Heroic fighter against slavery: Mary Ann McCracken statue unveiled in Belfast

By Dagmar Walgraeve

On 8 March, an extraordinary Belfast woman, will finally receive the rightful recognition she deserves. More than 150 years since her death, a statue of Mary Ann McCracken (1770-1866) will be unveiled on the grounds of Belfast City Hall. 

She is one of many ‘forgotten’ women in history. Until recently, she was mostly referenced as ‘the sister of Henry Joy McCracken’, a founding member of the United Irishmen. Her grave remained unmarked until 1909 when Henry’s alleged remains were placed in her grave and an inscription was added that she ‘wept by her brother’s scaffold’.

Mary Ann witnessed the influence of the American, French, and industrial revolutions on the radicalisation of workers at the time in Belfast.  After reading Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication on the Rights of Women’ she initiated political thinking and understanding in women’s groups across Ireland. However, she deplored the separate female societies and clubs. No women, she believed, with “rational ideas of liberty and equality for themselves” could consent to a separate organisation. 

She was also a lifelong and active abolitionist.  Stating that there is “no argument produced in favour of the slavery of women that has not been used in favour of general slavery”, she links her commitment to the end of slavery with her commitment to the equality of women. 

The motto of this remarkable woman, which accurately sums up her character, was that it is ‘better to wear out than to rust out’. From standing at Belfast harbour aged 88 handing out abolitionist leaflets to Irish emigrants, to fighting for female equality in a male dominated society – Mary Ann McCracken was unquestionably a woman ahead of her time. It is therefore only right that the unveiling of her statue and celebration of her life will take place on International Women’s day.

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