To celebrate Philanthropy Fortnight, we are posting a series of articles to compliment the themes and events being held in the next two weeks. The first in the series looks at the Belfast Charitable Society experience of donations and bequests.
Gifts in wills have long been a traditional form of philanthropy for many centuries. When the Poor House opened, the Society resolved to install wooden boards with the names of benefactors. These took two forms: donation boards for people who donated during their lifetime and bequest boards to record for posterity those who gave money to the Poor House in their wills. The Donations Boards, as they are collectively known today, used to line the walls of the Poor House entrance hall, so that all people who entered, whether to petition to come into the Poor House, or to attend a fundraiser in the Board Room, could see the generosity of their fellow citizens.
The bequest boards reflect the growth of Belfast as a trading port. Individuals who originally came from Ireland left money from as far away as Tobago, New York, Calcutta, Jamaica and Demerara, now Guyana in South America. These bequests took a variety of forms; some were simple gifts of a given amount, whilst others stipulated that the interest on money in their estate should be paid to the Poor House. Regardless of the nature of the bequest, this money kept the Poor House in operation, and provided a safety net for the most vulnerable in Belfast society and beyond.