THE FRIENDLY SONS OF ST. PATRICK OF PROVIDENCE
The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Providence, Rhode Island, extends a gracious Céad Míle Fáilte to all its friends. We present the history of the Friendly Sons thanks to the tireless dedication of its many loyal members and supporters.
The Friendly Sons was formed on March 17, 1901. On that day an assembly of 3,200 met at Kennedy Plaza in Providence, known then as Exchange Place, for the start of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. The parade proceeded to Cathedral Square, down Weybosset Street, and eventually wound through College Hill. After Mass at the Church of the Holy Name on Camp Street, the marchers were dismissed until evening.
During this respite, a group of congenial Celts who had participated in the parade, dined together at the Newman Hotel on Aborn Street in Providence. The group numbered 17 and included two physicians, four attorneys, four liquor dealers, a city gauger, a provision merchant, a printer, a fireman, a restaurateur, a clerk, and a junk dealer. Perhaps after a toast or two in honor of the day, this Society first obtained its inspiration during this gathering of patriotic Irish-Americans. Banquets cannot be satisfactorily arranged on a large scale impromptu, and so the diners of 1901 planted the seed for the next year, and many years by making bylaws and electing officers that would attend to necessary details. Thus, before resuming the parade and other festivities that evening the men agreed to meet each year on this day as the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Providence. The choice of name for the newly formed organization was made in the desire to emulate the famous and successful Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of New York and Philadelphia, and the Irish Charitable Society of Boston.
For the first 80 years of the organization, the St. Patrick’s Day dinner was reserved for gentlemen only. Indeed, during the early years of the Friendly Sons full-dress with white tie and vest was the mandatory attire. Only members were allowed to attend and they were denied admission if they were not wearing their “badges.” The menus for these dinners were Edwardian in extravagance as a matter of course, not as a matter of sentiment. Several menus even listed Roman Punch, a combination of various fruit juices served over finely crushed ice and eaten with a small spoon. Rumor has it that on its way from the kitchen to the table it was somehow well laced with brandy or rum.
Traditionally, after the dinner had been disposed of and the cigars lighted, the Toastmaster would offer toasts to such themes as “The Day We Celebrate” and “The United States.” The Friendly Sons have had the great fortune over the years to welcome many distinguished gentlemen to respond to these toasts including John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald in 1910, Thomas P. Gore in 1932, Harry S. Truman in 1936, James Michael Curley in 1940, Alben W. Barkley in 1950, John F. Kennedy in 1959, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill in 1969, and Joseph R. Biden, Jr. in 1986. Owing to the importance of the organization and the speakers, many of these toasts and responses were broadcast live over local radio stations.
In 1907 the Friendly Sons was granted a charter of incorporation by the State of Rhode Island. At that time the members felt that the organization should be most successful in the City of Providence with its large Irish-American population. Coupled with this fact was the organization’s purpose to encourage patriotic, literary, and social advancement among Irish-Americans. Today, the Friendly Sons preserves this spirit by providing college scholarships through the Robert E. Sweeney Memorial Scholarship to Providence high school students.
The Friendly Sons continues to furnish a common ground, upon which Irishmen of every shade of opinion meet and celebrate their common ancestry. Confirming this notion is that over the years Friendly Sons meetings have been held at such diverse venues as the Custom House Tavern and the old Mai Tai Restaurant. With this proud heritage the Friendly Sons will continue to support and promote Irish culture in the City of Providence and beyond.