The McCabes are of gallowglass (a heavily armed mercenary soldier, usually, but not always, of Scottish origin) descent, with progenitors who came from Scotland in the 14th century as mercenaries in the service of the O'Reillys and O'Rourkes in Breffny. County Cavan has remained the principal home of their descendants but they have established themselves in County Monaghan and migrated southwards into Leinster. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. They came into being fairly generally in the 11th century, and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000. Early records of the name mention Hugh MacCabe, who was documented in the year 1368 in Ireland.
Surnames as we know them today were first assumed in Europe from the 11th to the 15th Century. They were not in use in England or in Scotland before the Norman Conquest, and were first found in the Domesday Book. The employment in the use of a second name was a custom that was first introduced from the Normans. They themselves had not long before adopted them. It became, in course of time, a mark of gentler blood, and it was deemed a disgrace for gentlemen to have but one single name, as the meaner sort had. It was not until the reign of Edward II (1307-1327) it became general practice amongst all people. The family are now widely spread through the midland counties of Ireland, especially through Leitrim, Cavan, Mongahan and Meath, where they are remarkable for their xanthous complexions and their vivacity and valour. They are evidently a branch of the Macleods of Arran, and would appear to have migrated to Ireland in the 14th century. Their chiefs are known by the titles of Constable of Oriel, Constable of Breffny and Constable of the two Breffnys, Fermanagh and Oriel. The tradition of their Norse origin is still known in East Breffny.
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