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Henry Joy McCracken

Henry Joy McCracken (31 August 1767 – 17 July 1798) was a cotton manufacturer and industrialist, Presbyterian, radical Irishman, and a founding member, along with Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Napper Tandy, and Robert Emmet, of the Society of the United Irishmen.

Henry McCracken was born and raised in Belfast, the brother of social reformer, Mary Ann McCracken. Henry became interested in radical politics from an early age and joined 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 jail in Dublin. While imprisoned with other United Irish leaders, McCracken fell seriously ill and was released on bail in December 1797.

Following the outbreak of the United Irish rebellion in Leinster in May 1798, the Antrim organisation met on June 3rd 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 June 5th 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 then for rebels to converge upon Antrim town on June 7th 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, they were defeated and his army melted away. Although McCracken initially escaped, a chance encounter with men who recognized him from his cotton business led to his arrest. Although offered clemency if he testified against other United Irishmen leaders, McCracken refused to turn on his compatriots. He was court-martialled and hanged at Corn Market, Belfast on July 17, on land his grandfather had donated to the city 1798. McCracken is buried in Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast, alongside his sister Mary Ann, herself a political activist and social reformer.

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