Henry Joy McCracken

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Henry Joy McCracken
Henry Joy McCracken.jpg
Born(1767-08-31)31 August 1767
High Street, Belfast, Ireland
Died17 July 1798(1798-07-17) (aged 30)
Corn Market, Belfast, Ireland
OccupationTextile manufacturer
Known forfounding member of the Society of the United Irishmen

Henry Joy McCracken (31 August 1767 – 17 July 1798) was an Irish Republican and industrialist from Belfast, Ireland. He was a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen.

Family Life[edit]

Henry Joy McCracken was born in High street, Belfast into two of the city's most prominent Presbyterian industrial families. He was the son of a shipowner, Captain John McCracken and Ann Joy, daughter of Francis Joy, of French Huguenot descent. The Joy family made their money in linen manufacture and founded the Belfast News Letter. Henry was the older 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.[1] Bunting, who lodged in the McCracken's Rosemary Lane home, was a classically trained musician.

United Irishmen[edit]

McCracken became interested in republican politics from an early age and along with other Protestants formed 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 Gaol in Dublin. While imprisoned with other leaders of the United Irishmen, McCracken fell seriously ill and was released on bail in December 1797.[2]

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, the Catholic Defenders group whom McCracken expected assistance from were conspicuous by their absence. The mainly Irish Presbyterian rebels led by McCracken were defeated by the English forces and his army melted away.

After Antrim[edit]

Although McCracken initially escaped with James Hope, James Orr, and James Dickey and was supported in his month long period of hiding by his sister Mary Ann, a chance encounter with men who recognized him from his cotton business led to his arrest. He was offered clemency if he testified against other United Irishmen leaders, McCracken refused to turn on his compatriots.

He was court-martialled and hanged[3] at Corn Market, Belfast, on land his grandfather had donated to the city, on 17 July 1798, aged 30.[2] According to historian Guy Beiner, his corpse was spared the indignity of decapitation in order not to provoke renewed agitation. He was buried in the Parish Church of St George in Belfast, but a few years later the grave was demolished.[4]

McCracken's remains are believed to have been reinterred by Francis Joseph Bigger 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/on-the-trail-of-henry-joy/
  2. ^ a b Hamilton 1893.
  3. ^ Patrick C. Power (1997). The Courts Martial of 1798-9. Irish Historical Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-902057-00-2.
  4. ^ Guy Beiner (2018). Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster. Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ Grehan Sisters