Thomas McCabe was a goldsmith and cotton manufacturer who had a business in North Street. Together with Robert Joy and Captain McCracken he financed cotton spinning machinery for the Poor House to teach the children and women a skill. This proved so successful that McCabe, Joy and McCracken opened the first water powered mill in Ireland for Cotton Spinning in 1784.
The United Irishmen were explicitly anti-slavery and many of them refused to eat sugar, molasses, rum and other products associated with the slave trade. Thomas McCabe was a radical from his early days, and denounced Waddell Cunningham’s scheme to establish the Belfast Slave Ship Company. On the night of the prospectus for the business being presented to the merchants of Belfast, Thomas McCabe walked the short distance from his business to the Assembly Rooms. He spoke eloquently at the meeting stating ‘May God whither the hand and consign the name to eternal infamy of the man who will sign that document…’ and successfully halted the proposal.
Thomas was a founding member of the United Irishmen, and his son William Putnam McCabe was also active in the organisation. Their house at The Vicinage, today the site of St Malachy’s behind Clifton House, was used as a meeting place for both the Belfast Charitable Society and the United Irishmen. The plans for the attack on Antrim were said to have been planned here.
In March 1793 his business in North Street was raided by the military. Due to the frequency of raids on his home and business, he hung a satirical sign outside his shop: ‘Thomas McCabe, an Irish Slave, licensed to sell silver and gold’. Highlighting the position of the non-Anglican faiths and those seeking reform. When the sign itself was attacked by the army, he simply had it repainted in defiance of their attempts to intimidate him and his family.
He was too old to fight in the 1798 rebellion, but his son William Putnam was bodyguard to Lord Edward Fitzgerald and escaped to France after 1798. William McCabe was a master of disguise, and typically presented himself as a Scottish pedlar. He escaped detection by the British Army several times, including one incident were he threw open his window and got in under the duvet. The army officers took off on foot thinking he had fled whilst he hid under the bed! In France, he trained emissaries from Ireland who would fight in the 1803 Emmet rebellion in Dublin. He was not officially pardon until 1814.
On this day, 22nd January 1819 Thomas McCabe bought the 10th lot on the 4th platform in the New Burying Ground for £2 5s 6d. Thomas was himself buried in this plot the following year.