Friendly Sons and Daughters of St Patrick: Second oldest Irish society in the US keeping the ‘American Dream’ alive
By Fionnuala Boyle, The Irish Star
The President of the second-oldest Irish society in the US has told of how the organization continues to keep the ‘American Dream’ alive among the Irish community in Pennsylvania.
Michael Maloney, 36, is President of The Friendly Sons and Daughters of St Patrick, a remarkable group that boasts “the best history out of any historical society” in the states, promotes Irish culture and education, and provides aid.
Based out of Philadelphia and spanning four centuries since its inception in 1771, the society is built on the shoulders of giants such as Stephen Moylan, an Irish-American patriot leader, and Commodore Barry, an Irish-American officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War, who were founding members.
But as well as its charity, educational and benevolent work, the Friendly Sons is also responsible for many huge success stories to come out of Ireland over the years – beginning with Michael’s own father, also named Michael, who touched down on American soil from Co Mayo in 1956 with just “a suitcase and ten dollars in his pocket”.
Despite the obstacles in his way, Michael Senior proceeded to become “the definition of the American Dream”, thanks to the help of people like his son and his compatriots who keep fighting the good fight today.
Michael told Irish Star: “The society was started by some of the Founding Fathers and George Washington was an honorary member. A lot of great, American heroes helped establish Friendly Sons. We’re so proud of that.
“Our big thing is education so that’s where we spend most of our money. Our total scholarship endowments have just eclipsed two million dollars and we’ve established 19 of those scholarships since 2015.
“We have scholarships at most of the major universities in Philadelphia as well as local high schools. Our 19th scholarship focused on helping young Irish Americans who need financial assistance to travel abroad to Ireland.
“We also donate to dozens of charities and local Irish organizations like Philly GAA. Helping young people is at the heart of everything we do.”
He continued: “My dad came to America at the age of 17 and established roots here in Philly. I’m the youngest of three brothers and was born and raised here. We’re incredibly proud of our dad and what he’s achieved.
“He came to the US on a boat with next to nothing but he joined the military, got married, and started a family. To me, he’s the definition of the American dream.
“A lot of people helped him when he came over so this is our way of giving back – to honor him.”
Incredibly, it was an act of kindness before Michael Senior even reached American shores that allowed him to cross the Atlantic in the first place.
“He was a really good, motivated student when he was young and was Connacht boxing champ which helped, too, but there were just no opportunities for him in Ireland”, Michael explained.
“His headmaster at the time took a real liking to him at school and pushed him to go to the US to create a better life path for himself. He didn’t have money to buy a ticket so his headmaster paid for half of it and he scraped together the other half.
“Philly was a great place to come. People have always looked out for the Irish starting afresh here and that’s how the Friendly Sons started – as a benevolent organization helping Irish immigrants literally coming off the boat.
“Members of our society greeted them, helped them to find work and a place to live, and even lent them money. The whole purpose of the society was to help the Irish find their way in the US.
“For that reason, our dad’s story is very close to our hearts.”
And the full circle moments just keep on coming for the Friendly Sons. The society’s first scholarship recipient was John Teeling, owner of Teeling Distillery, a Dubliner who landed the grant around 60 years ago.
A former UCD student, the society paid for John to transfer over to the University of Pennsylvania to get his MBA, where one of his assignments was to create a business plan.
Lacking inspiration, John went to his professor, who suggested he write the plan around starting an Irish whiskey business as he could only name two mainstream Irish brands – Powers and Jameson – which he took on board.
John went on to succeed in various business ventures after graduating but in the background, was pouring his earnings into executing the business plan he had penned all those years ago.
The result was one of the most popular brand names in the Irish whiskey industry and a business worth millions.
“We have a great relationship with John”, Michael said. “He’s just donated a cask of whiskey to the Friendly Sons, so we’re going to sell that and start a scholarship in his name so his story can go on to benefit even more people.
“Our benevolence really came full circle. We helped this guy out so many years ago but because of that, he’s now in a fantastic position. We get so many ‘thank you’ letters but this, for me, was the best one out of them all.”
Over the years, the society’s mission has changed, not only due to the varying Presidents at its helm – Michael last year his succeeded his brother, Kevin Maloney, who ran from 2018-2020 – but in line with the changing face of both Ireland and America.
The organization negates fears of losing their identity and connection with their ancestry by constantly creating opportunities for young people ‘to experience everything they teach them about’ in real-time through trips and exchanges to the Emerald Isle and celebrating Irish music, literature, and history both at home and abroad.
In doing so, the Maloney family ensure they continue to pay tribute to their father’s ‘courage and determination of spirit’ in emigrating from Ireland to the US and help young people live out their own American dream in the future.
Kevin said: “The storied throngs of immigrant masses are no longer there in need. Ireland itself has grown and developed into a thriving Nation. Today, the population of Irish-born Americans is aging, so we have had to adapt.
“Our scholarship programs, the new cornerstone of our charitable initiative, provide opportunities for students to forge new connections, create new experiences, and witness, first-hand, the natural beauty of Ireland and the quick wit and hospitality of its people.
“Our study abroad programs allow the next generation to discover their heritage in real-time. Our reach also goes far beyond our scholarship programs.
“We gladly support Irish-American organizations who share in our beliefs and endeavors, such as the Commodore Barry Arts & Culture Center, the Philadelphia Ceili Group, and the Irish Diaspora Center, just to name a few.”
He added: “I’m connected to Ireland through my dad but our goal for the next generation is that our kids and our kids’ kids maintain that strong connection to Ireland, and remain proud of their Irish heritage.”