Reeves, William (1815–92), Church of Ireland bishop, antiquary, and librarian, was born 16 March 1815 at his grandfather's house in Charleville, Co. Cork, eldest child among three sons and two daughters of Boles D'Arcy Reeves, solicitor, and his wife Mary (d. of cholera, 1832), daughter of Capt. Jonathan Bruce Roberts, and granddaughter of Valentine Jones (qv). He was brought up and educated in Dublin. After entering TCD (October 1830), he obtained a Hebrew prize, won a scholarship (1833), and graduated BA (1835). Intending to become a clergyman, he studied medicine so that he would be able to help poor parishioners, won the Berkeley medal, and graduated MB (1837). He was ordained deacon (18 March 1838) at Hillsborough, Co. Down, and was curate of Lisburn, Co. Antrim, 1838–41. At Derry he was ordained priest (2 June 1839), and in 1841 became perpetual curate of Kilconriola (Ballymena), Co. Antrim, on a salary of £110 a year. During his time in Ballymena, a new church was built. He was master of the diocesan school at Ballymena 1848–58. On the death of his father (1852) he inherited the family estate in Cork, but divided it among his brothers and sisters.
Although mainly interested in ecclesiastical history and antiquities, Reeves also wrote about the distribution of townlands throughout Ireland, Irish topographical poems, early Irish calligraphy, and annals. His first publication was A description of Nendrum, commonly called Mahee Island (1845). Two years later he published Ecclesiastical antiquities of Down, Connor, and Dromore (1847); it became the standard reference work on that diocese, and is still often cited. The Irish Archaeological Society published his Acts of Archbishop Colton (1850), based on the 1397 visitation of the diocese of Derry. The establishment of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1852) encouraged him to publish many articles on Ulster local history, the first being ‘The antiphonary of Bangor’ (1853). He contributed over fifty articles to the journals of the RIA and RSAI, to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, and to other learned journals. His most famous work, Adamnan's Life of St Columba (1857), received critical acclaim as the most thorough treatment of early Irish ecclesiastical history to date. Based on the eighth-century text, with Reeves's copious notes and essays, the work contained his genealogies of the early abbots of Hy (Iona) and the Dalriadic kings.
Though Reeves failed to obtain the professorship of ecclesiastical history at TCD, J. H. Todd (qv) presented him, in November 1857, to the vicarage of Lusk, Co. Dublin. Reeves began a history of his new parish, and repaired Lusk round tower from the proceeds of sales of his The ancient churches of Armagh (Lusk, 1860). On 19 December 1861 Archbishop J. G. Beresford (qv) of Armagh appointed him keeper of Armagh public library. Reeves's catalogue of the library remains a valuable resource, and his Memoir of the public library of Armagh (1884) was first presented as a lecture to the Library Association in that year. In November 1865 he was presented to the rectory of Tynan, near Armagh, but remained librarian at Armagh, and was chaplain to the primate. He failed (1869) in his application for the librarianship at TCD, but in 1875 was made dean of Armagh. Following the elevation of Robert Bent-Knox (qv) to the primacy, Reeves succeeded Knox as bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore. He was installed 29 June 1886.
Reeves often managed to prevent landowners in the north of Ireland from ploughing up ancient sites. It was by his intervention that the uniquely significant prehistoric ritual site at Navan Fort, Armagh, was saved; he pointed out a condition of the lease injurious to the occupier if a plan to dig away the monument proceeded. In 1853 he bought the important ninth-century manuscript Book of Armagh, paying the large sum of £300 from his own limited resources, to prevent the manuscript being sold to a private collector or going abroad. Archbishop Beresford subsequently reimbursed him and presented it to the library of TCD. Towards the end of his life Reeves, who was still looking after the manuscript, began to prepare it for publication; his notes and suggested readings were used by the eventual editor, John Gwynn (qv). Reeves part-edited the works of James Ussher (qv) for publication during 1841–64. He was noted for his helpfulness to colleagues, often assisting with information and even providing indexes for the publications of others; he was also highly regarded as a clergyman and bishop.
He was awarded the degree of DD by TCD (1850), and was elected a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and of a similar body in Zurich. He received honorary degrees of LLD from the universities of Edinburgh (1860) and Dublin (1871). Elected MRIA (1846), he became the Academy's secretary (1861) and president (1891); he was president at the time of his death. Other honours included fellowship of the RCPI (awarded 1864), and membership of the Royal Archaeological Institute.
He married (3 January 1838) his cousin Emma, daughter of Thomas Reeves of Carlisle; she died 12 October 1855, leaving Reeves with six sons and three daughters. Two of his sons became RIC county inspectors. On 26 December 1891, in St Ann's church, Dublin, he married his cousin Charlotte, daughter of the Rev. Charles Townley of Ballingarry, Co. Limerick. Only a fortnight after the wedding, and while still a guest in Campbell's private hotel, Molesworth St., Dublin, he developed pneumonia and died 12 January 1892. After a service at St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, he was buried in the cathedral graveyard in Armagh.