Keane, William (1805–74), catholic bishop and founder of Cobh cathedral, was born 7 April 1805 in Castlemartyr, Co. Cork; no details of his parents are known. At an early age he was sent to the Irish College in Paris to be educated and to study for the priesthood; he was ordained in 1828. He served as a vice-rector of the Irish College in Paris until 1839, maintained a lifelong association with that institution, and in his later years was a good friend of two French cardinals, Archbishop Guibert of Paris and Bishop Chigi of Orleans. In 1839 he was appointed as a curate in Fermoy, Co. Cork, a position he held for two years before being appointed PP of Middleton, Co. Cork. At the national synod of Thurles (1850) it was resolved that the diocese of Cloyne and Ross should be divided and the see of Ross be restored. Once papal approval was given for this decision, Keane was appointed bishop of Ross, and consecrated on 2 February 1851. Six years later, he was translated to Cloyne (5 May 1857), remaining as bishop until his death, and taking up his residence in Queenstown (Cobh).
In late October 1861 the American Fenian Brotherhood brought the coffin of T. B. McManus (qv) to Ireland via Queenstown, intending for the remains to rest in Cork cathedral before being sent by train to Dublin for burial. The bishop of Cork, William Delany (qv), refused to grant this privilege, owing to his opposition to the Fenians, but Bishop Keane agreed to allow it to rest in the Mercy Hospital chapel in Queenstown. This was probably done simply out of kindness rather than sympathy with the Fenians, as Keane did not support the Fenian amnesty agitation of the late 1860s. He was, however, a supporter of the tenant right cause, and in 1865 played a significant role in encouraging the government to set up a house of commons select committee to examine the question.
As the catholic chapel in Queenstown was too small for a rapidly expanding population, Keane had resolved as early as 1857 to follow up the dream of his predecessor at Cloyne of establishing a cathedral in the town. For ten years he carefully considered numerous designs before deciding in 1868 to accept the plan of the architects E. W. Pugin (qv) and G. C. Ashlin (qv) to build a cathedral in French Gothic style on the site of the old church. The preliminaries, involving taking down the previous church, moving surrounding roadways, and extensive quarrying, took over a year to complete before Keane laid the first block of the foundation stone in September 1869. In the same year he paid the fourth visit of his career to Rome, spending a year there, and had the privilege of being the first Irish bishop to address the Vatican council. A keen promoter of the Catholic University, he had also been active during the 1860s in establishing convent schools and Christian Brothers schools in his diocese, most notably the prestigious St Colman's College in Fermoy, of which his nephew, the Rev. William Fitzgerald (who later succeeded him as bishop of Cloyne), was president. Along with Cardinal Paul Cullen (qv) and the bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Dorrian (qv), he was examined before the royal commission on primary education in Ireland during 1868.
By the early 1870s his health was visibly impaired; he was a gentle man of slight build, and physical exhaustion gradually took its toll of his naturally weak constitution. He died 15 January 1874 at his home within the grounds of the local Sisters of Mercy convent. A large public funeral and procession was held in his honour, attended by several bishops, international consuls at Queenstown, and Cork corporation officials, while all ships anchored in the harbour also lowered their flags to half-mast. He was buried in the grounds of the proposed cathedral. At the time of his death, only a small portion of what would become St Colman's cathedral was built, and on its completion in 1915 his remains were transferred into the cathedral crypt.