The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken, 1770-1866 : A Belfast Panorama


Despite outliving him by 68 years, Mary Ann McCracken's legacy is overshadowed by that of her more famous brother, executed United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken. She was, however, an abolitionist, a social reformer and an activist who fought for the rights of women and Belfast's poor throughout a long life that encompassed the most turbulent years of Irish history.

As treasurer, secretary and chair of the Ladies Committee, she helped girls from the Poor House learn crafts that would provide them with livelihoods. Dedicated to championing Belfast's poor, she was President of the Ladies Industrial School and she campaigned to abolish the use of climbing boys in chimney sweeping. Mary Ann was involved in early women's suffrage campaigns and prison reform schemes and was a passionate member of the Women's Abolitionary Committee. In her late eighties, she could be found on the docks, handing out anti-slavery leaflets to emigrants embarking for the slave-owning United States.

The motto of this remarkable woman, which accurately sums up her character, was, better 'to wear out than to rust out'. But her radical, humanitarian zeal and generous strength of character were indefatigable, and her contribution to Belfast life is still felt and celebrated today.