Monday, 28 September 2009

Tam O'Shanter Competition and Ellisland Ploughing Competition

One of the highlights of the President’s year is the Tam O’Shanter Competition, held in the Globe Inn (see right), the poet’s favourite Howff, and organised by the Dumfries Ladies Burns Club No1.

This year’s competition was no exception and I had the honour and pleasure of being one of the judges alongside Willie Horne, last year’s worthy winner, and Isa Hanley, the Federation’s Schools Convenor. We had six excellent and very different recitations which made judging a real challenge. However, Margaret Cook, from Irvine Lassies Burns Club, was chosen as the worthy winner. She is seen below, proudly clutching her trophy, alongside the other competitors, judges, and President of Dumfries Ladies Burns Club No1 Shona Shaw.
How appropriate that my next event following the Tam O’Shanter competition should be held at Ellisland Farm where Burns had written his masterpiece. And what an event it turned out to be! Much to the envy of all my male colleagues I was privileged to spend a whole day as escort to Joanna Lumley at the Homecoming Ploughing Match organised by the Friends of Ellisland Farm.

She was an absolute joy and threw herself wholeheartedly into the event, ploughing with tractors and with horses, signing autographs, posing for photographs, conversing with the competitors and public with her easy charm and showing a genuine interest in all that was going on. Her husband, internationally renowned composer and classical musician, Stephen Barlow, also played a full part chatting freely to everyone he met.

Before opening the event she received a surprise visit from a Nepalise family from Moffat who wanted to show their appreciation of her campaign to support the Ghurkas by presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. Most interestingly, the father, Dawa Sherpa, is the gardener at Craigieburn House, an area closely associated with the lovely Burns’ song Craigieburnwood written for Jean Lorimer.

Joanna opens the Homecoming Ploughing Match Surprise visit by Dawa Sherpa and his family

A full programme of entertainment was skilfully compeered by Robert Burns himself (AKA William Williamson) and included a supremely talented group of young Burnsians from Sanquhar who performed a selection of poems and songs from Burns and other poets. Joanna was particularly taken with Heather McCafferty’s expert rendition of ‘The Rights of Women’ and was pleasantly surprised to learn of Burns’ radical thinking on the issue.

'Robert Burns' explains the workings of Ellisland Farm

We both had the chance to plough a furrow with a pair of horses, the first time for us both, and quite a challenge, especially with the swing plough, but very fulfilling. As the owner of a shire horse herself, Joanna took a deep interest in the Clydesdales and the ploughing equipment. She clearly understood the enormous influence on his poems and songs which the unmediated closeness with the earth afforded Burns during his ploughing. I certainly began to appreciate how Burns might have developed a slight stoop.

During the day I had the pleasure of announcing the opening the new ‘Jean Armour’ path. Generously funded by the Glasgow Masonic Burns Club and the Rotary Club of Dumfries, the path was laid by the Friends of Ellisland and offers a new route from the farm down to the banks of the River Nith. All in all this was a fantastic day, blessed with good weather but I am only too aware it could only come about by the sheer hard work of lots of dedicated volunteers. My thanks go to Ronnie Cairns as chairman of the Friends of Ellisland and especially by Tom Johnstone who mastermined the event and ran it with calm determination and good humour.

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