hanging of Henry Joy McCracken
From the corner of Lombard Street and High Street we can look across
to the corner of Cornmarket where one of Belfast’s leading citizens,
and rebel leader, Henry Joy McCracken was hanged on July 17, 1798.
McCracken had led a band of rebels in the battle of Antrim and was
hunted down after the rebels were defeated. He had secured passage on
a ship moored in Belfast lough but was caught as he made his way to
An offer was made to spare his life if he named his co-conspirators
but he declined and sealed his fate.
The gallows were erected outside what is now Dunnes Stores where the
town’s market house stood in 1798.
The ground for the market house had been given to the town by McCracken’s
great great grandfather.
When McCracken was led to the gallows three of his fellow United Irishmen
had already been executed and their heads were on spikes on the tower
of the market house.
Because of the McCracken and Joy families’ standing in the town
Henry was spared beheading and his body was given intact to his family
after he was cut down from the gallows. His sister had the body rushed
to a waiting doctor who tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Henry.
The market house is long gone but commerce remains. High Street became,
and remained for a long time, the city’s prime shopping area.
It has been undergoing a steady recovery from years of decline and difficulty,
especially during the years of the recent Troubles.
One notable former business in High Street was the Ulster Overcoat Company
which made the coat known as an Ulster and which was made famous by
Arthur Conan Doyle when he dressed his fictional detective Sherlock
Holmes in an Ulster.
The distinctive coat was mostly recently seen in the film Mrs Brown
in which it was worn by Billy Connolly, playing Queen Victoria’s
ghillie John Brown.
The area behind Cornmarket, on the opposite side to Dunnes Store, was
the site of Belfast castle. No trace remains of the castle but that
end of High Street is still known as Castle Junction.
The most notable visitor to the castle was King William III, Prince
of Orange, who stayed there for a few days in 1690 on his way to the
Battle of the Boyne.
On arrival he was greeted by the town corporation outside the market
house which was to be the scene of Henry Joy McCracken’s execution
a little over 100 years later.
to St George's church, High Street, where Belfast had its muddy beginnings
and where Albert just can't stand straight.