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MacCabe, William Bernardlocked

  • Rosemary Mitchell

MacCabe, William Bernard (1801–1891), journalist and historian, was born in Dublin on 23 November 1801, of Roman Catholic parents. In 1823 he joined the Dublin Morning Register as a reporter; for the next decade he worked for the Dublin press, reporting many of Daniel O'Connell's early speeches and editing several papers. About 1833 he moved to London, where he worked as a parliamentary reporter on the Morning Chronicle and (from 1835) also served on the staff of the Morning Herald. During the parliamentary recesses he spent much time abroad, acting as a foreign correspondent; he also wrote critical reviews for both papers. In 1847 he was appointed consul in London for the Oriental Republic of Uruguay; he resigned this post and all other London appointments about 1851, when he moved back to Ireland to become editor (until 1857) of the Weekly Telegraph, a Roman Catholic newspaper under the influence of Cardinal Wiseman. Subsequently he seems to have lived for some time in Brittany.

In 1847–54 MacCabe published, in three enormous volumes, A Catholic History of England, a work consisting of extracts from monastic chroniclers, dovetailed to form a continuous narrative. MacCabe aimed not only to introduce his readership to neglected works of early English literature, but also to allow them to form their own historical opinions from primary sources. His footnotes reveal him to be extremely erudite, but almost criminally naïve in his neglect of such rudimentary critical approaches as were then practised: he fails to contextualize his sources fully, and analysis of their content and credibility is limited to simplistic comparisons with other sources for the same events. However, the second volume of the Catholic History was reviewed enthusiastically in September 1849 in the Dublin Review (to which MacCabe himself was a contributor): praising it as 'a solid and instructive … an orderly and agreeable narrative' (Dublin Review, 130), the critic emphasized its value in correcting the anti-Catholic perspectives of such historians as Sharon Turner and Samuel Laing. MacCabe had originally intended to continue his history up to at least the English Reformation, but no further volumes of the Catholic History were published.

MacCabe also wrote several turgid historical novels, set in early medieval Europe and later translated into several continental languages: these included Bertha (3 vols., 1851) and Adelaide, Queen of Italy (1856). In 1861 he published the more interesting Agnes Arnold (1861), a novel set in the time of the 1798 Irish rising. MacCabe translated several works into English, including J. J. I. von Dollinger's Christentum und Kirche (1860), which appeared as The Church and Churches in 1862. He contributed to Once a Week and Notes and Queries, and also published articles in the Catholic Dublin Review on subjects ranging from Spanish novelists to the 1848 revolutions. MacCabe died on 8 December 1891 at his home, 2 Eglinton Terrace, Donnybrook, co. Dublin.


  • Men of the time (1875)
  • D. J. O'Donoghue, The poets of Ireland: a biographical and bibliographical dictionary (1912)
  • review of A Catholic history of England, Dublin Review, 27 (1849), 128–46
  • D. Griffiths, ed., The encyclopedia of the British press, 1422–1992 (1992)
  • J. Sutherland, The Longman companion to Victorian fiction (1988)
  • CGPLA Ire. (1892)

Wealth at Death

£5656 16s. 4d.: probate, 21 Jan 1892, CGPLA Ire.

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
F. Boase, , 6 vols. (privately printed, Truro, 1892–1921); repr. (1965)
W. E. Houghton, ed., , 5 vols. (1966–89); new edn (1999) [CD-ROM]