutes thirty percent of the province’s population.
Patrick Fitzgerald - President