Bigoted 'ignoramuses' blamed for first case of blue plaque vandalism
Vandals who smashed a blue plaque marking the birthplace of a well-known United Irishman have been described as "ignoramuses".
Newtownabbey mayor Fraser Agnew hit out at those responsible for attacking the plaque erected in honour of James 'Jemmy' Hope. Hope was a member of the United Irishmen movement and was involved in two uprisings against the British in 1798 and 1803.
The plaque, which was located in Mallusk Cemetery, was attacked and smashed sometime on Monday evening.
It had only been in place for a month, having been erected by the Ulster History Circle (UHC), with funding from the Ulster-Scots Agency, on March 24.
Amid suspicions the attack was sectarian, Mr Agnew said the incident showed how "much we have to do to educate the people who did this".
"Jemmy Hope was a good Presbyterian man. He wanted the working class to unite for better conditions, he was a champion of ordinary people," he said.
"To attack the plaque because the vandals think the he was a republican shows their ignorance.
"And anyway, history is history and people will have different perspectives, but Jemmy was born and raised in this area and he deserves to be honoured," Mr Agnew added.
The UHC has put up 170 plaques across Northern Ireland, and this is the first to be vandalised in its 30-year history.
Chris Spurr, chairman of the UHC, said: "The smashing of this plaque represents a form of censorship, which the Ulster History Circle utterly condemns.
"Our plaques celebrate and inform, and until this wilful act, they have been welcomed everywhere. It is all the more sad that the shattered plaque bore the uplifting name of Hope."
Mr Spurr added: "We can speculate that this attack had some kind of misguided sectarian motivation but these people should realise that there are better ways to make your point."
Last year vandals tried to attack Hope's gravestone but destroyed the wrong one by mistake. Police are appealing for anyone who noticed anything suspicious on Monday evening to contact them.
James 'Jemmy' Hope was born on August 25, 1764, in Roughfort, near Templepatrick in Co Antrim. Hope was a Presbyterian who was influenced by the American and French Revolutions to join the United Irishmen movement which flourished in the late 18th century. He played a key role in both recruiting for and organising the 1798 rebellion and fought at the battle of Antrim alongside Henry Joy McCracken. After the rebellion was suppressed, and was followed by the Act of Union, Hope went into hiding before later re-emerging to play a part in organising Emmett's rebellion in 1803. Hope went back into hiding after that rebellion also failed and died in 1846.