Founding Father: Michael Cairns

Michael Cairns is one of the many founding fathers of Celtic Football club, who has gone under the radar. Born in Glasgow, to Irish parents, in 1857; Cairns was educated alongside Dr John Conway at St Mungo’s school in Townhead. Whilst still in his school days, Michael lost both his parents and was forced to live with relatives in Renfrewshire. His name courted respect among the Irish surrounding his new home, for his father was a master tailor and had owned an efficient business in the trade.

Much like fellow founding father, Dr Conway, Cairns was tutored by Brother Walfrid during his time at St Mungo’s, before he went on to Glasgow University. There he studied law and upon graduation, he became one of the first Catholics in the city to qualify as a solicitor, when he passed the Final Law Agents examination. Cairns quickly found employment in the industry, serving an apprenticeship with Murdoch & Stewart in Glasgow. He quickly outgrew their offices and began to work as an assistant for the writer AR Ferguson, who was based in Neilston (Renfrewshire) and was also agent for the Clydesdale Bank. Beyond these roles, Cairns undertook a position as agent for the Neilston Branch of the West Renfrewshire Liberal Association.

Whilst based in Neilston, Cairns juggled his time between working and joining a number of community projects. He was an active member of St Thomas parish and, in January 1888, he put on an evening of Irish entertainment for locals, in a nearby school hall. Among the performers on the evening, were Fr Charles O’Malley and Tom Maley – the latter would of course go on to become Celtic’s first signing courtesy of Pat Welsh.

A year later, Michael Cairns ventured into the legal business on his own. He returned to Glasgow to do so and his wide circle of friends from various community organisations enabled him to develop a successful business in its early years. This was an impressive achievement for a man of 32.

Making use of his return to Glasgow, Cairns became involved in local politics, standing as a candidate for the Tenth Ward in the municipal elections. It was at this time, in 1889, that Cairns was elected onto the first ever Celtic Football Club committee. However, he had been involved with the club from the outset.

It is thought that the key motivating factor in Cairns helping to launch the Celtic project, besides being a football enthusiast, was his very close friendship with Dr John Conway. Conway was of course a fellow founding father of the club and a man who had been educated by Walfrid at St Mungo’s, before also graduating at Glasgow University. However, it was through the Catholic Literary Society that the pair became great friends. Conway was an avid public speaker and often spoke on behalf of the organisation, yet Cairns once took it upon himself to propose a toast in tribute to ‘Ireland’s a nation’, during an eloquent speech that he put together for the Catholic Literary Society’s St Patrick’s Day social gathering. As a side point, it was noted that one of the most popular features of those St Patrick’s celebrations that evening was the artistic programmed provided by the Rangers FC Musical Association!

The fact that his dear friend Conway and former tutor Walfrid, were both involved in preliminary meetings regarding the establishment of Celtic, encouraged Michael Cairns to get involved. Like so many from the early years of Celtic, his business acumen and prevalence within local Irish/Catholic organisations, gave such faith in the club’s leadership to get it off the ground and make it successful. He was one of three lawyers among the founding fathers and this gave invaluable assistance to Celtic, when complemented by the hard work of those such as John Glass and the charitable endeavour of Brother Walfrid.

Sadly, Cairns fell gravely ill in early 1892. He was looked after by his close friend and doctor, John Conway. Nevertheless, there was no saving the young Celt and he tragically became the second founding father to die. He passed away on 18 February 1892, at his home in Apsley Place, (Glasgow) aged just 35. A mark of the relationship between the pair, Cairns was buried in the Conway family plot at Dalbeth Cemetery.

The Glasgow Observer paid the following short tribute to Michael upon his passing:

He never forgot his race or religion, and as a Catholic and an Irishman, he was always on the alert, in his own quiet way, to spread the light.

Click on the links below for articles on other Celtic Founding Fathers:

Patrick Welsh – William McKillop MP – John Glass – Hugh DarrochDr John Conway

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About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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