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The Cairns Family History & Ancestry

Family Crest Motto: EFFLORESCO (To blossom, bloom, break out all)

Let me share with you the historical background of your family name, Cairns. The lands of Cairns can be found in the parish of Mid Calder near Edinburgh. Your family’s ancestral seat, Cairns Castle, is believed to have been built in the fourteenth century. According to George Black, the earliest recorded member of your family name was William de Carnys, who witnessed a charter in 1349. William and his son Duncan held the baronies of Easter and Wester Whitburn, as evidenced by a surviving charter from 1363. Through an heiress, the estates passed to the Crichton family, and the subsequent Cairns families were descended from younger sons. One notable member, John Cairns, was an architect who received a charter from David II for his building work in Linlithgow. Later, he constructed the Great Tower by the gate of Edinburgh Castle in 1372.

The main family branch became known as Cairns of Cults. William Cairnis, who passed away in 1568, had served as a gentleman in waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1602, John Cairns was compelled to sell his ancestral home of Cults due to legal dues. After his death, other properties followed suit, leaving his son Alexander destitute and imprisoned in the Edinburgh Tollbooth. However, Alexander found a glimmer of hope through the establishment of the Jacobean Plantation in Ulster. With the support of relatives, he acquired land in Donegal, which had been taken from its Irish owners. Other descendants of the Cairns of Cults family achieved prominence in the Protestant Ascendency in Ireland. Sir Alexander Cairns was granted a baronetcy in 1708. His only child, Mary, became a substantial heiress upon his death. Mary’s daughter, Frances, Lady Clermont, visited Paris and became a close companion to the ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette. Several other Cairns families who remained in Scotland were descendants of William Cairns of Orchardton in Galloway and were branches of the Cults family. These included the Cairns of Kipp, Torr, Barnbarroch, and Girstingwood.

Another family with the Cairns name, believed to be descended from the Cairns of Kipp, settled in County Down following the aftermath of the disastrous 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. Hugh McCalmont Cairns, born in Belfast in 1819, pursued a career in law. He was elected to Parliament in 1852 and quickly advanced to various senior legal positions. In 1867, he was elevated to the peerage as Lord Cairns, and in 1878, he was promoted to the rank of Earl. His son, William Wellington Cairns, is honored through the name of the Australian city and port bearing his name.

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Family Crest Motto: EFFLORESCO (To blossom, bloom, break out all)

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