An Ulster man and proud I am, from the Antrim glens I come
Although I labour by the sea, I followed flag and drum
I heard the martial tramp of men, I’ve seen them fight and die
And well I do remember when I followed Henry Joy
I pulled my boat up from the sea, I hid my sails away
I hung my nets on the greenwood tree, and scanned the moonlight bay
The boys were out and the redcoats too, I kissed my wife goodbye
And in the shade of the greenwood glade, I followed Henry Joy
In Antrim Town the tyrant stood, he tore our ranks with ball
But with a cheer and pike to clear, we swept them o’re the wall
Our pikes and sabres flashed that day, we won but lost, ah why
No matter lads, I fought beside and shelded Henry Joy
Ah boys, for Ireland’s cause we fought, for her and home we bled
Our pikes were few but heart were true, and five to one lay dead
And many a lassie mourned her lad and mother mourned her boy
For youth was strong in that gallant throng who followed Henry Joy
Songs of Antrim
Henry Joy McCracken was born in High Street, Belfast on 31 August 1767. Proud to belong to two important Belfast Presbyterian families, he always used his full name. His father, John McCracken, was an entrepreneur and associated with many of Belfast’s leading philanthropic ventures. His maternal grandfather, Francis Joy, owned important paper mills and was the founder of The Belfast Newsletter. Henry was interested in radical politics. He used his position as owner of a cotton mill to make political contacts. He was always concerned with the welfare and education of his workers.
In 1791, along with Thomas Russell, he forming the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. In 1796, he was imprisoned for over a year in Kilmainham Gaol. When the insurrection broke out in June 1798, McCracken was made general of the forces at Donegore, which then attacked Antrim town. They were defeated by government troops. After a month on the run McCracken, was captured in Carrickfergus while trying to escape to America. He was tried for treason and hanged in the Cornmarket, Belfast on the 17th July 1798. He was buried at St George’s, High Street, but the remains were later transferred to the Clifton Street cemetery.
Henry Joy McCracken had great interest in Irish traditional culture. In 1792 he helped organise the Belfast Harp Festival which gathered aged harpists from around Ireland. He helped preserve Irish airs by having them transcribed by Edward Bunting, a classically trained musician who lodged in McCracken’s home.