Robert ‘Rab’ Burns: Homecoming Scotland 2009

Known as the Ploughman poet, the Bard of Ayrshire and often in Scotland as simply “the Bard”, Scotland’s favourite son was born during a storm that partially collapsed his parents’ ramshackle Ayrshire farmhouse and almost killed the whole family. He was the eldest of seven children born to tenant farmers, William and Agnes Burness.
Marking his humble birthplace, the thatched cottage in Alloway, Scotland, is now a public museum. An inscription reads “Burns Cottage Robert Burns the Ayrshire poet was born in this cottage on the 25th Jan. A.D. 1759 and died 21st July A.D.1796 age 37 and a half years”.
Robert ‘Rab’ Burns
“The Bard” had many claims to fame not least his poems and old Scottish songs which he collected. The poet and lyricist was an inveterate ladies’ man and had several affairs. He was a romantic in the era of Enlightenment and wrote about things close to his heart including his work, his love life and the community in which he lived. He began as a farmer and had other jobs before writing. The stunning Ayrshire scenery and romantic countryside of Dumfriesshire contributed to the inspiration of his best loved work.
Growing up in rural Ayrshire, he suffered from an untreatable rheumatic condition that contributed to a recurring sense of suicidal despair, and killed him just thirty seven years later. He led a hot-blooded life of libertinage and scandal and his love of the lassies produced poetry, songs and epistles brimming with tenderness, beauty, anguish and joy. In his short life he fathered around a dozen children to at least four different women.
Burns struggled hopelessly with the commitment required by marriage and the principle of one true love. He began courting Jean Armour, his future wife, whom he married in 1788, with whom he had nine children but remained in every sense a ladies’ man. He strode the country lanes and town squares of his youth like a stage. His intelligence, his flair for music and dancing, his formidable education and striking good looks engendered a flamboyant personality and dandyish appearance tempered by a masculine earthiness and self-deprecating wit.
The list is long but some of his best known poems and songs include Tam O’Shanter, Holy Willie’s Prayer, Address To A Haggis , Auld Lang Syne, My Luve is Like A Red, Red Rose and To A Mouse.
Auld Lang Syne is sung at New Year celebrations around the globe while special songs and poems are recited via the ritual of Burns Suppers held in Scotland and elsewhere. The tradition was started some years after the Bard’s death by a group of friends and acquaintances who wanted to honour his memory. Burns Suppers have been part of Scottish culture for about 200 years. The format is time honoured and its ritual includes bagpipe playing, a toast to the lassies and a recital of Burns famous poem To A Haggis.
Scottish national poet
From 1786 until 1788 he was a leading figure in Edinburgh society. During a prolonged stint in the capital to get a second edition of his poetry published and boost his profile, he joined a men-only drinking club and came up with an obscene drinking song whose ribald verse went down a storm with its gentlemen members. He also bedded women and wooed many with his personalised verse and romantic walks around Holyrood Park.
Robert Burns became the Scottish national poet. Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect (1786) won him immediate fame. His poems and songs range from love lyrics to broad humour and scathing satire of the period. He collected and wrote numerous songs for The Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803) and Select Scottish Airs (1793-1818).
In later years his return to farming was a failure and he took up the drudgery of excise work in Dumfries where he died and was buried at St. Michael’s Kirkyard, Dumfries. Jean Armour’s last son was born on 25 July 1796, the day of “the Bard’s” burial.
Historians, genealogists and Burns biographers have written about the influences on “the Bard’s” life and work. Views and commentary about him still appear and he remains celebrated into the twenty-first century. Many organizations around the world are named after Burns as well as a number of statues and memorials both at home and abroad. He is commemorated with special stamp issues and on Scottish money notes.
In 2009 he will be specially honoured in Scotland and elsewhere. The Royal Mint will issue a commemorative money coin featuring a quote of Auld Lang Syne and there will be a special stamp issue of “the Bard” for the 250th anniversary of his birth.
Homecoming Scotland 2009
Robert ‘Rab’ Burns is celebrated around the world at this time of year. In 2009 over 300 events and festivals are taking place across the country to revel in Scotland’s rich culture and achievements and to honour the 250th birthday of “the Bard”.
An inspirational programme of events and activities is designed to encourage the extended family around the globe to come “home”. It aims to encourage Scots, people of Scottish descent and those who simply love Scotland to come “home” to Scotland and join in a year-long celebration of Scotland’s culture, heritage and Enlightenment.
… Happy Birthday Rab from all of us in gratitude and love …
Ita Marguet, January 2009
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. I attended a concert in Glasgow on 18 January celebrating “the Bard” at the Celtic Connection festival 2009. This text is dedicated to my brother, Sean, who died in Glasgow on 5 January 2009.