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President’s Blog – January

There was a Lad was born in Kyle


The lad we know as Robert Burns was indeed born in Kyle and as the gossip or midwife astutely observed, ‘This waly boy will be nae coof’.  Celebration have gone on throughout January and will no doubt continue into February.  This time of year allows us to gather with friends and family to celebrate the Bard’s birth, to recognise his achievements and raise a dram to Scotland’s most famous son.  For me it is a time for reflection, to consider how Burns is relevant in everyday, modern Scotland.

The sacred season of ‘Ram a Dram’ has been hectic but most enjoyable.  ‘Janwar wind’ always seem to bring the author asthma and chest infections, this year was no different.  I like many millions of other guid folk struggled with protracted illness throughout the month.  It did not however dampen my enthusiasm or enjoyment of the many celebrations and events I attended.

We start the year off with a Business Board meeting at the Dower House.  The Business Board in the management group for the RBWF. We discuss various items including finance, potential sponsorship deals and marketing the brand of Robert Burns.  Margaretann was at the meeting but Beverley was very poorly and ended up being hospitalised for a week.   She is now back at work and we wish her well for the future.  Early January also sees Margaretann snowed in at home, but she carried on stoically from home!

A call from Bill Nolan alerts me that Liz Lochhead has a fairly controversial article on Burns in one of the Sunday papers.  Bill and I discuss what action, if any, is required.

I hear from my good friend, Joan McAlpine MSP who outlines her proposal for a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Economic Potential of Robert Burns.  The debate was held on 17th January and was broadcast live.  The debate got strong cross party from mainly south west MSPs but also from the north east of Scotland.  The debate will be taken forward for further discussion.   At the last count, 15 years ago, it was estimated that Burns was worth £150 million to the economy.  The RBWF and Burns clubs were given good press with the number of volunteer hours given by dedicated Burnsians every year emphasised greatly.  We will keep a watching brief on this important piece of work.  The only disappointing aspect of Joan’s debate was the number of MSP’s who left the chamber as the debate was about to begin.

My first Burns Supper of the season is at Gatehouse of Fleet WRI.  A pleasant evening was disrupted when a newspaper in which the haggis was in went on fire!  The Burns Suppers come in thick and fast, Kirkcudbright Rotary where Mike Duguid is lynchpin was most enjoyable with Mike giving an erstwhile previously unheard recitation.  My planned trip to the Burns National Monument in Mauchline is aborted due to snow.  I travelled about fifteen miles from home when conditions were so bad, it was not safe to carry on.  My apologies to Mauchline Burns Club for this.

One of the highlights of January was my visit to Borgue School to judge their competition.  Borgue is a small village and the school roll about 35.  I was treated to various recitations of the highest standard.  The children were very interested in Robert Burns and we chatted about various related topics after the competition.  Every child had a wee shot of the chain I hope it will be remembered and cherished as much by them as by me.  I presented the school with membership of the RBWF along with Auchencairn School which is managed by Mrs Lesley McDevitt, the head teacher.

I do a President’s Burns Day message for the press and I am interviewed by Radio Scotland.  I have the right kind of face for radio!!

The 25th of January sees me at the Dumfries and Galloway Burns Association Service in St Michael’s Kirk, Dumfries.  The profile of the service has been raised considerably over the past few years, mainly due to the efforts of John Caskie who stood down as Secretary of the D&GBA last year. There were over 200 schoolchildren present and a good number contributed to the service.  Wreath laying was held at the Mausoleum following the service.  I attended the Howff Club Burns Supper that evening.  The Immortal Memory was proposed by Ian Landles and I replied to the toast to the RBWF. The following night Moira and I attended the Exxon Mobil Burns Supper in Fife.  It was a sparkling event with a warm welcome and generous hospitality.  We were joined by our good friends George and Enez Anderson who proposed the toast and reply to the Lasses O’.

We made the short trip to Glasgow on the Saturday morning for the wreath laying at George Square. This was my first visit to the very impressive City Chambers.  We were treated to songs from a wonderful Gaelic School choir prior to the wreath laying.  A large representation of Burns clubs from the Glasgow and District Association were in attendance along with the Deputy Lord Provost.  We retired for lunch and further entertainment from young people at the Merchant House.  A most enjoyable event.

Next on the agenda was the Ayr Police Burns Supper to which my auld pal Jim Thomson had invited me to toast the Immortal Memory.  There were 370 present at one of the best Burns Suppers I have had the pleasure of attending.

Moira and I manage a day at home to repack the cases for our next engagements.  Monday night sees us at Helensburgh Rotary Club, we are there on the invitation of our friends, Moir and Sheena Nelson.  Moir is of course secretary of Dumbarton Burns Club.

Another ‘biggie’ the following night. Emma Harper is chairing the Parlimentary Burns Club Burns Supper.  We meet in the Members Restaurant for another memorable evening. I toast the Immortal Memory.  The rest of the programme is ‘in house’ and there is plenty talent on display!  A bonus of the evening was the Parliamentary Burns Club rejoining the RBWF after being in abeyance.  A number of MSP’s also take Membership Application forms.  I am told that I have made a little history.  Apparently in this Parliamentary session, the first cross party agreement reached was to invite the President of the RBWF to propose the Immortal Memory!

I have had a wonderful January. Moira and I have felt so welcome wherever we were.  I hope to have acted as an Ambassador for the RBWF wherever I have been. I have encouraged people to join us and I thank all Burns Suppers who put application forms at place settings.  I know that a number of people have pledged to join.  It is a natural time for recruitment but we all need to be carrying the message forward throughout the year.

The internet makes the world a smaller place.  I have recently been corresponding with Ewen Burness, a direct descendant of the Bard in New Zealand.

A longer than normal blog, but it has been a busy moth.  Again my thanks to Margaretann and Beverley without whom, my life would be impossible.  We look forward to February and moving to our new premises.