Remembering Henry Joy McCracken - 1798 Rebellion
Henry Joy McCracken was born in High street, Belfast on August 31st 1767 into two of the city's most prominent Presbyterian industrial families.
McCracken 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.
McCracken became interested in Irish Republican politics from an early age and along with other Protestants formed the Society of the United Irishmen in 1791 which quickly made him a target of the crown.
He regularly travelled throughout the country using his business as a cover for organizing other United Irish societies but was arrested in October 1796 and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol.
While imprisoned with other leaders of the United Irishmen, McCracken fell seriously ill and was released on bail in December 1797.
In May 1798 a rebellion against British rule broke out in Leinster, on June 5th the United Irishmen in Antrim elected McCracken thier general and he quickly began planning military operations for that county.
McCracken formulated a plan for all small towns in Antrim to be seized after which rebels would then converge upon Antrim town on June 7th where the county's magistrates were to hold a crisis meeting.
The Catholic Defenders group whom McCracken expected assistance from were conspicuous by their absence. The mainly Ulster-Scots rebels led by McCracken were defeated by the English forces, and his army melted away.
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 so was tried and sentenced to death.
Henry Joy McCracken was hanged at Corn Market, Belfast, on land his grandfather had donated to the city, on July 17th1798, aged 30.
McCracken was buried in the Parish Church of St George in Belfast, but a few years later the grave was demolished.
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.