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 McCabe - MacCabe

Motto: "Aut Vincere Aut Mori"
Translation: "Either Conquer Or Die"
Arms:  Vert a fess wavy between three salmon naiant argent.
Crest:  A demi-griffin segreant.
Source:  Edward MacLysaght, Irish Families, Dublin, p. 212.

The Gaelic surname which was anglicized McCabe is MacCaba. Caba is the Irish world for cap, hood, helmet. The name thus means "the son of the helmeted one."  The MacCabes came from the western isles of Scotland about the year 1350 as gallowglasses to the O'Reillys and the O'Rourkes, the principal septs of Breffny. They became themselves a recognized Breffny sept, their chief being "Constable of the two Breffnys". Modern statistics show that they are still much more numerous in the Breffny area than anywhere else. 

 Ancient annalists trace the descent of the family to Colla da Croich, the famous founder of the Kingdom of Oriel from whom many Ulster families take their origin. Oriel territory took in modern Counties Monaghan, Armagh and part of Louth, and it is in Monaghan and Cavan that today we find the McCabe family numerically strongest.

As one might gather from the family motto, "either conquer or die" the military profession was the field where the McCabes made their greatest mark. Historically they were gallowglasses (from gall =  foreigner and oglach =  soldier: a mercenary or retainer of an Irish chief or an armed Irish foot soldier) in the armies of the O'Reillys, the O'Rourkes and the MacMahons. This accounts for the fact that we find so many of the name in Cavan as well as in their original home in Monaghan.

As landed proprietors they were as much associated with Co. Monaghan as with Co. Cavan; however the principal families of MacCabe lost their estates in the Catholic debacle after the battle of Aughrim in 1691. It is only to be expected therefore that the material fortunes of the McCabes followed those of the O'Reillys and other noble families to whom they were attached by alliance or kinship. And like these ancient clans the McCabes lost everything in the confiscation that followed the defeat of the Stuarts and the military enforcement of the iniquitous penal laws in Ireland. 

William Putnam McCabe (1776-1821) was one of the most romantic figures among the United Irishmen. Earlier in the eighteenth century Cathaoir MacCabe (d. 1740), himself a Cavan bard, is best remembered as the life long friend of Turlogh O'Carolan (1670-1738), whose death is commemorated in a fine elegy in Irish (Carolan had previously written an elegy on MacCabe having been hoaxed by him into believing he was dead).

After the decline of the ancient Gaelic order there was no longer scope on Irish soil for military prowess, but we find the McCabes becoming prominent in other fields. Among these we may note: Cathaoir McCabe who died in 1740, and was a famous bard and lifelong friend of Carolan, "the last of the bards;" William McCabe (1776-1821), one of the most romantic figures among the United Irishmen; His Eminence Cardinal McCabe (1816-1885) who succeeded Cardinal Cullen as Archbishop of Dublin. 

 In more recent times Edward Cardinal MacCabe (1816-1885) and Bernard MacCabe (1801-1891), the author, may be mentioned. Outside Ireland the best known man of the name was Charles Caldwell MacCabe (1836-1906), grandson of a Co. Tyrone man, and American Protestant bishop, known as "chaplain MacCabe" of the Civil War.  Source:  Edward MacLysaght, Irish Families, Dublin,  p. 51.




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