On this day 1798 Henry Joy McCracken was executed for his role as commander of the County Antrim forces of the United Irishmen. After the United Irish defeat in Antrim in June of 1798, Henry Joy fled to the Belfast Hills, whilst Mary Ann arranged his escape to America. However, he was seized on the way to the ship and tried by court martial. During his trial Harry, as he was affectionately known by his family, was given the option to save his life and go into exile if he informed on the other leaders. He refused and was subsequently hanged 221 years ago today at the Market House on High Street. The land on which it was built had been donated by an ancestor of Henry Joy McCracken to the people of Belfast.
In her letters to Madden, the United Irishmen historian, in the 1840s Mary Ann McCracken, Harry’s younger sister, described that fateful afternoon in her own words:
I took his arm, and we walked together to the place of
execution, where I was told it was the General’s orders that I should
leave him, which I peremptorily refused. Harry begged I would go.
Clasping my hands around him, (I did not weep till then) I said I
could bear anything but leaving him. Three times he kissed me and
entreated I would go; and, looking round to recognise some friend
to put me in charge of he beckoned to a Mr. Boyd, and said ‘He will
take charge of you.’ … and fearing any further refusal would disturb
the last moments of my dearest brother, I suffered myself to be led
Mary Ann, reflecting all those years later on Harry and his role in 1798, informed Madden:
Notwithstanding the grief that overcame every feeling for a time,
and still lingers in my breast, connecting every passing event with
the remembrance of former circumstances which recall some act or
thought of his, I never once wished that my beloved brother had
taken any other part than that which he did take.
Want to read more about Mary Ann and Henry Joy McCracken’s lives? Why not pre-order our revised edition of The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken: A Belfast Panorama from Irish Academic Press tinyurl.com/MAM1770