United Irishmen commemorated at Clifton Street cemetery

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 4 (Winter 1995), News, The United Irishmen, Volume 3

A plaque commemorating the founding of the United Irishmen was unveiledin Belfast’s Clifton Street cemetery on Saturday 7 October by DouglasGageby, former editor of the Irish Times and Patron of History Ireland,who said that the United Irishmen ‘were above all good people, bravepeople, people with aspirations for harmony among the people of thisisland’.
The veil over the plaque was a flag made for the 1898 centenarycelebrations, which were an important part of the upsurge innationalist awareness that led to the 1916 Rising. The plaque waserected by the Glenravel Local History Project, based in theneighbouring New Lodge area, whose members have been campaigning foryears for the City Council to restore the cemetery and give it thestatus it deserves.
The cemetery contains several graves of leading United Irishmen,and the plaque has been erected on the most famous one, that of MaryAnn McCracken and her brother Henry Joy. Mary Ann was a sworn member ofthe movement, and went on to become famous for her unstinting work forBelfast’s poor. As Douglas Gageby said, ‘At the age of eighty she washanding out pamphlets in the Belfast docks against slavery’.
Even better known is Mary Ann’s brother, Henry Joy, who was bornand brought up in Belfast’s High Street, fought at the battle ofAntrim, and was executed in High Street after his capture in July 1798.He was originally buried in High Street, but what are believed to behis bones were removed in 1902 and later reburied in the grave of hissister.
The cemetery is at Carlisle Circus a few minutes walk from Belfastcity centre, and is well worth a visit. Originally owned by the PoorHouse, it is non-sectarian and encapsulates the history of the city.Here lie rich and poor, the famous and obscure. There are the vaults ofprosperous business families, such as the Dunvilles, and unmarkedexpanses of grass which cover the remains of some 11,000 poor people,many the victims of the Great Hunger of the 1840s. Other UnitedIrishmen buried here are William Drennan, William Steele Dickson andRobert and William Simms. From the cemetery there is a clear view ofCavehill, where the Simms brothers and Henry Joy McCracken were presentat McArt’s Fort along with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell when thefamous pledge to struggle for Ireland’s independence was taken.
The Glenravel History Project organises tours of the cemetery forschools and other groups, and can be contacted at the Ashton Centre,Belfast, tel: (01232) 742255.


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