“Henry Joy McCracken (I)”


"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


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

Thomas Pakenham, in _The Year of Liberty_ (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); Jim Smyth, in _The Men of No Property_, p. 117, describes him as part of the "often socially radical" faction of the United Irishmen. He was also religiously tolerant (his brothers, according to Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, 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 Britishrule; 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),? Golway says that a patrol of militia simply stumbled onto him -- but he was taken into custody. His trial began on July 16, and he was hung July 17 after refusing an offer to turn informer (Golway, pp. 87-88). - RBW

Historical references

  • 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)

Cross references


  1. PGalvin, pp. 34-35, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. OLochlainn 60, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Moylan 109, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Leyden 39, "Henry Joy McCracken" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Roud #3008
  6. BI, PGa034


Author: attributed by different writers to P. J. McCall, William Drennan, and T. P. Cunning (source: Moylan)
Earliest date: 1939 (OLochlainn)
Found in: Ireland