Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/McCracken, Henry Joy

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McCRACKEN, HENRY JOY (1767–1798), United Irishman, was born in Belfast on 31 Aug. 1767, and brought up to the linen business. At the age of twenty-two he was placed at the head of a cotton factory. Adopting nationalist sentiments, he in 1791 joined with Thomas Russell [q. v.] in the formation of the first society of United Irishmen in Belfast, and gave himself enthusiastically to the working of designs. In October 1796 he was along with his brother William, and imprisoned in Kilmainham gaol for thirteen months. Ultimately he was liberated on bail, and returning to Belfast threw himself with great ardour into plans for an insurrection. In the spring of 1798 he was appointed to the chief command of the rebels in co. Antrim, and on 6 June issued a manifesto calling the people to arms. On 7 June, along with a large body of men, he attacked the king's troops at Antrim, but, notwithstanding the great bravery which he displayed, were defeated after a smart action, in which Lord O'Neill [q, v.] and others were killed. Along with some others he fled to Slemish mountain, near Ballymena, where he lay concealed for several weeks. When about to sail for America be was arrested by some Carrickfergus yeomen, tried by court-martial in Belfast, and hanged, amid general regret, at the market-house there on 17 July 1798. His body was buried in the old churchyard at the foot of High Street, the graves in which have all since been levelled. A striking portrait of him is given in Madden's 'United Irishmen,' vol. iv. 'He was,' say Mt. Lecky, 'a man of singularly amiable private character, and is said to have formerly taken a part in establishing the first Sunday school in Belfast' (History, viii. 129).

[Madden's United Irish Personal Narrative, pp. 27; Teeling's Personal Narative, pp. 230 at seq.; Mr Skimin's Annals of Ireland; Benn's Hist. of Belfast; Lecky's Hist. of England; Musgrave's Rebellions in Irelund, pp. 547, &c.]

T. H.