Women’s Role in Society: The Experience in Afghanistan (Inaugural Annual Mary Ann McCracken Lecture)

On Thursday 18th November, over 120 people came to listen to the challenges facing Afghan women, which was the focus of this year’s Mary Ann McCracken Foundation annual lecture. The message from all the contributors was that more needs to be done to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, and more needs to be done to help those resettling here to feel welcome and to integrate.

“We need to be more like our own Mary Ann McCracken”, was referenced on a number of occasions, particularly in relation to standing up to inequalities, being more welcoming and understanding of refugees and speaking out about racism. Everything Mary Ann did over 200 years ago!

We listened to feedback from attendees, and have agreed to progress with a number of ‘Call to Actions’! Click here to find out more.

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If you weren’t able to attend, but would still like to contribute to our afghan refugee fund, please click here.

You can access the video recording of the event below:

The Mary Ann McCracken Foundation

The Mary Ann McCracken Foundation was set up by Belfast Charitable Society (BCS) to celebrate Mary Ann’s life and to build on her legacy today. As a Belfast-born social reformer and activitist, Mary Ann McCracken made a huge contribution to life in Belfast, and beyond, including the Poor House, today known as Clifton House.

The Foundation has two main objectives:

• To advance education of the public about the life and works of Mary Ann McCracken, a leading social reformer and philanthropist.

• In the spirit of the legacy and work of Mary Ann McCracken; to advance education, to prevent or relieve poverty, to advance human rights and promote equality.

Support the ongoing work of the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation.

Who was Mary Ann McCracken?

Mary Ann McCracken was born in Belfast on 8 July 1770 to Captain John McCraken and Ann Joy. Mary Ann  had close family links to Belfast Charitable Society. Her uncle, Henry Joy, raised the money to construct the Poor House  and his brother, Robert, was responsible for managing the construction works. Her father also served on the Board.

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

Through the Poor House Ladies Committee, she helped educate the children and secure apprenticeships that would provide them with livelihoods. Mary Ann was President of the Ladies Industrial School and campaigned to abolish the use of climbing boys in chimney sweeping. She was involved in early women’s suffrage campaigns and prison reform schemes. Mary Ann was also a life-long abolitionist founding the Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League. In her late eighties, she could still 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 it is ‘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.

Launch of Mary Ann McCracken Foundation

On Wednesday 20th January, the Belfast Charitable Society officially launched its Mary Ann McCracken Foundation, whose main objectives are to celebrate her life and build on her legacy.

The Society were delighted to have secured the BAFTA award winning broadcaster and historian Professor David Olusoga as the key note speaker- straight from his ‘Talk with President Obama’. Professor Olusoga spoke on the ‘Legacies of Slavery’- a subject he has extensively researched, written and broadcasted on for many years.

The event was chaired by Belfast Charitable Society President, Sir Ronnie Weatherup, and attended by nearly 400 guests from Ireland and further afield.

The launch marked the start of a programme of work which embodies the ethos of Mary Ann herself. The Foundation will encourage and facilitate projects and conversations, which get to the heart of the causes she championed, in the 21st century.

Watch the full talk on the Legacies of Slavery, with guest speaker Professor David Olusoga, below.

Watch a short video on Mary Ann McCracken, and the Foundation here.

Watch a short video on the links between slavery and philanthropy here.

The Work of the Foundation

Re-Published: The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken

The first major piece of work of the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation was republishing a revised edition of Mary Ann’s biography, The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken, 1770-1866, A Belfast Panorama (2019) by Mary McNeill. The Foundation believed the 250th anniversary of her birth was the right time to bring the story of this remarkable women to a wider audience. Author Mary McNeill was also a member of Belfast Charitable Society, and therefore this revised edition recognises both these women and their pivotal roles in the Belfast of their day.

The revised new edition (2019) of the classic biography of Mary Ann McCracken is available to purchase from Clifton House, home of the Belfast Charitable Society or online via Amazon.

Mary Ann McCracken Foundation Bursuries

The Foundation is in the process of awarding two bursaries, the first of their kind, through Ulster University. The bursaries will fund students who are researching subject areas relevant to the life and legacy of Mary Ann McCracken including how art can be used for education and how urban design can affect disadvantage.

Mary Ann’s Belfast

Follow in the footsteps of Mary Ann McCracken through this newly published map that traces some of the buildings and locations associated with her and the wider Joy and McCracken families. From the historic heart of Belfast where Mary Ann grew up, to her philanthropic work with the Poor House and her final home in Dongeall Pass were she died, this map will take you through Mary Ann’s Belfast. Hard copies are available from Clifton House or you can download a copy of the map here.

Mary Ann McCracken Foundation Board

  • Mrs Norma Sinte


    Norma retired in 2019 from Queen’s University Belfast where she was Director of Development and Alumni Relations. She joined Queen’s in 2000 as Head of Corporate and Major Gifts Fundraising and was appointed to the post of Director in 2008. In her role at Queen’s she also managed two senior voluntary Boards: the Queen’s Foundation and the Friends of Queen’s USA. Norma wants to help the Society retain its innovative and entrepreneurial outlook and build on its philanthropic heritage. Norma is also currently chair of the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation.

  • Mr Colin Graham


    Colin is a documentary Film maker; the Chair of Digital Art Studios Belfast and a Main Board Director of GRAHAM Holdings Ltd. Colin became involved with the Belfast Charitable Society to help the Society protect its philanthropic heritage and to ensure it remained relevant in today’s difficult social and economic environment. He also wanted to help and encourage a new era of philanthropic generosity.

  • Ms Angila Chada


    Currently Executive Director of Springboard, Angila has extensive experience of working across and within communities in developing capacity, building peace and promoting an appreciation of diversity. In 2011 Angila established the Raj Darshna Foundation and in 2013 she became a Beacon Fellow following her award as a Philanthropy Advocate. Previously she served on the Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Partnership, on the Board of Terra Nova Productions, an intercultural theatre company. She also served as a Charity Commissioner with the Charity Commission for N Ireland and School Governor for Belfast Royal Academy.

  • Ms Diane Graham


    Diane is the Matron and Chief Executive with operational responsibility at the Ulster Independent Hospital. She got involved with the Charitable Society because of her expertise in the provision of care for the elderly. Her experience and skills in healthcare was considered extremely beneficial to the Charitable Society. Diane wishes to continue with the altruistic values and spirit of helping which have motivated the Belfast Charitable Society since 1774 when the Poor house and hospital opened to provide care for the disadvantaged.

  • Mr David Watters


    David was a founding partner of McClure Watters, formed in 1989. Under David’s leadership the firm grew into one of the largest accounting and advisory firms in Northern Ireland. David has sat on the boards of many local companies and charities for over thirty years. David has a wide range of commercial and governance experience obtained through participation at an executive and advisory level in a great number of sectors. He was a Trustee of the Northern Ireland based The Spirit of 2012 Trust and a non-executive director of the Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency. David is currently Chair of the Belfast Charitable Society.

  • Dr Margaret Ward


    Margaret Ward is Honorary Senior Lecturer in History at Queen’s University, Belfast. In 2000 she became assistant director of the think-tank Democratic Dialogue and in 2005 she became Director of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) where she worked tirelessly until her retirement at the end of 2013. While Director of WRDA, on behalf of Reclaim the Agenda, Margaret led the project ‘Belfast Women’s History Tour’. Margaret is a board member of Libraries NI, a former Trustee of the National Museums Northern Ireland and a former member of the board of the Consumer Council NI.

  • Mr Les Allamby


    Les Allamby is current Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission. Les is a solicitor and formerly the Director of the Law Centre (Northern Ireland). He was Chair of an Advisory group to Human Rights Commission on proposals for economic and social rights within a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. From 2015-2018 he chaired the Commonwealth Forum for National Human Rights Institutions. He was also the inaugural Chair of the Social Security Standards Committee for Northern Ireland. He was also a member of CAJs executive committee and a founder member of the Children’s Law Centre.