This paper provides a detailed account of the origins, ethos and distribution of charitable loan fund societies in Ireland between 1729 and 1823. Charitable loan fund societies differed from other early financial institutions because they were area-based philanthropic societies that sought to animate a philosophy of poverty relief that advocated self-help and self-reliance. They were institutional articulations of early modern ideas about the role and nature of charity and how charitable acts should be administered. This paper explains the origins of the first charitable loan fund established by Dean Jonathan Swift in St Patrick’s Parish, Dublin city and provides new insights into the origins of the second loan fund operated by the Dublin Charitable Musical Society. It traces the spread of thirty-two charitable loan fund societies across Ireland in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first two decades of the nineteenth century. It provides a very brief account of the origins and modus operandi of each charitable loan society and argues that a critical factor impeding the greater spread of the loan fund schemes was a lack of capital.