Back in 1759 on the 25th January, Robert Burns was born to a poor farming family in the tiny Scottish village of Alloway. He showed early promise and soon left the farm behind to write poetry about Scottish life – in the dialect of the people. Many of these poems were set to music. One of my favourite CDs is by Eddie Reader, an evocative singer who brings the Bard’s words to life.
Today, people around the world continue to celebrate the poet’s life and works with traditional Burn’s suppers on or around his birthday where the Haggis (best look it up!) is revered and piped in to much acclaim. Served with mashed neeps and tatties and a whisky sauce, it is delicious. A master of ceremonies recites Burns’ Ode to a Haggis, before dissecting the meaty bag of goodness for everyone to enjoy. All in all, a uniquely Scottish cultural event! Oh, and don’t forget the whisky.
What man could engender such devotion? Well the Scots certainly respect and admire free thinkers. Robbie espoused revolutionary political views but also reached into the heart of things, writing about homely subjects – the ones about a louse and a mouse are amongst my favourites – and the women he loved, and much else that endeared him to his nation.
He was a bit of lad – a good looking lad too with finely-drawn features, dark wavy hair and smouldering eyes – who adored the ladies and a drink. Hoteliers loved him for his generosity of spirit and his spirited renditions of his poetry – just imagine being in the bar when Rob popped in for a dram or two! He certainly could pull a crowd, but these inns were also where many of his assignations took place. No doubt this dissolute lifestyle got him into a lot of trouble, and a bevy of children resulted.
Rabbie, as he is sometimes called, made his money in the literary circles of Edinburgh. His poems in the romantic pastoral style were beloved by children and adults, city and rural dwellers alike. He returned to the south west, to Dumfries, where he parted company with Jean Armour, his long-suffering wife, and sailed off to the West Indies with his lover, but the poor lass died suddenly and Robbie legged it back home to Jean.
With money in short supply, he became an Excise man, chasing down smugglers and the like, a task which was probably anathema to him. By 1796 at the age of 37, he died. Sadly, a son was born on the day he was buried.
So a character and a legend, indeed!
Last year we were fortunate enough to visit the pretty town of Dumfries. Our friends at the Robert the Bruce Trust (more about this wonderful group in a future post) arranged a lunch time tour of the Globe Inn, where our poet spent many happy hours down in the bar and in his very own room where he scratched odes to his loves on the window. An unusual triangular chair, purported to be ‘his’ chair, holds pride of place in the cosy bar and anyone who sits therein, so the locals said, must shout the bar. Aye right!
Tucked down an alleyway, the Globe nestles within its ancient stone walls. Opened in 1610, its dark wood paneling holds mystery aplenty, nooks and crannies that cry out for further inspection, tiny rooms and narrow stairways. Of course, there’s a ghostly woman and if you ever sleep in Robbie’s bed, you may meet her. But beware, she’s definitely not a happy wee lass!