A NEW theatrical walking tour brings Belfast’s ‘forgotten sister’ out of the shadows. You have seen her as a statue now imagine her in real life and maybe consider the breadth of what happened in her lifetime and how she was part of a political push for change.

More than 150 years after her death, Mary Ann McCracken’s story is moving out of the shadow of her famous brother Henry Joy as she takes centre stage in a new theatrical walking tour created by Kabosh.

Following the recent unveiling of a new bronze statue of Mary Ann at Belfast City Hall, 'Mary Ann, The Forgotten Sister' by playwright Clare McMahon charts the life and times of this remarkable woman, her enduring legacy and her impact on the city during her 96 years.

Revolutionary, educationalist, businesswoman, feminist, social reformer and abolitionist, Mary Ann was one of the people that shaped the rapidly growing city of Belfast, but she was left in the margins of history because she was a woman.

This open-air, site-specific play, performed over three April weekends, takes place between Clifton Cemetery at the graveside of Mary Ann and Henry Joy, and Clifton House, home of the Belfast Charitable Society, where Mary Ann played a prominent role in the education of the poor.

Carol Moore takes the title role of Mary Ann, whilst Maria Connolly and Calla Hughes play a variety of roles, including Mary Ann's daughter Margaret McCracken and Henry Joy’s illegitimate daughter, Maria. The action is interspersed with songs under the musical direction of traditional folk artist Jane Cassidy.

Director Paula McFetridge said the intention is to give Mary Ann her well-deserved place in Irish history, separate from her brother Henry Joy (known to the family as Harry), and to show her continued relevance to the people and city of Belfast because of the causes she championed.

“Mary Ann is an icon to feminists, a child of the Enlightenment, who fought tirelessly for equality and to improve the lives of underprivileged children," said Paula. "Her story deserves to be told and Clare’s wonderful piece depicts her many struggles, the pain of losing her brother to the noose in the United Irish rebellion and her ceaseless quest for equality and justice for all. It is full of wit, humanity and historical insight."

Mary Ann McCracken was born in 1770 to parents Mary Joy, a member of the French Huguenot family who founded the Belfast News Letter, and John McCracken, from a Scottish Presbyterian mercantile family.

Unusually for the time, she received the same progressive education as her brother Harry and the pair were strong, proud, gifted children who grew up with a social conscience.

Fired up by the spirit of change brought about by the Enlightenment and encapsulated by the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, both were heavily involved in the formation and activities of the Society of United Irishmen.

The death of her brother and soulmate in 1798 had a profound effect on her and fuelled her passion for justice. As a member of the Women’s Committee at Clifton House, she fought to provide education for the children despite the protestations of her male counterparts. She was a woman before her time, refusing to take no for an answer, constantly striving for better conditions for the poor of her city.

In her late 80s she was a prominent member of the anti-slavery movement, handing out pamphlets at Belfast Docks, trying to stop ships from going to the New World, and refusing to eat sugar from the plantations of the Caribbean.

“The causes she espoused and fought for are still relevant in today’s world where tyranny and poverty still exist and modern slavery and human trafficking abounds. People are looking for hope and the story of Mary Ann is a great example of how one person can make a difference,” added Paula.

This production has been funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation in association with the Belfast Charitable Society and Clifton House.

Damian Smyth, joint head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is pleased to support this new production from Kabosh Theatre Company and writer Claire McMahon thanks to investment from the National Lottery. As specialists on site specific-theatre, Kabosh are among the best at drawing audiences inside the curtain to immerse them in their stories and where better to tell the incredible story of Mary Ann McCracken than in the surrounds of Clifton House, a place which was so central to her life and legacy? Accompanied by music from Jane Cassidy, ‘Mary Ann, The Forgotten Sister’ is a must-see this spring.”

Norma Sinte, Chair of the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation, added: “The Mary Ann McCracken Foundation and Belfast Charitable Society are proud to support the production of 'Mary Ann: the Forgotten Sister'. The Foundation celebrates and recognises the life and legacy of Mary Ann. Through its work, it raises the profile of Mary Ann and her achievements, and supports initiatives that would be close to her heart, if she were alive today including education, alleviating poverty, advancing human rights and promotion of equality, particularly for women. We are delighted that this wonderful play will introduce new audiences to Mary Ann, and to the legacy that she has left Belfast.

Mary Ann, the Forgotten Sister theatrical walking tour takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from April  28 April at 11am and 2.30pm, beginning at Clifton Cemetery and ending at Clifton House.

For performance schedule, tickets and more information go to www.kabosh.net