In 1610 a corporate body of London aldermen, merchants and representatives of companies was created. This body was to be called ‘The society of the Governor and Assistants, London, of the New Plantation in Ulster, within the Realm of Ireland’. It was not until the late 17th century that this body became known as the ‘Irish Society’.
The Honourable the Irish Society was first created by Royal Charter in 1613 to undertake the Plantation in the North West of Ulster that was then being driven by the English Crown. It was originally a sub-committee of the City of London Corporation, which had been identified by King James I as the most suitable organisation to pay for, build and run the most substantial element of the Plantation, rebuilding the City of Derry (renamed Londonderry), Coleraine, and further development throughout County Londonderry.
The Irish Society evolved into a self-funding, cross-community charitable organisation many years ago and continues to work today for the benefit of the community in County Londonderry, as laid down in the Royal Charters of 1613 and 1662 which govern its activities. The Irish Society is administered from offices in Coleraine, where the Secretary and Representative is based, and in the City of London. It is led by a Governor, Deputy Governor and Court of Trustees. The Court carried out a thorough review of its operations in 2011/12 and applied to Privy Council for a Supplemental Charter to modernise the administration and lead to full registration under the Charities Act 2011. The Supplemental Charter was granted in December 2012.
The Irish Society applies the income derived from its properties in Londonderry and Coleraine, including the fisheries of the Bann River, and from its investment portfolio to a wide range of local causes. This is done under the guidance of a local Advisory Committee, composed of a cross-party selection of Councillors from Derry City & Strabane District Council, Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council and Mid-Ulster District Council, who co-operate closely with the Society’s local Representative. The Mayor of Derry City is a member of the Committee, and the Chief Executive officers of all three Councils also attend meetings.
The initial investment of £20,000 soon grew to £60,000, contributed roughly equally by the Twelve Great Livery Companies, ten of which were supported by a further 43 associate Companies.
Most of the lands of the County of Londonderry were divided into twelve 'proportions' and these were distributed among the companies by the drawing of lots, a deliberate echoing of the biblical story in which the twelve tribes of Israel shared out the Promised Land. The towns of Londonderry and Coleraine could not be sub-divided so these, along with the fisheries, were left under the direct ownership and control of The Irish Society.
It would be many years before the companies would see a return for their money but the tangible effects of this investment were soon evident on the banks of the Foyle and the Bann.
Coleraine, which had amounted to no more than an old church surrounded by a few cabins, became, within ten years, a town of some 200 timber houses fortified with an earthen wall and ditch. At Culmore Point, just at the entrance to Lough Foyle, the old fort was extensively renovated and reinforced, while further upriver Derry was transformed from a collection of ruined forts and church buildings into a substantial town with 240 stone-built houses, a town hall, the Bishop's House and a free school. It was surrounded by a strong stone wall with four fortified gates. Another enduring achievement of those first builders was the erection of the Church of St Columba, later St Columb's Cathedral, which was finished in 1633.
The plantation city of Londonderry was the last town in Ireland to be completely encircled by walls and the first to have its street layout planned in every respect. That street pattern is clearly visible today and the walls are doubly intact. The circuit is still complete and in spite of the determined efforts of besieging armies on three different occasions, including those of the Jacobite forces in the great Siege of 1689, they have never been breached in anger: hence the origin of its evocative name, The Maiden City. (http://www.honourableirishsociety.org.uk/about-us/our-history)