Friday January 23rd, 2009
Scotland’s second national day is looming. Burn’s Night, the celebration, of the birth of the country’s favourite son arrives, with whisky and haggis in profusion, on Sunday 25th January. And this year is a very special birthday indeed as it is exactly a quarter of a century since the composer of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was born.
Robert Burns was born on 25th January 1759 in Alloway, South Ayrshire, eldest of seven children to William Burness a self-educated tenant farmer. The house in which they lived was built by William and is now the Burns Cottage Museum. When Robert was seven his father sold the house and took tenancy of the 70-acre Mount Oliphant farm to the southeast. The poverty and hard labour he endured as a child resulted in Robert’s premature stoop and week constitution.
Educated in the main by his father he was also taught by john Murdoch at his ‘adventure school’ in Alloway, where he learned Latin, French and Maths. In the summer of 1772 Burns was sent to the Dalrymple Parish School during which time he lodged with Murdoch and studied grammar.
After several more years of upheaval, occasional romantic interludes and family struggles Robert Burns was encouraged to find a publisher for the poems he had written (mainly about his love interests and the supernatural). In1786 his first volume of poems was published in Kilmarnock. However it was a visit to Edinburgh to oversee the preparation of a revised edition by William Creech (published in April 1978) that proved the real turning point for the ‘Ploughman’s Poet’. By 1790 he was writing what is widely considered his best work, including the distinctly eerie ‘Tam O’Shanter’.
By the mid 1790’s Burn’s had began to suffer from premature ageing and on 21st July 1796 he died in Dumfries aged 37. His funeral was held on 25th July, the day his son Maxwell was born. A memorial edition of his works was published to raise money for his widow and family and within months money began to pour in from all over Scotland in support. Today the only figure with more statues created in her honour than Robert Burns is the Virgin Mary and his legacy remains as strong as it has for the last 200 years and more.
The Burns Night celebrations are taken very seriously by Scottish communities the world over with much haggis tatties and ‘neeps washed down with fine malt whisky. The haggis is traditionally piped in and addressed with a poem written by the Bard himself. A typical menu includes Cock-a-Leekie (soup made from potatoes and chicken stock), Haggis (pork, outmeal and cayenne pepper, cooked in a sheep’s stomach lining), Tatties and ‘Neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips) and Cranachan (whipped cream, whisky, honey, and toasted oatmeal), all washed down with the finest whisky you can afford. Even if your not Scottish it’s well worth a try.
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