A plaque commemorating a Protestant United Irishman has been smashed less than a month after being erected.
The blue disc bearing the name of James ‘Jemmy’ Hope had been affixed to a wall in Newtownabbey’s Mallusk cemetery, where he is buried.
Chris Spurr, the chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said this was the first time in the society’s 30-year history that somebody has decided to physically destroy one of their memorial plaques.
He branded it “a sad and sorry day”, and when asked what the motivation could be, he said: “You could speculate it may be a hate crime.
“There are certain times of year when feelings run high. Easter is a tremendous anniversary for some in the community, and not for others.
“The UHC has been in existence for 30 years, put up 170 blue plaques, and this has never happened before. Nobody has decided to make their argument against a plaque with a lump hammer.
“I think if the best you can do is argue with a lump hammer in your hand, it’s not much of an argument.”
He said the society learned about the incident after a dog-walker passed by the area on Tuesday and noticed it had been broken.
The plaque had only been unveiled on March 24 at a ceremony attended by the mayor of Newtownabbey and Blanche McMordie, a direct descendant of Jemmy Hope.
It had been funded by the Ulster-Scots Agency.
Mr Spurr described Hope as a Roughfort-born Presbyterian of Scottish stock, a socialist, and a weaver.
He played a role in the 1798 Irish rebellion alongside Henry Joy McCracken and when the rising failed he refused to accept an amnesty for himself on the grounds that it would be tantamount to selling out his principles.
Henry Joy McCracken – the grandson of the News Letter’s founder Francis Joy – was executed and a blue plaque to him stands at Joy’s Entry in Belfast today.
However, Jemmy Hope went on to live until 1847.
Alderman Fraser Agnew, mayor of Newtownabbey, said: “The wilful destruction of the UHC plaque to Jemmy Hope, shows how much we have to do to educate the people who did this, to challenge their ignorance of their history and heritage.”
The police said that they were aware of the incident, which is being treated as criminal damage.
Anyone with any information about this incident is asked to contact the PSNI in Newtownabbey on the non-emergency number 101, or ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.