Alderman makes U-turn on plans to honour Coleraine slave owner, Hercules Mulligan

An Alliance alderman who proposed a plaque in honour of a Coleraine man who became a key figure in the formation of the US has reversed her decision after it emerged that he had been a slave owner.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 10:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 10:25 pm
Alliance Alderman Yvonne Boyle withdrew her support to celebrate the Coleraine man, who became a key figure in US history.

Hercules Mulligan was born in Coleraine in 1740. His family emigrated to America in 1746 where he went on to become an influential spy against the British in the American Revolutionary War.

Alderman Yvonne Boyle, who originally brought a motion to Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council two weeks ago to establish a commemorative plaque in his honour, has now said that the amended motion -  for a heritage trail - should be withdrawn in light of his slave ownership.

“There is a saying, history is a messy business and there is never just one version of events,” Ms Boyle said. “Hercules Mulligan was a complex character – helping establish the New York Manumission Society but a census five years later now showing he still owned a slave.

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“This issue was originally taken forward at the request of a constituent in good faith and it was not my intention to offend anyone. Further details of his slave-owning have emerged subsequently which were not in the public domain at the time. I have met with various groups since then and explained that in person.”

After the proposal came to light a number of NI-based multi-cultural groups objected in light of his past as a slave owner.

In a letter to the council from about 18 community groups, including the North West Migrants Forum and Belfast Multicultural Association, the move to honour him was “strongly condemned”. The letter called for the plans to honor Mulligan to be withdrawn.