President’s Blog – July

Burns is reported to have commented on “the kind hospitality and most agreeable little party” when he visited Covington Mains en route to Edinburgh in November 1786 and met with Archibald “Baldy” Prentice. My good friend David Smith rode shotgun for me on a beautiful summer’s Sunday for the Covington Mains ceremony. The welcome and hospitality afforded by Lanarkshire Association of Burns Clubs would have reached or even exceeded that the Bard received. I had the honour of saying a few words at the cairn which is immaculately kept and we retired to the Tinto Hotel for refreshments and harmony. On display was the very best of Lanarkshire’s young Burns talent who entertained us after lunch.

The following night is the Jean Armour Dinner at the Howff Club. Before Dinner we shuffle in procession behind Club Piper Callum Watson to the magnificent Jean Armour statue which is equidistant between Burns’ House and St Michael’s Kirk. Again the sun splits the sky as President Bill Graham welcomed the assembled company. Flowers were laid, Moira laying a bunch of red roses on behalf of the RBWF. A short oration was delivered by Past President Colin Gibson at Burns’ House and we went back to the Globe for dinner. Fiona Evans of Annan Ladies Burns Club toasted Jean, Moira, the other women in Burns’ life, choosing Agnes Broun, Burns mother as her subject. Both speakers got lengthy standing ovations. I wonder what we can do to promote female speakers. There are a few extremely talented female speakers on the circuit, but this still tends to be a male dominated domain.

Summertime in my hame toon is a very busy time with lots of activities available. The pipe band night marks the start of the Summer Festivities. I have the honour and pleasure of being compere to Kirkcudbright and District Pipe Band and again we have a fantastic night of Scottish tunes and a good measure of Burns.

The following morning I set off early for a Board meeting in the office at Kilmarnock. As I approach Ayr and drive towards Prestwick, I notice a very high police presence. It was for a president, not this one, but President Trump. I wonder what the Bard would make of this chap.

The country fair at home is another event which I compere and enjoy two days of wonderful sunshine and a packed programme of events. Emma Harper, MSP popped in to see what was happening. Emma of course is a keen Burnsian and supporter of the RBWF and goes out of her way to be helpful and accommodating.

The Brow Well ceremony is always a significant one in any Burnsians calendar. July 1786 was a dreadful time for Burns and his family. He was dying and knew it but was persuaded by his friend Dr Maxwell to take the chalybeate waters at the Brow Well and wade chest deep in the freezing Solway to find a cure for “flying gout”. The commemorative event was held in its entirety at the Brow Well until last year when inclement weather forced the proceedings into Ruthwell Kirk. It was decided that the Kirk was such a beautiful setting with Burns links to hold the service there and follow on with the wreath laying at thee Well. Ruthwell Kirk is a stunning building and houses the Ruthwell Cross, an Anglo Saxon Cross from the 8th Century which has verse of Scots poetry carved on it. This is oldest recorded poetry in the United Kingdom, so fitting that tribute to the Bard is paid to the Bard in this setting. I provide a short oration and finish by reading the poem “Brow Well 1797” which was contributed to the Gallovidian Magazine, presumably on the first anniversary of Burns death. Moira and I were delighted to have travelled in the company of two distinguished and weel kent Burnsians to the Brow Well. David Smith and Wilson Ogilvie were erudite and very witty company. There was a good turnout of Burnsians from all over Scotland for the event hosted by Dumfries and Galloway Burns Association.

I attend the Riding of the Marches, where in another capacity of General Officer of the Haill Six Incorporated Trades of Kirkcudbright I have a part in reading messages from the King declaring Kirkcudbright a Royal Burgh in 1455. Not Burns I know but part of our heritage and culture!

Moira and I head off to the wreath laying at Ayr on the invitation of Ayr Burns Club. There is a good turnout of Ayrshire Burns Clubs and we receive a lovely welcome from Kathleen Davey and President Robbie McMahon. The event ran like clockwork and as well as me laying a RBWF wreath, Moira laid red roses. I learn for Kathleen that Ayr Burns Club have twinned with a Burns Club in Missouri, I plan to find out more about this as it sounds like a fantastic way to involve International Clubs.

A package arrives from my cousin Jessie Patrick in Coombah, Queensland. A calf leather bound book, The Best of Burns, by Albert E Sims and printed in New York by Thomas Y Crowell. It has the signature R McDowall on it and has been in the possession of my cousin’s husband since the 70’s. Not a rare book but its history intrigues me!

News from Calgary that my auld freen, Vice President of RBANA, Henry Cairney, has retired as an executive in the oil industry. Henry of course is an Irvine boy and he and his lovely wife Shona will be over for conference in September. I look forward to some sangs an’ clatter then.

Another Thursday night in Kirkcudbright, I’m on the mike again. I find myself introducing Feis Rois, the cream young Scottish traditional musicians who play two sets. They open their second set with a jaunty Edie Reader esque version of Willie Stewart. The musicians are part of a music school in Dingwall and are currently on tour. Great stuff!

Sunday 2th July and we are off to Kilmarnock for the Commemorative service at Kilmarnock Cross. The event is jointly hosted by Kilmarnock Burns Club No. O and the Kilmarnock Howff Club. The weather has abated by the time we get there and once again there is a large turnout of Ayrshire Clubs to support the event. The statue is impressive and is the only one I know which Burns shares! Lori Hedley’s oration at the statue got me thinking about Burns at the time the Kilmarnock Edition was published in 1786, on the same date I am writing this blog. Burns was no stranger to adversity, poverty, disappointment and of course poor health. The Kilmarnock Edition must have massively boosted his confidence and feelings of self -worth. Yet, ten years later, he was no more. Among those 612 books published was Mrs Anna Dunlop’s copy which I saw at the Rosenberg Library in Philadelphia, bound with additional blank pages in which she transcribed manuscripts sent to her for comment. Philadelphia is a long way from Dunlop.