I was first introduced to Henry Joy McCracken by Newryman Brian McCollum and his Folk Group in the middle to late 60s when his single lauding that character topped the Irish charts. Now that I think of it, I believe we had a copy at home.
More recently, while perusing those two excellent histories of our recent Troubles, Secret History of the IRA (Ed Maloney) and The Lost Revolution (Brian Hanley), I have learned that the use of such ballads was ever a part of the IRA’s programme of radicalisation of nationalist youth. A few examples might spark your memory: you will recall, for example Dominic Behan’s The Patriot Game, Four Green Fields, Sean South of Garryowen and Off to Dublin in the Green, rousing numbers we all sang with gusto whether or not we paid attention to the lyrics.
For the greater part, I think the balladeers were unwilling and/or unwitting instruments of more sinister forces, though we all could name certain groups which revelled in the ‘physical force’ tradition.
For better or for worse (mainly worse, I fear) a sizable part of nationalist youth of our time chose soon afterwards to become part of the physical force movement, which eventually brought us to this unhappy pass. Several huge influxes [of largely-unvetted youth] to the IRA at critical junctures (Bloody Sunday, Hunger Strikes etc) brought uncontrolled and uncontrollable psychopaths to the fore (read Deadly Divisions for the ultimate examples) and sidelined the progressive, evolutionary efforts of wiser counsel in the national tradition, even in the IRA itself.
Towards the culmination of the peace talks, the British Pro-Consul, mindful that by then his forces had hopelessly compromised both Sinn Fein and the IRA with double agents, neatly summarised his country’s strategy when he informed the SDLP’s John Hume that his party was irrelevant because it had no ‘arms’ to trade! The ultimate in Catch 22 logic. The cream of nationalist society decided to eschew politics altogether and we are stuck with the third-rate bunch up in Stormont.
But it was of Henry Joy I wished to write.
Henry Joy McCracken of 39 High Street, Belfast was the fifth child [b. 31 August 1767] of the union of Captain John McCracken – a Belfast shipowner and ropemaker – and Ann Joy, daughter of Francis Joy – who had founded the Belfast Newsletter and General Advertiser in 1737.
… more later …