Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Bridgeton Burns Club Memorial Unveiling

23 August 2010

Bridgeton Burns Club has taken a prominent part in the regeneration of the Bridgeton ‘Umbrella’ and surrounding area as part of a Clyde Gateway initiative.

As their contribution to the project they commissioned a memorial to Burns, designed and build by student Alec Keeper from the Glasgow Metropolitan College, and I had the pleasure of joining members of the Bridgeton Burns club and Lord Provost Bob Winter at a ceremony to mark the unveiling of the striking sandstone and granite memorial with the very apposite word 'luve' carved vertically in relief. The photograph shows me with Jack Steele standing in as President of the Bridgeton Burns Club.

One-line extracts from songs and poems of Burns also feature on the paving as do the names of three Bridgeton men, John Simpson Knox, James Cleland Richardson and Henry May, who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The occasion was enlivened by the singing from local schoolchildren with renditions of My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose and Coming Thro’ the Rye. Following the ceremony we were whisked away in a 1957 Corporation Bus, provided courtesy of the local transport heritage group, to the Glasgow City Chambers for a civic reception where again the entertainment was provided by local primary school pupils.

I am very grateful to the Bridgeton Burns Club for their hospitality and delighted to see at first hand the work they are doing with local schools in promoting the life and works of Burns.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

National Archives of Scotland Reception

19 August 2010

I was delighted to attend a reception at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) to mark the unveiling of a previously unknown letter relating to the last period of the Poet’s life. The letter was written by Burns' superior officer John Mitchell, to the Commissioner of Excise, Robert Graham of Fintry, and details a journey by Robert Burns to the Dumfries Excise office to collect his salary on July 14, 1796. Mitchell described Burns as "reduced & shattered … in the extreme," but noted that his "wit and humour remained."

The Excise Salary Book, already kept in the NAS, bears a highly poignant signature, dated July 14, 1796, which shows clear evidence of his failing physical condition. It is shaky and marred by ink blots. The letter reveals for the first time that Burns did actually make the journey to Dumfries, despite being urged not to do so. Wracked by pain, but desperate to make proper provision for his wife and children, Burns must have ignored Mitchell’s advice not to travel and made his way to collect his salary; he died one week later on July 21, 1796.

In his speech, George Mackenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, expressed his delight at the response generated by the find from around the world .

In my response I thanked the NAS for helping the Federation maintain interest in Burns and in recognition of the importance of the find I presented Federation Homecoming Medals to Tristram Clarke and David Brown (above) who were responsible for finding the letter and pursuing its significance. Also in the photograph above, in the stripped dress, is Janet Elsie-May Coom, the great, great, great granddaughter of Burns through Anna Park. She expressed her delight at seeing the letter with its moving description of his condition during the final stages of his life.
Photograph shows, from right, Tristram Carke, David Brown and George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland. All were now better informed about the role of the RBWF in keeping alive the memory of the life and works of Burns and hopefully this will lead to further collaboration in the future. For example, we promoted the idea of having the letter on display, probably on a temporary basis because of the need to preserve its condition, at the new Birthplace Museum in Alloway as a way of generating further interest in the role of the NAS.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Edinburgh - Burns Anniversary Celebrations

24 July 2010

One of the great pleasures of my Presidential duties is to have the opportunity to recognise the efforts of groups and individuals dedicated to furthering the aims of the Federation. Having become all but dormant in recent years, the Edinburgh and District Burns Clubs Association (EDBCA) has really blossomed and further evidence of this resurgence was on show during an all-day series of events to commemorate Burns’ death in July 1796.

The event started with a commemoration at the Burns Monument on the Carlton Hill at which Federation JVP Jim Shields (seen here introducing the guests) had organised a mixture of poetry recitations, songs and speeches relating to Burns. I was particularly delighted to be involved in this because I had commented during my speech at the rededication of the monument in October 2009 that the Monument must be seen as a living space and not just as a cold, stone, artefact. This lively event was exactly the sort of thing I had in mind and gave real meaning to the memory of the poet’s time in Edinburgh.

Following the ceremony at the Monument, the party proceeded by coach to the City Chambers for a reception at which Lord Provost, the Rt Hon George Grubb, gave a most eloquent address referring to Burns’ time in the capital and to his writings. In turn I thanked the Lord Provost for the Council’s support in furthering the aims of the Federation through the work of the EDBCA and had great pleasure in presenting him with a copy of the Homecoming Chronicle.

For the final part of the day we repaired to the Lodge Liberton’s Hall for a fine afternoon and evening of entertainment. Firstly, representatives from Burns’ Associations competed for the inaugural Tom McIlwraith Trophy for poetry recitation in memory of Tom, an eminent Past President of the Robert Burns World Federation and stalwart of the EDBCA.

Judged by an eminent panel consisting of Professor David Purdie, EDBCA’s very own Margaret Anderson and Federation Past President Murdo Morrison (seated left to right on the front row with JVP Jim Shields far left), the competition produced a clear winner in Ian Buick with his outstanding rendition of To Mrs Scott, the Guid Wife of Wauchop House.
I was delighted to present Ian with the inaugural Tom McIlwraith trophy; he graciously recognised that the other competitors had also performed their chosen poems magnificently well. In summing up, the Chairman of the judging panel, Professor Purdie, highlighted the brilliance of Burns as a wordsmith and it was the expressive use of his language which the panel held as their main yardstick in judging.

A wholesome serving of haggis, neeps and tatties saw us through to a soiree where the assembled company took turns to perform their party pieces. Songs, poems and anecdotal stories of the highest calibre provided a most enjoyable and fitting finale to the day. Chief organiser Jim Shields and EDBCA President, Ian Chisholm, and his committee deserve immense praise for all their hard work in laying on such a wonderful event which hopefully will be repeated annually.

Brow Well Service

21 July 2010

It was very fitting that my first official duty after my cycle accident was the annual Brow Well Service organised by the Scottish Southern Counties Burns Association to commemorate the death of our National Bard. Whereas I was able to benefit from the best of medical treatment at the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, poor Burns was given the worst possible advice on how to treat his chronic heart condition - rheumatic endocarditis. During a two-week period, faithfully following the instructions of his doctor and friend Dr Maxwell, he submerged himself up to his oxters daily in the rising tide of the Solway Firth. Perhaps not surprisingly, he died shortly thereafter on 21 July 1796. I was privileged to be invited to propose a commemoration to Burns at this prestigious service.
The photograph shows some of the dignitaries from clubs and associations standing in front of the chalybeate spring well from which Burns would have drunk, from a ladle, the saline water with its supposed restorative qualities.