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Celebrating Burns Night: A Visit to the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries

Virtual Burns Supper with Wee Walking Tours

Every year on the 25th of January, many people around the world get together to celebrate the life and the legacy of the National Poet of Scotland – Robert Burns. Understandably, this year is a bit different. Therefore, we are inviting all of you to join us on a virtual Burns Supper as we celebrate the birthday of the Ploughman Poet.

Many of you might already be familiar with what a Burns Supper entails and are ready to skip ahead and get straight to the eating of the Haggis. However, there is some history to be covered first, and after the Haggis there will be time for a toast – in the form of a visit to the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries.

‘Piping in the Guests’

So, let the festivities begin with the traditional – ‘Piping in the Guests’!

Welcome Toast

Now that you are all here – I want to welcome you to the first annual Wee Walking Tours’ Virtual Burns Supper! Normally my remarks as a host would be rather brief, but as a historian, I cannot help but to extend my welcoming remarks into a brief history lesson…

Robert “Rabbie” Burns, The Bard of Ayrshire, was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, on the 25th of January 1759. He grew up in a large family, working on farms and receiving his education mostly at home. He laboured hard from an early age, but to the disappointment of his father he started to hear his calling to the arts- poetry, song, and dance.

Burns at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

As his writing developed, he used his surroundings and his affections to the women he fancied as his muses. He initially struggled and even contemplated a move to Jamaica, to work on a plantation. However, after getting his poems published in 1786, he found success and fame across Scotland. Therefore, he headed out to Edinburgh rather than to the West Indies.

Here in Edinburgh, Burns continued to write poems, and he became especially influential as a lyricist. He not only wrote songs, but he also collected and sometimes adapted and modified classic Scots folk songs. He became the main contributor to The Scots Musical Museum. But we will discuss his time in Edinburgh more in detail in the future.

After his time in Edinburgh, he moved to Dumfriesshire, first to Ellisland Farm and then into the city of Dumfries. And that is the time of Robert Burns’ life we will focus on during this Burns Supper. We will get to it during my toast, but for now please have a seat and join me in saying the Selkirk Grace.

Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can aet,

And sae the Lord be thankit.

Alright, it is time to eat and we will start with a soup. This year you are in luck because you get a choice of either Cullen Skink (a soup with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions) or Cock-a-Leekie (a traditional Scottish chicken and leek soup).

Image Credits: "Cullen_Skink" by Metukkalihis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons |"Cock-a-leekie Soup" by Laurel F, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Piping in the Haggis

It is now time to pipe in the guest of honour of this evening – Haggis! For this, I am going to ask for you all to stand. As the piper plays a “Robbie Burns Medley”, the haggis is placed in front of us. It is now time for me to take out my knife and recite the Address to a Haggis.

Address to a Haggis

I have recited this Robert Burns poem in the past, even in Finnish. This time around I will refer you to the Alexandria Burns Club which has the poem, Address to a Haggis, in both Scots and English side-by-side. That way you can look it over, and it might prove useful in case you were to host a Burns Supper in the future someday.

Image Credits: "Haggis Towers" by Menage a Moi is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 |"Cranachan" by HarshLight is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After you have polished off your haggis, neeps and tatties – we bring out the desserts. We have both Cranachan and some great Scottish cheeses. We also have coffee, which I will be having but for those who so desire we also have plenty of “water of life” (whisky).

Toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns

While you enjoy your desserts, it is time for my main toast. Its purpose is to highlight the immortal memory of Robert Burns. To do that, this year we are inviting you on a brief virtual tour of the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries.

Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries

The Centre is located in an eighteenth-century watermill, along the beautiful west bank of the River Nith. From its serene setting along the riverbank, a visit to the Centre provides you with a great view of the bridges crossing the river into the Dumfries city centre on the opposite side.

After taking in the views, please follow us into the Centre. The admission is free, and in our opinion, it is a fabulous starting point to learn about Robert Burns, and his time in Dumfries. In future posts, and perhaps in future Virtual Burns Suppers, we will visit other related sites- such as his Ellisland Farm, the Robert Burns House, etc.

As we head into the Centre, we are greeted with a warm and friendly reception from the lovely staff. We then walk up a flight of stairs to get right into exploring the ‘Robert Burns: the Dumfries Years Exhibition’.

As you step into the main Exhibition Hall, you are immediately drawn towards the remarkable 3D landscape model of Dumfries, which allows your imagination to go wild and transports you to the 1790’s. There, you can roam the streets in the footprints of the Bard himself. You might even want to follow him to the Hole I’ the Wa’ Inn, or to the Globe Inn, or some other of his favourite hangouts. However, we will save those places for another tour in the future.

Back in the Exhibition, we are treated with countless historical artefacts of national importance. The collection displays both items that belonged to Robert Burns – Scotland’s Son- and items that were inspired by him. They also have many artefacts used in celebrating Burns Suppers.

According to the Robert Burns Centre, the Dumfries Burns Club can be credited for bringing about Robert Burns' Mausoleum and its subsequent renovations, as well as, putting on annual celebrations of Robert Burns and his legacy. However, as an interesting sidenote, it was not the first Burns Club to be formed. That honour and distinction goes to the Greenock Burns Club, which was founded in 1801 (we will make sure to visit Greenock more in detail in the future, especially since it is near one of our favourite towns – Dunoon).

The Exhibition at the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries gives you a wonderful glimpse into Burns’ life in Dumfries. It tells the stories of his family and work life, his friendships, and his travels – all the beautiful things that inspired him. But they also talk about some of the drama surrounding him including different scandals, and conflicts, struggles with his work and with his health. Additionally, you can listen to many of his poems at the Centre. They even have activities for younger visitors. Therefore, regardless of your age, you will leave the exhibition with a better understanding about the man who has been so inspirational here in Scotland, in the Scottish Diaspora, and all around the world.

So, to finish off my toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns, I will conclude with an excerpt from his “A Red, Red, Rose”:

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Address to the Lassies

As it is customary, it is now the time in our festivities for us men to thank the Lassies and to drink a toast to the women’s health. The address is usually given by a male guest, and they can be humorous – but never offensive. And I mean it gentlemen – be nice in your toasts because I am married to a feisty and fiery lassie and I do not want her to get offended! Otherwise, it will be me who will be sleeping on the couch with Finn and Sawyer.

Reply to the Laddies

It is now time for a female guest to share their views on us men. It can also be in response to the previous address. I would kindly ask for this address to be humorous and kind as well. But honestly– you can speak freely (*said while still slightly scared of the feisty aforementioned Lassie*)!

The Works of Robert Burns

Now that the addresses have been delivered, it is time to cite some works of the National Bard. For those, I would recommend visiting the Scottish Poetry Library as they have a great selection of his poems.

More Burns Night Events

As the festivities for our Burns Night winds down, we wanted to direct you to additional online Burns Night events that might be of interest. The ScotlandIsNow website not only provides virtual Burns Night events, but also has a wealth of other resources and fun activities about Robert Burns.

Historic Environment Scotland invites you to a ‘Virtual Burns Night’ at Edinburgh Castle.

Auld Lang Syne

It has been so wonderful to share this Burns Night celebration with you all, but the time has come to conclude our first Virtual Burns Supper. So, I ask all of you to stand up one more time and join hands as we sing Auld Lang Syne together…

Video Credit: Highland Saga

Have a wonderful night and join us again soon as we ‘Explore and Discover’ more what Scotland has to offer!


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