1798 – The 1780s and 90s saw times of great change for Ireland. A list of Belfast reformers and radicals would, in effect, be a roll call of almost all people of property in the town and it would be difficult to find one of them who had not been involved to some degree with the Belfast Charitable Society.

Robert and Henry Joy, joint editors of the family newspaper the Belfast News Letter, had been enthusiastic Volunteers as well as playing pivotal roles in advancing the cause of the Poor House.

Robert’s son, Henry Joy Jnr, had advocated giving votes to Catholics at the great Volunteer convention in Dublin.

Robert Joy’s house on High Street, Belfast had been next to that of his brother-in-law Captain John McCracken. Robert’s nephews Francis, William, Henry Joy and John McCracken were all avid reformers and Henry Joy and William were to fight in the rebellion in 1798.

Robert’s niece, Mary Ann, was a revolutionary and an advocate of the rights of women and children. She became fearless and tireless secretary of the Charitable Society’s Ladies’ Committee.

Samuel Neilson was a Society treasurer and a key organiser of the 1798 rebellion and Dr William Drennan, the true originator of the United Irishmen and poet who coined the term ‘the Emerald Isle’, was an obstetrician who gave medical advice to the Society.

William’s brother-in-law, Samuel McTier, was a founder member, both of the Charitable Society and of the United Irishmen, while Dr James McDonnell, a Society committee member and a champion of Catholic emancipation, did more than any other to advance medical provision in Belfast at the time.

In 1798 on the European mainland, there were revolutionary wars and a furious rebellion in Ireland lead to at least 30,000 people losing their lives in a few months. Henry Joy McCracken led the United Irishmen to defeat at the Battle of Antrim at the hands of the Crown forces and was captured in Carrickfergus and brought to Belfast on July 16, Tried and convicted, he was executed the next day outside the Market House at the Corner of Cornmarket and High Street.

Most of the warehouses in Belfast were used to accommodate the large number of forces of the Crown and at some stage in 1798 the Poor House was requisitioned by the Army for this purpose as well.