President’s Blog – June

“Simmer’s a pleasant time” the Bard told us in the love song “Aye Waulkin’ O”.  The recent spell of incredible weather certainly lifts the spirits and has allowed Burns Clubs and Associations with various summer commemorative events to plan with some confidence.

June started off for me with the Dumfries and Galloway Burns Association Annual General Meeting at Ellisland.  Russell Williamson, Chair of Friends of Ellisland becomes DGBA President.  Russell is an affable and capable chap who will provide strong leadership going ahead.

As many of you know, one of my passions is sailing.  I leave Ellisland and meet my friend Ian Meechan in Dumfries and we drive north to collect his new boat from Greenock.  We await fog lifting on the Sunday morning and leave Greenock in glorious sunshine but no wind to sail.  Greenock of course has great Burns links.  We sail past the Old Custom House where the Mother Club recently opened their exhibition and archive room.  As we pass the Custom House, there is a band playing.  I wonder to myself if June Forbes and Margaret Dickson have organised this especially for us……We spend Sunday night berthed in Ardrossan and Monday in Portpatrick on the final leg home.  I take some time to visit the Burns statue in the village.  Unveiled in 1929, it was commissioned by the now defunct Portpatrick Burns club.  The sculptor was a Stranraer man, James Watt.  The statue was badly damaged by a landslide in the late 1980’s and the Burns Howff Club repaired and restored it to it’s former glory.  Stranraer Burns Club stalwart Eric Archibald has sponsored the annual repaint of the statue for the past few years.  It is well worth a visit!

The Quarterly Meeting is held in our impressive headquarters for the second time.  Margaretann and Bev are getting through the various packing cases and it is really taking shape.  I am able to report good news to those assembled.  Our finances are in the black thanks to Bill Nolan acquiring sponsorship for conference in Irvine.  Arrangements are now in place for what promises to be a bumper weekend.  We are confident that we will be able to return a modest profit from the weekend’s activities. I am delighted to report that there is a significant increase in membership since the turn of the year and Marc Sherland’s membership drive. We have recruited 39 members in the first 6 months of the year.

An exciting research project is being undertaken by Prof. Murray Pittock of Glasgow University on behalf of the Scottish Government into the Economic value of Robert Burns to the Scottish economy. You may remember this was sparked by a debate led by Joan McAlpine, MSP in January of this year. Board have had a preliminary meeting with Prof. Pittock and will support his work in any way they can. We hope to be able to engage with members, Clubs and Associations to assist this work. Exciting stuff!

I am involved in helping out in my hame toon of Kirkcudbright and my good friend Ian Swan (we have been pals for 54 years) entertained at Crossroads Caring Scotland’s opening to Carer's week. The West of Scotland Director is an old school friend and we are delighted to help out.  I do a mixed programme of song and manage to squeeze in a couple of Burns numbers.

Moira and I have long holidayed on Mull and this year is no exception.  I switch off my phone and let Margaretann know that I will be out of commission for a week!  We have a number of friends on the island and it was good to catch up with them.  The Island of Ulva is only a couple of hundred yards off Mull and has been subject to a community buyout.  We were honoured to be on Ulva for the official hand over.  There were about 200 people present and the buyout attracted attention from all over the world.   It was quite emotional to see the Munro family cut the ribbon.  I reflected on their lot before the buyout.  They were no more secure than Burns family at Mount Oliphant and Lochlea nearly 250 years ago.  They are now masters of their own destiny.  The future is bright for them.  The boatman for the island, Donald Munro was dressed in his finery for the occasion, tartan trews, tweed jacket and waistcoat.  Someone on the boat asked where his hat was. “ I hae nae need for a hat, there is naebody tae doff my cap tae noo”.   Burns would have been proud of him.

The holiday is over as quickly as it began.  We stop off a the  George Hotel in Inveraray, a great wee place, picturesque and welcoming to tourists.  I often think about how scathing Burns was about the town when he visited in 1787.  He stayed at the Inverarary Inn, meeting place of the Inverary Burns Club. His observations were;

There’s nocht here but Highland pride

And Highland pride and hunger

If Providence has sent me here

‘Twas surely in his anger.

I was surprised, delighted and a little embarrassed to learn that I had been nominated for a civic reception hosted by Dumfries and Galloway Council.  Council Leader Dr Elaine Murray made a presentation to me in the Council Chamber on 29th May.  It was a humbling and emotional evening. We were joined by a small number of family and close friends for the occasion.  Dr Murray was very kind and generous in her words.  It has been my pleasure to represent the RBWF, Dumfries and Galloway and of course my beloved hame toon in the course of my work as President.  Thank you to the friends who made the nomination.

I end June with a Dumfries and Galloway Burns Association meeting in Terregles Village Hall.  Burns visited Mrs Maxwell in Terregles House.  The Maxwell family were Jacobites and Mrs Maxwell’s views on the world would be of great interest to the Bard!