This local savings institution was founded in 1861 as the Workingman's Benefit Building Society by a small group of skilled tradesmen. The Society’s members - many of whom were railway workers - subscribed for shares and their regular deposits were used to make house purchase loans. In 1875, when the Society had well over 200 members, it was incorporated in Ireland under the Building Societies Act 1874. Previously its property had been vested in trustees and it had enjoyed none of the advantages of a corporate body. The newly incorporated Society continued to operate on a modest scale, with only two full-time staff in 1906.
By 1960, however, when the Society was renamed First National Building Society, it was offering more sophisticated services and had considerably grown its business. In 1963 First National became the first building society in the Republic to open a branch, when it established an office in the Dublin suburb of Kimmage. This was followed by a second suburban branch in Phibsboro in 1964 and a provincial branch at Limerick in 1965. In 1966 the continuing growth in the business prompted the removal of its head office to larger premises in Grafton Street.
In 1976 the Building Societies Act allowed societies to accept funds for shares and deposits and to lend money on security by mortgage of freehold and leasehold property. During the 1970s and 1980s, taking full advantage of the fiscal advantages such societies enjoyed over banks, First National dramatically increased the number of its branches and agencies to over 80. It began to advertise more heavily and moved its head office to larger purpose-converted premises in Booterstown. At the same time a number of smaller societies transferred their business to First National, including Grafton Savings & Building Society in 1974, Guinness Permanent Building Society and Ireland Benefit Building Society in 1984, and Postal Service Permanent Building Society in 1985.
At the end of the 1980s the Building Societies Act 1989 authorised building societies to extend their product range and compete even more actively with banks. In 1993 First National acquired Irish Life Building Society and opened a branch in Belfast, becoming the first building society in the Republic to expand into Northern Ireland. In 1994 First National acquired Mortgage Trust Ltd, a Surrey-based centralised mortgage lending business, and in 1995 a deposit-taking subsidiary commenced business in Guernsey, Channel Islands. The Group's UK operations were further expanded in 1996 through the acquisition of The Mortgage Corporation, which was merged with Mortgage Trust. A retail deposit-taking operation was established in England, to obtain sterling deposits to fund the Group's growing mortgage business in the UK. In 1997 First National also acquired the Northern Ireland loan book of Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society.
In 1998, with the business growing rapidly, First National’s members voted to convert from mutual status to a public limited company and to list the company's shares on the Irish and London Stock Exchanges. The company, renamed First Active plc, converted in September 1998 and the shares were listed the following month. Simultaneously the company raised £132 million in new capital from existing members and from the institutional markets. In 2001 First Active moved to an attractive purpose-built head office building in Leopardstown, on the outskirts of Dublin, and in 2002, refocusing on its core business, sold off the remainder of its UK subsidiary, First Active Financial, to Britannic Assurance plc.
In 2004 First Active was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (later renamed NatWest Group). It continued to operate as a separate brand until 2009 when it merged fully with Ulster Bank.
Branches: In 2009 50 offices were operating in the Republic of Ireland.
Summary of our archive holdings
Our archival records of First Active have the reference code FAB.
For help understanding words used here, check our glossary of banking record types (PDF 68KB).
- share register 1861-73
- directors’ meeting minute books 1861-(1985)
- share transaction receipts 1885-8
- annual and half-yearly report and accounts 1905-(1985)
- directors’ meeting notebooks 1910-56
- letterbook 1943-61
- certificate of change of name 1960
- papers re acquisitions: Grafton Savings & Building Society 1973-5; Guinness Permanent Building Society 1984, Ireland Benefit Building Society 1984, Postal Service Permanent Building Society 1985
- trial balance sheets 1910-23
- half-yearly accounts 1914-5
- power of attorney re receipt of rents 1928
- papers re investments 1939-56
- rule books 1873-1970
- press advertisements 1953