Bernard Hughes, known as Barney was born in Armagh. He moved to Belfast in 1826, having worked as a baker's boy for the previous 6 years. He worked in a smal public bakery in Church Street where he was promoted to manager in 1833. He moved on to open his own bakery in 1840, in Donegall Street, swiftly followed by a second in 1846 in Donegall Street and third in 1850 in Divis Street. By 1870 he owned the largest baking and milling enterprise in Ireland and was recognised as Belfast's leading master baker. His production and marketing ideas provided the city's working population with cheaper bread at a time when they needed it most, particularly throughout the years of the Great Famine.
His roles as municipal politician, industrial reformer and Catholic lay spokesman won the admiration of all sections of the divided city. He attempted to defuse the bitter sectarian riots in Belfast in 1857 and act which brought him into conflict with the Catholic Church and Tory hierarchy, which gained him respect of both sides of the community.
He donated the ground on which St Peter's Cathedral was built and donated money to St Mary's Hall, Bank Street, which has since been demolished. He was also one of the contributers to erect the statue of Dr Henry Cooke, the famous "Black Man" which is located in front of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, Wellington Place, Belfast.