Thursday 3 December 2009

Executive Meeting 21 November 2009

Despite the appalling weather there was a healthy turn out for the Federation’s Executive Meeting at the new Kay Park Museum in Kilmarnock. Built round the Burns Statue in the remains of original museum, which was destroyed by fire in 2004, the new museum area proved to be an excellent venue, with scope to be even better when additional rooms become available.

The committees’ reports showed the Federation in good heart and still striving hard to maintain the momentum generated by the Year of Homecoming. A robust discussion centred around the question of getting more young people involved in the Federation’s work, which is central to the future development of the organisation.

During the meeting it was a great pleasure for me to meet with Janet Elsie-May Coom, the great, great, great granddaughter of the poet through Anna Park, barmaid at the Globe Inn, Dumfries. Irvine Burns Club Homecoming Exhibition 26th November 2009

By one of those great co-incidences, my next appointment was to attend the opening of a splendid exhibition entitled Dear Mr Burns at Irvine Burns Club. Among the exhibits was a letter from the same Janet Elsie-May Coom, dated January 09, accepting honorary membership of the Club. This was one of the 35 letters on display from the collection of almost 300 letters from famous personalities around the world who have accepted an invitation to become honorary members of one of the great Burns Clubs, formed in 1826, and the longest continuously operating club in the world. The exhibition was organised and promoted by Bill Nolan and Ian Dickson who had clearly put a huge amount of effort into this grand finale for the Year of Homecoming, as had President Billy Dickson (pictured below) who opened the event.

Much more information on the letter collection can be found on the website at: Dinner was provided courtesy of Irvine Burns Club member Iain Murray, who gave Pat and me a conducted tour of his premises, the famous Ship Inn on the harbour side in Irvine. Pictured left are Iain and I with a copy of a painting of Burns by local artist Graham McKean. Known locally as 'the village,’ Irvine has a strong connexion to the story of Burns because it was here that Captain Richard Brown encouraged Burns to put his verses in print. As Burns himself says, “you wondered I could resist the temptation of sending verses of such merit to a magazine: ‘twas actually this that gave me an idea of my own pieces which encouraged me to endeavour at the character of a Poet.”

The story of Burns’ time in Irvine is depicted in an excellent audio-visual presentation focussing on the beautiful mural painted by Ted and Elizabeth Odling. If you get the chance do go and visit the Irvine Burns Club; it is well worth a look.
Irvine Lasses Burns Club Concert Evening - 26th November 2009

As part of the same St Andrews celebrations at Irvine Burns Club, Pat and I enjoyed a very pleasant evening with the Irvine Lasses Burns Club at their concert featuring the Dreghorn Choir who entertained us with a delightful musical tour of Scotland. In a very generous gesture, the President of the Irvine Lasses, Anne Kennedy, presented the Federation with a cheque for £100 towards the ‘Big Issue’ Chronicle.

Ayrshire Cancer Support Dinner – 27th November 2009

As a special charity fundraiser in the Year of Homecoming, Ayrshire Cancer Support had organised “A Night with the Ayrshire Ploughman” at the Park Hotel in Kilmarnock. I was privileged to be invited along as a guest to attend what turned out to be a most memorable evening starring narrator, raconteur and singer Hugh McNellie, multi-instrumentalist Ian Muir, singer Sally Hastings and an introductory, slightly tongue-in-cheek, ‘talk’ on St Andrew by Prestwick Burns Club stalwart Tam Taylor.

This inaugural event for the charity had been organised by Margaret Anne Aitchinson (above right), Burns Night Committee Chair with help from fundraisers Kath Paton (above left) and Fraser Craig and raised the magnificent total of £1200. I also had the privilege of being ‘caricatured’ by internationally-renowned artist Malky McCormick who raised a substantial part of the proceeds through his comic, artful, drawings.

Re-opening of Burns’ Cottage – 29th November 2009

At the invitation of the National Trust for Scotland I attended the re-opening of Burns’ Cottage in Alloway along with Chief Executive Sam Judge and Chronicle Editor Peter Westwood.

The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, unveiled the plaque to commemorate the re-opening of the cottage and announced £2.1 million of additional support for the project. Sheena Wellington (see photo in red) led a spirited rendition of Rantin' rovin' Robin.

The cottage is a key part of the National Trust for Scotland's £21 million Robert burns Birthpalce Museum Project, which is due for completion next year. the building adjacent to the cottage now featuers a new Education Pavilion where people, and especially children, can learn more about the Poet.
The Saltire Society Homecoming Literary Awards Presentation Ceremony 30th November 2009

What a thrill to be at the National Library of Scotland to witness Robert Crawford receive the award for ‘Book of the Year’ at the Saltire Society Homecoming Literary Awards Presentation for his biography of Robert Burns. The judges praised the depth of research and readability of The Bard which showed Burns not only as a tradition bearer but also a challenger and refresher of tradition. The author reiterated his thanks to the Federation through me for its help in bringing the book to fruition. In the ‘Acknowledgement’ in the book he writes: “I owe a great debt to the Burns Federation (now the Robert Burns World Federation Ltd) for making available through their Burns Chronicle and in other ways information about Burns and his circle, and for providing a worldwide physical and virtual forum for Burns enthusiasts.”
Chief Executive Sam and I therefore felt fully justified in being photographed with the author immediately after his award, which he had received earlier from Mike Russell MSP (front centre), a great supporter of the Federation, pictured below with all the winners.

Auld Lang Syne - World Record Attempt 30th November 2009

As a finale to the Year of Homecoming what better event to stage than a rumbustious rendition of Auld Lang Syne in 41 different languages? That is just what Glasgow University did in Bute Hall on a very special St Andrew’s Night when over 200 staff and students sang their hearts out in that most famous of Burns’ songs, hopefully setting a new world record in the process. I joined another seven members of the Federation who had been invited to act as independent adjudicators.

This turned out to be a memorable occasion with a real buzz as different nationalities rubbed shoulders and shared in the joy of singing Burns’ world anthem. Kirsten McKue, a lecturer in the Robert Burns Centre at the University, led the singing and after a few practices the company’s voices blended beautifully, despite the wide variety of lyrics. Perhaps not surprisingly, photographs of the chain were much in demand! Below are me with Dr Gerard Carruthers Director of the Robert Burns Centre at Glasgow University, a Gaelic student and a Czech student who had a most delightful voice.

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