Belfast’s forgotten man

 

Sir, – Two hundred years ago this week (on March 5th, 1820) one of Belfast’s leading citizens, Thomas McCabe, died and was later laid to rest in Clifton Street Burial Ground. His contribution to the development of Belfast and Ireland has not, I think, been fully appreciated. Originally from Lurgan, he was a jeweller and watchmaker by trade. Along with Robert Joy, he introduced the cotton industry to Ireland in 1778 and provided work for the children in the poorhouse. An assiduous board member of Belfast Charitable Institute, he devoted much energy to enhancing the health and education of children.

This Presbyterian radical and friend of Wolfe Tone was an influential founder member of the Society of United Irishmen who corresponded with George Washington, among others. Perhaps his most significant contribution, however, was his outspoken (and successful) opposition to a scheme which would have introduced the slave trade to Belfast in the 1780s.

A visitor to Belfast might expect the “father” of Ireland’s industrial revolution and leading anti-slavery campaigner to have a worthy monument but sadly there is nothing – not even a park or street named after him. I should exonerate the Ulster History Circle as a blue plaque adorns a wall in St Malachy’s College on the site of his former residence, Vicinage House. Apart from this, however, there is no public reminder of this courageous Ulsterman. Surely, in the current climate of commemorative zeal, our city council should rectify this omission and give Thomas McCabe due recognition. – Yours, etc,

GERRY McNAMEE,

(Archivist,

St Malachy’s College),

Belfast.