Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dunedin Burns Club

Saturday 20 February 2010

As my last commitment of my trip I visited Dunedin which surpassed even my highest expectations as the Scots Capital of New Zealand. My visit coincided with a festival of pipe bands which paraded through the city and right past the Burns Statue in the 'Octagon' in the centre of
the city. This fine statue (just visible above the mace) sits prominently in front of the Anglican Church (below). Close by is the very striking Presbyterain first Church with its close connexion to the Robert Burns story in that his nephew Thomas Burns (son of Burns' brother Gilbert) was the founder minister of the church and played a fundamental role in setting up the city of Dunedin. He was also a member of the founding committee of the internationally-renowned Otago University. During a visit to the present-day University I had the pleasure of meeting with Professor Liam McIlvanney, author of the splendid book 'Burns the Radical,' who currently occupies the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies. As well as researching the influence of the Scottish Diaspora and other groups of emigrants, he is making a particular study of the contraversial New Zealand poet James Keir Baxter who was one of those selected for the Burns Writing Fellowship - a highly prized residential writer's position at the University.

Pat and I enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with the committee members of the Dunedin Burns Club at Umbrello's Restaurant close to the University. After going through a difficult period recently the Club has re-grouped under the leadership of President Sue Cantwell and has a refreshingly young and ebullient Secretary in Emma Burns.
Photograph shows at front President Sue and past president Stan Kirkpatrick and from left to right Club stalwart Margaret Campbell, Pat, me, Secretary Emma and committee member Bruce Spittle. Bruce and his wife Marjorie hosted us most hopitably during the visit and gave us a delightful sightseeing tour of the city and surrounding district. It was also a real pleasure to meet with Stan Kirkpatrick, a member for over fifty years ans someone with an outstanding war record as a member of the Merchant Navy during both the Atlantic and Russian convoys. Together with other Club members he was instrumental in introducing special 'haggis' ceremonies for the benefit of visitors to Dunedin to emphasise the city's Scottish heritage. Another member for over fifty years, Stan Forbes, was not well enough to attend the lunch but I managed to visit him and his wife Roberta in hospital. A Dundonian by birth he is the Patron of the Burns Club and has done outstanding work over the years to keep the Burns Club at the forefront of cultural activity in Dunedin.

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