Francis Joy, the maternal grandfather of Mary Ann McCracken, was born in Killead, Co. Antrim, in 1697, of prosperous farming stock. In due course he settled in Belfast as an attorney, and, while still a young man of twenty-four, married Margaret Martin, granddaughter of George Martin, Sovereign of the town. Francis was an able and enterprising person. By his own exertions and by inheritance he was comparatively wealthy, and he and his wife must have occupied a prominent place in the growing professional and mercantile community of the town.
It was not, however, until he was forty years of age that an incident occurred which gave Francis Joy the opportunity to exert his enterprising ability beyond the legal profession. In 1737, as a result of a bad debt, he found himself the owner of a small printing business, and he decided to start the publication of a newspaper. On September 1st of that year there appeared from the sign of “The Peacock” in Bridge Street the first issue of The Belfast News-Letter. The full title of the paper was The Belfast News-Letter and General Advertiser and undoubtedly, its function was to provide not only news, but also a medium through which shippers and merchants might announce their goods, an indication of the growing importance of the town. Francis eventually moved out to Randalstown, purchasing a paper mill and settling near his native town.
The election of 1790 in County Antrim was a trial of strength between the independent candidates sponsored by the merchants and the freeholders, and the representatives of the party in power. Every vote would be needed. Francis by this time was infirm and suffering greatly from his leg, but, he who had never “shunned fatigue”, gathered up his ebbing strength and, in spite of all “obstructions”, had himself transported from Randalstown to the polling booth at Antrim town. When his astonished grandson from Belfast met him and exclaimed in amazement “What brought you here, Sir?” the characteristic answer was instantly forthcoming: “The good of my country.” The Independent candidates, the Hon. John O’Neill and the Hon. Hercules Rowley, were triumphant by a small majority, but within three weeks, on June 10th 1790, Francis Joy had passed away.