Now that Christmas and Hogmanay are behind us, and acquaintances forgotten, it is time for the first real test of those resolutions you so hastily came up with in order to impress your workmates. That’s right, forget diets and temperance for an evening and tak a cup o kindness with us and get ready to beam down at the great sauncy face of the chieftan of the pudding race as we sally forth into Burns’ Night 2017.Look, I know as well as you do that entering a room of people full to the gills with knowledge of the Immortal Bard can be a mighty daunting prospect so, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a sort of beginner's guide to who the heaven taught ploughman was, just to help you save face. I mean, imagine the scene, you are at a fancy Burns’ Night Supper, canape and bubbly in hand when a pair of whiskered gentlemen beckon you over to their corner “We were just agreeing that Burns’ genius lies in his ability to transcend the base nature of his poetic subjects and reveal a hitherto hidden truth about humanity’s relationship with the world around it, what do you think?” Now, like me you could murmur something about how you thought you heard someone calling you and when questioned about it call the two men liars and storm off, or you could have a quick look through the following in advance of your evening out.
Passion BurnsBurns had a complicated love life and never seemed short of female admirers. In 1785 his first child was born, he had had an affair with one of his mother's servants whilst simultaneously carrying out an affair with the woman who would prove to be constant throughout his life, Jean Armour. Robert and Jean were engaged to be married but, following disapproval from her father, the engagement was cancelled. Jean and Robert would eventually marry in 1788. In '86 however, or there abouts, Robert fell pretty hard for one Mary Campbell who he had noticed in church. Unfortunately Mary died of typhus that year, frustrating Burns' plans at marriage. When Burns' star rose, he seemed to enjoy affairs with whoever he could seduce, inspiring some of his greatest poems such as Ae Fond Kiss.
Rabbie RisesAll throughout his romantic endeavours, as mentioned above, Burns was trying to make it as a framer. Unfortunately he was having very little success in the field so when he was offered the opportunity to go and work in Jamaica as the bookkeeper on a slave plantation. Burns' views on slavery had yet to crystallize as they did in his poem, the slave's lament. Luckily for everyone involved, Burns couldn't bring together the cash needed for his ticket to Jamaica and so the plan was frustrated. A friend of Burns' suggested that he publish some of his poems instead. These poems were published as Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. The volume was well received and a launched Burns into literary stardom, if not financial success as he moved from Ayrshire to Edinburgh. In Edinburgh he published a new edition of his poems as well as collecting traditional Scottish songs for The Scots Musical Museum. Burns left Edinburgh for Dumfries where he married Jean Armour. Initially Burns sought to make his living through farming but this was not to be. He eventually retired from farming to become an excise-man as well as collecting folk songs and composing lyrics. Burns' fame should have made him more popular than he was but his political opinions were considered too radical for his day, expressing admiration for the Revolutionaries in France and reform advocates in Scotland. In the winter of 1795, Burns was in bad shape, his health had been deteriorating for some time, possibly exacerbated by too much to drink and he had a botched operation to have a tooth removed, all of these factors conspired against our poet and he finally gave up the ghost on the 21st of July 1796 - four days before his son Maxwell was born. Burns left behind a body of work that has continued to fascinate readers and inspire artists. From Tam O'Shanter to A Red, Red, Rose there is something in Burns' canon for everyone
Burns Heritage Park
The Burns National Heritage Park includes:
- Burns Cottage: The birthplace of Robert Burns, built in 1757 by the poet’s father. It has been restored to appear as it would have done in the 1700’s with a sparsely furnished interior. The simplicity of the cottage gives you an understanding of the scale of the poet's achievements that he rose from such humble beginnings.
- Robert Burns Birthplace Museum: Brand new in 2011, this modern visitor centre finally does justice to the reputation of Scotland's National Bard. The museum has a very complete range of Burns relics, including the original manuscripts and personal items. Technology has been used to add some interactivity to the experience and to broaden the appeal of the museum for younger visitors. It is arguably the most comprehensive museum about his life, work, political beliefs and relationships. You can take a guided tour of the museum, but these are only offered at weekends. A self guided tour will take you about 1 – 2 hours (if you are really interested in the detail). Our only criticisms are the fact that the layout is initially a bit confusing and you don’t know quite which order to do the exhibits in, and the various manuscripts in Burns hand writing are often hard to decipher as there are no transcripts beside them. These are small criticisms and the overall presentation of the museum does a very good job of bringing the personality of Robert Burns to life. There is a cafe and gift shop, but the gifts are of good quality.
- Auld Alloway Kirk and the Brig o’Doon are near to the Museum and are an essential part of a visit as they feature so prominently in the famous poem "Tam o'Shanter". The spooky Auld Kirk is interesting as it looks much as it would have done in Burns’ time. It is also the burial place of his father. His tombstone greets you as you climb the steps into the graveyard.
- The Monument: With attractive views down to the very beautiful setting of the Brig o’Doon.