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  • Rosemary Gemmell

Burns Night

Monday 25th January is Burns Night, an event that is celebrated all over the world, although this year it will be virtual Burns Suppers. Our national bard is one of the characters in the historical chapters of The Highland Lass. It's more about Highland Mary's story, but Robert Burns does of course figure in it since he was Mary Campbell's great love.

I’m a fan of his poems and songs, finding so much wisdom about human nature in them. As well as being a farmer and poet, Burns was also a popular figure of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, perfectly at home in the salons of Edinburgh in the second half of the eighteenth century.


When the crops on his farm failed, he also became an Exciseman in 1789, or a 'poor damn’d rascally gager', as he called himself. He had mixed feelings about such an unpopular post but needed a paying job, though it didn't stop him writing a song called The Deil's awa wi' the Exciseman. Here's a sample mentioning some of the popular dances of the time:


“There’s threesome reels, there’s foursome reels,

There’s hornpipes and strathspeys, man,

But the ae best dance that cam’ tae the land

Was the de’ils awa’ wi’ the Exciseman.”

My previously published article, A Poor Damn'd Rascally Gager, is included in my non-fiction collection: Scotland People and Places.

It's remarkable to think that this humble farmer poet from Ayrshire is not only remembered in Scotland but is celebrated so well in other countries. I suspect that those who claim Scots ancestry probably make more of Burns Night than many of us do at home!


We might not all like haggis, although it's quite tasty with mashed potatoes and turnip, but I'm sure many a person will be willing to raise a wee dram to the poet's memory on Burns Night. And if you do happen to attend an online Burns Supper, you'll no doubt hear the Address to the Haggis, after it's brought to the table on a silver platter accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes. It begins:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye worthy o' a grace

As lang's my arm.


Slàinte Mhath! Good health!

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