Henry Joy McCracken (I)
DESCRIPTION: "It was on the Belfast mountains I heard a maid complain... Saying, 'Woe is me... Since Henry Joy McCracken died on the gallows tree." Henry fought against the English, but was taken; now only his ghost comes got her. She dies and is buried
AUTHOR: attributed by different writers to P. J. McCall, William Drennan, and T. P. Cunning (source: Moylan)
EARLIEST DATE: 1939 (OLochlainn)
KEYWORDS: rebellion Ireland love death burial execution ghost
June 7, 1798 - Henry Joy McCracken, a founder of the United Irishmen, leads several thousand men against Antrim, but is driven off. The Ulster phase of the 1798 rebellion is completely defeated by June 13, and the leaders later executed
July 17, 1798 - Henry Joy McCracken hanged in Belfast. (source: Moylan)
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (4 citations):
PGalvin, pp. 34-35, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
OLochlainn 60, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
Moylan 109, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leyden 39, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Henry Joy" (subject)
cf. "Henry Joy McCracken (II)" (subject)
cf. "McCracken's Ghost" (subject)
cf. "The Social Thistle and the Shamrock" (written by McCracken)
NOTES: OLochlainn writes about finding the tune in 1913 in George Petrie [1789-1866], The Complete Petrie Collection. "The song here given was written by P. J. McCall [1861-1919], author of 'Boolavogue.'"
Leyden's source is OLochlainn 60. - BS
The ballad is recorded on two of the CD's issued around the time of the bicentenial of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. See:
Tim Lyons, "Henry Joy McCracken" (on "The Croppy's Complaint," Craft Recordings CRCD03 (1998); Terry Moylan notes)
Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "Henry Joy McCracken" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "1798 the First Year of Liberty," Hummingbird Records HBCD0014 (1998)) - BS
Pakenham, p. 172, says of McCracken (1767-1798) that he was "a remarkable man -- in may way the most attractive of all the original United brotherhood of Ireland." A Presbyterian, he tried to promote learning and social justice (not something that interested most Irish leaders); Smyth, p. 117, describes him as part of the "often socially radical" faction of the United Irishmen. He was also religiously tolerant (his brothers, Golway, p, 68, had attended the opening of Belfast's first Catholic Church in 1784, along with other members of the Belfast volunteers, as a gesture of ecumenicalism. McCracken himself, according to Golway, p. 69, actually supported Catholics when they were attacked by Protestants.)
McCracken, it appears, was not inherently opposed to British rule; he simply thought that Ireland could not achieve the social order he felt desirable without independence.
Sadly, British justice cared little for nobility of character. And, as a leader of troops, McCracken was contemptible. And several of his senior officers were in contact with the British General Nugent. McCracken, in attacking Antrim, made no provisions to guard against reinforcements. Nor could he make any real use of his ancient, ill-mounted cannon. The result was a complete defeat for the United Men at Antrim.
Four days later, the remnants of the United forces abandoned their camp at Donegore Hill. As an army, that was the end of them.
McCracken had not expected to command the Ulster army. Robert Simms had originally commanded the troops in County Antrim. But he wasn't going to fight without the French. He resigned, leaving McCracken in command (Golway, p. 84). McCracken had no military experience. A veteran army might have survived an ignorant commander. But the troops were as raw as he. They scared the British, but they posed little real danger.
McCracken himself escaped the rout, and hid in the home of his "lover" Mary Bodle (by whom he apparently had an illegitimate daughter; see Golway, p. 85). Contrary to what is reported in "Henry Joy McCracken (II)," Steward, p. 240, says that a patrol simply stumbled on him -- but one of themn had bought cloth from him and recognized him. What followed is confused -- apparently some of the men of the patrol wanted to free him -- but he ended up in custody. Golway, pp. 87-88, says that his trial began on July 16, and he was hung July 17 after refusing an offer to turn informer. Stewart, p. 241, says the court-martial began July 17 (the contradiction is probably a matter of how the phases of the McCracken case are labelled).
Stewart, p. 242, notes that McCracken's father and sister Mary Ann were present at the trial. The officer in charge, in an act of blatant cruelty, spoke to the father and told him that McCracken could live if he would reveal the name of his commander. Stewart reports the incident as follow: "Pollock caled Henry over and made the same offer to him. McCracken said, 'I will do anything which my father knows is the right thing for me to do.' 'Harry, my dear,' said his father, 'I know nothing of the business, but you know best what you ought to do.' At this McCracken said, 'Farewell, Father,' and walked back to the table."
The trial took place the same day, and although it was hard to find witnesses, McCracken was found guilty and ordered to be executed immediately. McCracken was hung at 5:00 p.m. on July 17 (Stewart, p. 245). - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Golway: Terry Golway, For the Cause of Liberty, Simon & Schuster, 2000
- Pakenham: Thomas Pakenham The Year of Liberty, 1969, 1997 (I use the 2000 Abacus paperback edition)
- Jim Smyth, The Men of No Property, 1992, revised edition 1994 (I use the corrected 1998 St. Martins edition)
- Stewart: A. T. Q. Stewart, The Summer Soldiers: The 1798 Rebellion in Antrim and Down, Blackstaff Press, 1995
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