The Presbyterian Revolt in 1798: Ulster & the United Irish Rising

This is an ever popular talk on the dramatic events of the 1790s in Ireland, culminating in the 1798 Rebellion of the United Irishmen.


In Ulster the Rising was supported strongly by Presbyterians and this talks looks at the enlightened ideas which prompted the Society of United Irishmen as well as the events of the Rising including the Battles of Antrim and Ballynahinch.


We meet figures from history including Henry Joy McCracken, Jemmy Hope, James Orr, Henry Monroe, and Betsy Gray and examine their roles in the stirring events known to Antrim’s Presbyterians as ‘the Turn Oot’.

Through the poems of weaver bard James Orr we will also trace the development of the Rising and the sense of despondency which overtook the Presbyterians of Ulster who had participated in the stirring events of ‘the Ninety Eight’.

Henry Joy & Mary Anne:

A Belfast tragedy

A more detailed examination of the 1798 Rising in Ulster, this talk majors on just two of the participants, brother and sister Henry Joy and Mary Anne McCracken. The events of 1798 form a backdrop to the story of this devoted pair, and we also learn much of the family histories of the prosperous McCracken and Joy families in 18th century Belfast.


The events of the Rising and Mary Ann’s attempts to save her brother provide a dramatic and poignant story and the arrest and execution of Henry are traumatic events for his sister. The end of Henry Joy – ‘Harry’ as she called him – was tragic, but his sister would live to see different days, dying in 1866. Learn more about the extraordinary life and times of this outstanding brother and sister in this carefully crafted talk.

The Resurrection Men;

Graverobbers in 19th Century Ulster

Why did some resort to robbing graves at dead of night and why?


The demand for bodies from medical science led to illegal activities in many cemeteries, and resulted in special ‘mort houses’ being built to allow a guard to be set over the recently departed, as well as armed watchmen installed at some locations. Graverobbing was endemic in England, Scotland and Ireland and the speaker draws on actual court cases and newspaper reports from the 1820s and 1830s to highlight the nocturnal goings on.


With examples of this most unusual industry from Belfast, Antrim and Down, this talk also highlights two Ulstermen who went further than graverobbing – Burke and Hare, one of whom was hanged in Edinburgh for his vile deeds, the other of whom lived the remainder of his days in south Down.


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18th & 19th Century Ireland