Thomas McCabe, the father, was a watch-maker and part-owner of a cotton mill in 18th century Belfast. He was a noted radical, and in 1786 vigorously opposed plans by the city’s merchants to fit out ships for the transportation of slaves; the proposal was dropped.
On 1st April 1791 a clandestine committee was set up in Belfast ‘to form an association to invite all Irishmen for the restoration and preservation of our liberty.’ One of the signatories to the proposal was Thomas McCabe, and the conspirators were frequently to meet at his house, The Vicinage, off the Antrim Road. The Society of United Irishmen was formed out of this committee on 11 October of that year.
Thomas’s son, William, was a political organiser for the Society and involved with the production of its newspaper, The Northern Star. In 1794 he and his colleagues were taken to court for publishing seditious material. McCabe then moved south and is reputed to have inducted 279,000 members into the Society. He was arrested just before the 1798 rising, but bluffed his way out of gaol and took part. After the rising’s failure he fled to England, and later to France where he tried in vain to win Napoleonic support for another try. In 1814 he was arrested after trying illegally to enter Ireland, but was pardoned on condition he never came back. He moved to Scotland, where he died in 1821.
Location of plaque: At St Malachi’s College, Antrim Road, which was built on the site of the Vicinage.
Date of Unveiling: June 1998