Henry Joy McCracken was, at least by modern standards, a very unlikely rebel. From a well-to-do family, the young Henry Joy branched out (his father was a ship owner and rope maker) into the most lucrative trade of the time, cotton manufacture.
He was a tall, good-looking fair-haired youth with a strong social conscience. He had an instinctive sympathy with his workers, caring not just for their working conditions but also for their welfare and their education.
With his sister Mary Ann McCracken (also a heroine of the United Irishmen later) he founded the first Sunday School in Belfast. Its purpose was not religious dissemination (unlike modern Sunday Schools) but to make up for the absence of universal education at that time. Reading and writing was taught equally to men, boys and girls. Eventually the School was shut down by the Anglican vicar of Belfast (Presbyterians were scorned by, and discriminated against by Anglicans of the time, a huge factor in that sect dominating the United Irishmen movement of the close of the eighteenth century).
However Henry Joy’s political – and educational and social – activities meant that he devoted not enough time and effort to his business interests and in 1795 his cotton printing mill failed.
It was in 1795 too that Henry Joy McCracken was sworn into the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast.
… more later …