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President’s Blog – May

‘I’m gaun tae Mauchline Holy Fair
To spend an hour in daffin
Gin you’ll go there, you rankl’d pair
We will get famous laughin’
At them this day’


Tae Mauchline Holy Fair I did go and spent a good part of it laughing with friends.  The Holy Fair is a colourful and spectacular occasion.  Marc Sherland, in period costume and always a man with an eye for an opportunity, set up a membership recruitment stall at the entrance of the famous Mauchline Parish Kirk.  There was something special about being within a few feet of Mary Morrison’s grave and those of Gavin Hamilton, Holy Willie Fisher, the Armours and of course four Burns weans.  Marc was joined by many folk from the RBWF, many hands making light work.  Marc’s membership drive is now beginning to reap the success of increased public exposure and damned hard work. I would like to record again my thanks to Marc and his dedicated workers for their commitment. Membership is not only Marc’s responsibility, but the responsibility of us all.  I would urge to look around your local areas for opportunities to set up pop up shops at events.  These events do not have to be Burns related, they are opportunities to meet and chat with the general public about our organisation and its aims.  There is no expectation of ‘hard sell’.  Marc has now a large number of pop up banners which were kindly sponsored by our good friends at the Jean Armour Burns Trust. Our aim is to have a banner and membership forms permanently with the area associations to allow this type of event to be facilitated.  It was good to see so many weel kent faces at the Holy Fair. Fauldhouse and Crofthead Burns Club arrived in large numbers in their charabanc on their annual outing.  Reports of excessive drinking and making merry are said to be greatly exaggerated!  All in all it was a great day, perhaps a little Burns light compared with past years, but enjoyable all the same. There may be an opportunity there next year for us to become more involved and participate in some of the performances.  Any suggestions will be greatly received.

On the subject of membership, we still have a fair number of outstanding subscriptions from clubs and individuals.  We, as a charity depend greatly on the financial support from individual members and clubs and associations.  If you have outstanding subs please get in touch with the office as soon as you can.

I started May by rising early to wash my face in the morning dew….!!!  As I have often remarked in the past, Burns is a man for all seasons and May is no different from the point of view of events and commitments.  I make several trips to the office.  Our new premises in John Dickie Street, Kilmarnock are simply superb.  Each time I visit, Margaretann and Bev have the place better organised than the previous visit.  All this on top of their day jobs, with the pressure of National Schools Competitions.  We are indeed lucky to have not only dedicated and highly organised office staff but two particularly charming ladies as well.  There is still much to do to the premises to make it the spectacular experience we wish for members and visitors.  With that in mind, Margaretann and I made a trip to the Custom House in Greenock to visit Greenock Burns Cub visitor and exhibition room.  The Custom House is located in a spectacular setting on the Clyde and has recently been refurbished.  The Mother Club officially opened their room in December.  It certainly has the ‘wow’ factor, something we would like for our own exhibition room.  We are met by President June Forbes and Secretary Margaret Dickson and committee members.  We come away not only impressed but enthused about what might be possible.  It will be a long process but we have mad initial arrangements to meet with potential contractor who specialise in museum and art gallery design. This of course will need to be funded.  More on the project as it starts to unfold!

One of my favourite events in the Burns Calendar is the Coldstream Bridge Ceremony.  I have attended many times as a Howff Club member; there is a close relationship between the two clubs. This was first visit as President.  John ‘Humie’ Elliot is the charismatic and hardworking secretary who makes things happen!  A colourful march led by pipers and flag bearers culminates in the bridge being closed to traffic and a wreath laying taking place on the centre of the bridge.  This was the spot where Burns halted on his Border tour of 1787, dropped to his knee and quoted from the ’Cottar’s Saturday Night’.  A pleasant dram was enjoyed in Henderson Park with Toasts to the Bard and the Coldstream Burns Club.  Thanks to Humie and President David Douglas for a most enjoyable day with Borders hospitality and sunshine!

The Primary National Schools Competition took place in Denny High School.  A most impressive, modern secondary school, it was an ideal setting to host the cream of our young Burns talent.  I had the pleasure of making a few opening remarks and welcome before the nervous but excited youngsters went off to do their best.  Piper Gregor Grierson of Dumfries and Galloway emerged as Junior Young Burnsian.  It has to be said that the talent on display was immense.  The challenge now is keeping these young people engaged in the world of Robert Burns and Scots language.

Our May Board meeting included much discussion about the forthcoming Conference in Irvine in September.  My feeling is that Jane Brown and Bill Nolan will host a Conference the like of which will have never been seen.  There are still places available for Conference, get in touch with the Office if you wish to attend!

The Parliamentary Debate led by MSP Joan McAlpine into the economic value of Robert Burns has received funding approval for a 12 month research project to be carried out by Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University.  Board have had contact with Prof Pittock and will meet in June to discuss ways of involving not only RBWF Board but associations, clubs and members.  This is a unique opportunity to raise our profile and increase our national and international credibility.  More details will be announced on the project after next month’s meeting with Prof Pittock. Exciting times ahead!

I keep constant contact with our friends across the pond and new RBANA President, Ken Montgomery has designed a new eye catching logo for the North American Association.  We will be joined at Conference by Canadians and Americans and indeed people from the world over. You will receive the warmest of welcomes and guid Scots hospitality.