Foreword by Vince Hearns:
I got this song from my Belfast friend Davy when we lived in a hostel in Co. Clare in the 1960’s. Henry Joy McCracken was born a Presbyterian in Belfast in 1767. By occupation he managed a cotton mill. He was a founder member of The Belfast City Branch of The United Irishmen and he later was to become a member of the Ulster Directory. He founded the first Sunday school in his native city and was well known for preaching political and religious liberty. In 1795, in the company of Wolfe Tone, Robert Simms, Samuel Nelson and Thomas Russell at the site of MacArt’s Fort on Cave Hill, outside Belfast they swore the oath “Never to desist in our efforts until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence”. Following a year of imprisonment in Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail, Henry Joy planned and led the 1798 rebellion in Co. Antrim. Following the defeat of his army at Antrim Town he retreated to the Slemish mountains and was planning to escape to the USA when he was captured. He was court-martialled and sentenced to death, the sentence was carried out at the Belfast Market House on June 17th 1798. His sister Mary Ann accompanied him from the prison cell to the gallows.
Henry Joy McCracken (Version I)
An Ulster man I’m proud to be from Antrim’s glens I come,
And though I’ve laboured by the sea I have followed fife and drum.
I have heard the martial tramp of men, I’ve seen them fight and die,
Ah lads I well remember when I followed Henry Joy.
I dragged my boat unto the land and I hid my sails away,
I hung my nets upon a tree and I scanned the moonlit bay.
The boys were out, the Redcoats too, I kissed my wife goodbye,
And in the shade of a green wood glade I followed Henry Joy.
Oh lads ’twas Ireland’s cause we fought for side and home we bled.
Though our hearts were true, our numbers were few and five to one lay dead.
There was many a lassie mourned her lad, and mother mourned her boy,
For youth was strong in that battle throng that followed Henry Joy.
In Antrim Town the tyrant stood, he tore our ranks with ball,
But with a cheer and a pike to clear, we swept them o’er the wall
Our pikes and sabres flashed that day, we won, but lost. Oh why?
No matter lads, I fought beside and shielded Henry Joy.
In Belfast town they have built a tree and the Redcoats muster there.
I saw him come as the beat of a drum, rang out on the barrack square.
He kissed his sister and went aloft he bid his last goodbye,
My God he died, and I turned and I cried. they have murdered Henry Joy.
Written by Henry Joy McCracken.