This year, the annual World Giving Index ranked Ireland as the most generous country in Europe, based on data gathered from the Gallup World Poll about respondents' charitable activities.

A rich legacy of Irish giving exists on both sides of the Atlantic. Consider Philadelphia's Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, a society dedicated to providing education and charity for more than 240 years.

"The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick is one of the most dynamic and vibrant charitable and education-oriented forces in the Philadelphia Irish community," asserts Thomas Lyons 2d, the group's historian.

Founded in 1771 to provide relief for Irish immigrants, the Friendly Sons included many Revolutionary notables: Thomas Fitzsimons, Robert Morris, and Commodore John Barry, "father of the American navy." George Washington was made an honorary member in 1782. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin attended some of the group's early meetings.

As Irish immigration to America swelled in the 1840s due to the Great Hunger, the charitable work of the Friendly Sons grew accordingly. Benevolent efforts soon expanded beyond the Irish community - victims of the Johnstown flood and San Francisco earthquake, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and the Russian Jewish Relief Fund all received assistance.

After the 1922 establishment of the Irish Free State, the Friendly Sons donated $5,000 to alleviate the suffering of those affected by hostilities.

As conditions in Ireland improved and immigration abated, the focus of the group shifted to promoting closer ties between America and Ireland. The installation of the Barry statue outside Independence Hall and the Fitzsimons monument in Logan Square evidenced this new direction and showed the contribution of the Irish to American society. Since World War II, the Friendly Sons have also provided scholarships for Irish graduate students to study in America.

The Friendly Sons is the second-oldest continuously meeting Irish organization in the United States, and currently has more than 1,200 members.