MacCabe – Constables of the two Breffnys

History of the Irish name MacCabe. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The MacCabes originated in the Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland. Many travelled to Ireland in the 12th century as mercenaries (or gallowglasses) as the Irish Chieftains of the time were always looking for soldiers.

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There are numerous variations of the name including McCabe, McAbe and MacAbe. The motto on the McCabe family crest is ‘Aut Vincere Aut Mori’ which translates as ‘Either conquer or die’.

History of the Irish name MacCabe. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The name is thought to have originated from a nickname they were known by. They wore unusual hats and the old Gaelic word ‘Caba’ means ‘hat’ or ‘cap’.

The name was originally MacCaba. The prefix ‘Mac’ means ‘son of’ so ‘MacCaba’ meant ‘son of the person with the hat’.

The MacCabes served the O’Reillys and the O’Roukes who were the two main clans in the ‘Kingdom of Breffney’. This was the area now known as Leitrim and Cavan, where Ulster met Connacht.

Many MacCabes stayed and settled in Ireland. As time way by and their numbers multiplied they formed their own clan. The Chieftain of the MacCabes was known as the ‘Constable of the two Breffnys’.

The MacCabes held their territory for many years but eventually lost their land in the Battle of Aughrim against William of Orange in 1691.

McCabes against the slave trade

In the 18th century, a Belfast jeweller and cotton mill owner named Thomas McCabe helped to prevent his city becoming a part of the slave trade.

McCabe saw himself as an ‘Irish slave’ as the Irish were taxed but had no representatives in Parliament to speak up for their interests.

He was fiercely against the slave trade. He was a key protestor against plans of a Belfast shipping merchant who intended to set up a slave ship company in Belfast to rival similar companies in the English cities of Bristol and Liverpool.

Thomas’ son William was highly active in the 1798 Rebellion against British rule. He was known as a master of disguise and was able to escape capture. He moved to France and followed in his father’s footsteps by setting up a cotton mill.

Famous McCabes

Bryan McCabe. Photo copyright aimee.craze CC2
Bryan McCabe

Eugene McCabe was a farmer from Co Monaghan. He wrote several novels, short stories and plays. Many of his plays were performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Ruth McCabe is an Irish actress. She has had a long and successful career. She is best known for her roles in hit movies such as My Left Foot and Philomena.

Nick McCabe is an English musician. He is best known as the lead guitarist of the hugely successful 1990s band The Verve. The Verve’s lead singer Richard Ashcroft once said that McCabe’s guitar playing sounded like ‘a whole other universe’.

Zia McCabe is another musician. She is the bass guitarist for the American rock band The Dandy Warhols.

Bryan McCabe was a professional ice hockey player from Canada. He played for several clubs throughout his career and also won a gold medal as part of the Canadian ice hockey team at the 1997 World Championships in Finland.

Pat McCabe is an Irish writer who is well known for his dark and bleak novels set in small town Ireland. His best known works are the Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, both of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize and were also made into hit movies.

Another Pat McCabe is an Australian rugby union payer.

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