The Right Honourable Hugh MacCalmont, the first Earl Cairns, was Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain. He was the second son of William Cairns of Cultra, County Down, and Rose Anna, the daughter of Hugh Johnson. In 1856 he married Mary Harriet McNeile, the eldest daughter of John MacNeile of Parkmount, Co. Antrim. They had five sons and two daughters. The eldest son died in infancy, and the second, Arthur William (1861-1890), the third, Herbert John (1863-1905), and the fourth, Wilfred Dallas (b. 1865), succeeded in turn to the peerage.
Hugh Cairns was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1844, but shortly afterwards moved to Lincoln's Inn. In 1852 he was appointed Conservative M.P. for Belfast, a post he held until 1866. In 1856 he was created a Q.C. and a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn. In 1858 he was appointed Solicitor-General and received a knighthood. In 1866 he became a Lord-Justice of Appeal in the Court of Chancery. In 1867 he was made a Privy-Councillor and Baron Cairns of Garmoyle, Co. Antrim. In 1868 and from 1874 to 1880 he was Lord High Chancellor. In 1878 he was created Viscount Garmoyle and Earl Cairns. He was known for his the lucidity of his legal argument.
MacCalmont was involved in the Whistler v. Ruskin libel case of 1878.
Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage, London, 1896; J. A. H., 'Cairns, Hugh McCalmont, first Earl Cairns', 1886, Dictionary of National Biography Online, Oxford, 1997 (accessed 20 October 2003).