Robert Burns 250th Anniversary Celebrations

by Joe Smith 21st November 2008


January 25th, 2009 is an important date for fans of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. It marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. Robert “Rabbie” Burns was alive for a mere 37 years but, in that time, he penned several works which ensured his place in literary history. January 25th, 2009 will mark the 250th anniversary of his birthday and fans of the Scottish poet will be celebrating everywhere, nowhere more so than in his native Scotland. The big celebration in Bannockburn will be held at the Tartan Weavers Burns Club supper in McQue’s with a top table of invited guests and musicians there to provide a fitting tribute to the great Bard.


Let’s look back in time, picture the scene, Ayrshire, Scotland in the 18th century, 25th January 1759 to be precise. A small thatched cottage belonging to William and Agnes Burness, a tenant farmer and his wife who had been married 2 years previous in Maybole. The small fire in the corner flickering its meagre heat around the room and a single candle struggling to stay alight as the winter winds cascade around the cottage. Tonight a hungry bairn will come into this world, a bairn born into poverty but a bairn who will leave this earth, 37 years later, with a legacy of poems, songs and written works that we here in 2009, 250 years later are still talking about. Robert Burns, the legend, is born tonight.


Burns endured much hardship in his younger life, and although poverty sunk the whole family even below the reach of our cheap school system – his father was a stoical man and ensured that Robert and his brothers and sisters were home educated to a high standard for the times.

Through a series of migrations from one unfortunate farm to another; from Alloway (where he was taught to read) to Mt. Oliphant, and then in 1777 to Lochlea in Tarbolton (where he learnt the rudiments of geometry), Burns remained a hard-worked plough-boy.

Burns wrote his first song, aged 15, for Nellie Kilpatrick whom he met while working in the fields.

O, once I lov’d a bonie lass,
Ay, and I love her still!
And whilst that virtue warms my breast,
I’ll love my handsome Nell.

Burns continued with his life, writing and working and latterly traveling and indeed holds the village of Bannockburn close to him, Lets jump ahead a few years. The year is 1787, Rabbie was 28 and he embarked on his highland tour which took him through this very area. His companion on this trip was Willie Nichol, who was a master at Edinburgh High School, a Latin scholar and a student of literature. He also was a very prickly fellow and he and Burns often fell out. They set out from Edinburgh on the 24th of August on a tour which in present terms would be over to Stirling then North up the A9 to Inverness. Then across the A96 East to Aberdeen via Buckie and back down the East Coast visiting Rabbie’s father’s relations on the way back to the capital.


Their first stop was to see Carron Ironworks near Falkirk. The porter would not open the gates, as it was a Sunday. So he wrote on a window of the Carron Inn the following poem with his diamond stylus, a present from the Earl of Glencairn.

We came not here to view your works,
In hopes to be mair wise,
But only, lest we gang to hell,
It may be nae surprise

Then on to Bannockburn. Burn’s diary entry said tersely,
‘Came to Bannockburn, shown the hole where glorious Bruce set up his Standard’. This event was believed to be one of the inspirations which led to ‘Scots, Wha Hae’ – Bruce’s Address To His Army Before Bannockburn.’ Then onwards to Stirling where Burns was inspired by a visit to the Castle and the view over to the ruined ancient hall where the Scottish Kings used to hold their Parliaments. That night in James Wingate’s Inn (now the Golden Lion Hotel) Rabbie’s romantic attachment to Jacobism soared as the level in the glasses plummeted. As was his wont, he scratched the following imprudent lines onto a window pane about the house of Hanover.

‘An idiot race to honour lost Who know them best despise them most’

Burns & Bannockburn, two of the greatest notations in Scottish History, let’s be proud and celebrate them both on 25th January, buy a Haggis from McNaughton’s and raise a glass to our very own ploughman poet –

Happy Birthday Rabbie

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