Henry Joy McCracken
Henry Joy McCracken was born in Belfast into two of the city's most prominent industrial families. He was the son of shipowner Captain John McCracken and Ann Joy, daughter of Francis Joy. The Joy family made their money in linen manufacture and founded the Belfast News Letter. Henry was the elder brother of political activist and social reformer Mary Ann McCracken, with whom he shared an interest in Irish traditional culture. In 1792 he helped organise the Belfast Harp Festival which gathered aged harpists from around Ireland, and helped preserve the Irish airs by having them transcribed by Edward Bunting. Bunting, who lodged in the McCracken's Rosemary Lane home, was a classically trained musician.
McCracken became interested in radical politics from an early age and joined the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795 which quickly made him a target of the authorities. He regularly travelled throughout the country using his business as a cover for organising other United Irish societies, but was arrested in October 1796 and lodged in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. While imprisoned with other leaders of the United Irishmen, McCracken fell seriously ill and was released on bail in December 1797.
Following the outbreak of the United Irishmen-led Rebellion in Leinster in May 1798, the Antrim organisation met on 3 June to decide on their response. The meeting ended inconclusively with a vote to wait for French aid being passed by a narrow margin. A new meeting of delegates was held in Templepatrick on 5 June where McCracken was elected general for Antrim and he quickly began planning military operations.
McCracken formulated a plan for all small towns in Antrim to be seized after which rebels would converge upon Antrim town on 7 June where the county's magistrates were to hold a crisis meeting. Although the plan met initial success and McCracken led the rebels in the attack on Antrim, they were defeated and his army melted away. Although McCracken initially escaped, a chance encounter with men who recognized him from his cotton business led to his arrest. Although offered clemency if he testified against other United Irishmen leaders, McCracken refused to turn on his compatriots. He was court-martialled and hanged at Corn Market, Belfast, on land his grandfather had donated to the city, on 17 July 1798, aged 30. McCracken's remains are believed to have been reinterred by Francis Joseph Biggar in 1909 at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast, alongside his sister Mary Ann. His illegitimate daughter Maria (whose mother is speculated to have been Mary Bodell), was raised by her aunt Mary Ann McCracken.