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Robert Burns Lives!
Immortal Memory by Mike Duiguid

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Now comes Wing Commander Mike Duguid, a retired Royal Air Force officer who lives in the heart of Burns Country, to share the Immortal Memory he gave at the 2013 Burns Festival Weekend in Camperdown, Victoria in Australia.

Mike grew up in Kincardineshire in northeast Scotland, the home county of Burns’ father William Burness. After school in Aberdeen he joined the Royal Air Force in 1964 and during a 37-year career as an aeronautical engineer served throughout the United Kingdom. He enjoyed a tour in the United States at Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska and also at Air Combat Command Headquarters in Virginia. He has served in the Falkland Islands and had extended detachments to over twenty countries including Australia and Canada.

Although Mike had a life-long interest in Robert Burns, it was during a posting in Omaha in 1989 that launched his involvement with organizing and speaking at Burns Suppers. He coordinated and chaired several Burns Suppers and St. Andrew’s nights on behalf of the Scottish Society of Nebraska. On returning from America to a post in the Ministry of Defense, he became an active member of the Burns Club of London. He was heavily involved in the club’s Robert Burns bi-centenary celebrations in 1996 and organized a gala dinner in the Café Royal as well as an open-air concert adjacent to the Burns statue in the Embankment Gardens, the very same gardens in which the idea of a worldwide Burns Federation was first floated in 1885.

After retiring from the RAF, Mike became a full-time student and in 2006 he gained an Honours degree in Scottish Studies at Glasgow University. Mike has been President of the Gatehouse of Fleet Burns Club for the last ten years and still enjoys membership in the Burns Club of London. He served as President of the Robert Burns World Federation during the special Year of Homecoming in 2009/10 and remains a Director on the Board of the Federation and also serves as the Convener of the Literature Committee. In addition, he serves as Editor of the Federation’s very popular newsletter.

Mike has been married to his wife Pat for 42 years and they have two sons and two daughters, all married, and six grandchildren. I have enjoyed Mike’s company and his friendship, and I am particularly proud of the work he is doing as Editor of the Federation newsletter which is even more important now that the Burns Chronicle has reverted to a single volume as in the olden and golden days of the Federation. We welcome Mike to the pages of Robert Burns Lives! with hopes he will contribute even more to our website in the future. (FRS: 5.1.14)

Immortal Memory
By Mike Duiguid

Mike Duguid wearing the gold presidential medal of the Robert Burns World Federation

During his last days on earth Robert Burns predicted to his wife Jean that "I'll be more thought of a hundred years after I am dead than I am at present." And he was correct. But what makes him the defining figure of Scottish identity; a cultural icon for whom we have a seemingly endless fascination, even after all these years.

His story becomes even more remarkable when we examine more closely the environment in which he produced his outpouring of literary genius. I choose the word outpouring deliberately because it must have been. From the production of the first edition of his poems in the famous Kilmarnock Edition in 1786 it was only 10 years later that he died in 1796. His output in that very short time was prodigious, especially when we consider he was also a full-time exciseman, a member of a volunteer militia, a tenant farmer, a husband and father of several children. As well as the hundreds of poems, we have around 700 of his letters which have survived and almost 400 songs, probably his greatest legacy.

It is that environment I wish to examine more closely today. There appeared to be oppression on every side. Literary pressure - at a time there was a headlong rush towards writing in English in the newly-formed Union of Britain - yet he wrote primarily in Scots. Cultural pressure in which you were expected to know your place in the hierarchy and tug your forelock accordingly and yet he mixed seamlessly across the whole spectrum of society. Political pressure based on a government fears of revolutionary ideas spreading from America and France yet he wrote stinging political satires. And, finally, religious pressure at a time when the Kirk felt entitled to probe into people’s private lives and bring them to book for their misdemeanors and yet he managed to see beyond those petty restrictions to offer his own understanding of a moral code.

In his famous autobiographical letter to Dr John Moore in 1787 Burns writes that ‘Whim and Fancy, keen sensibility and riotous passions, may still make him zig-zag in his future path of life’. As one of his fine biographer’s Liam McIlvanney says, “It is perhaps the ideal choice of words to highlight the essence of Burns’ life, with its contradictory and very often dramatic twists and turns. Burns’ mind zig-zagged in many ways: between loyalty to the state and republicanism, between social realism and fantasy, and between the life of a dutiful exciseman, chained to the machinery of government, and that of a free-thinking poet unshackled by authority and convention.”

So how can we make sense of the multi-dimensional personage, this Protean Scot, this everyman?

My aim tonight is to examine just three of the many aspects which have helped define his legacy: First is his place within that phenomenon known as the Scottish Enlightenment and especially his response to the prevailing religious, cultural and political oppression; second, his impact on the Scots language and lastly, his influence on the Scottish diaspora.

The atmosphere within which he was writing certainly did not seem to be conducive to someone whose greatest asset was his ability to write spontaneously about whatever caught his imagination at the time. That’s why I particularly like this statue of Burns here in Camperdown because I like to think it is showing him reaching into his pocket to fetch his mobile writing set which he carried everywhere with him. Like a good en plein air painting, it was the immediacy of capturing the moment which gave his poetry its magic. Burns himself wrote of “stringin’ blethers up in rhyme:”

Statue of Robert Burns damaged by vandals

Some rhyme a neebor’s name to lash;
Some rhyme, (vain thought!) for needfu’ cash;
Some rhyme to court the countra clash,
An’ raise a din;
For me, an aim I never fash;
I rhyme for fun

Yet fun is certainly not something normally associated with the image of the dour Presbyterian environment in which Scotland is portrayed.

Burns statue repaired and placed indoors for protection

To understand how such a poet could flourish we have to delve a bit deeper into the backdrop against which he was operating. And the late 18th century really was an extraordinary time in the history of Scotland. I remember when I had just been inaugurated as the President of the Federation I was interviewed by a presenter from BBC radio. His first question was, “What does Burns mean to you?” A perfectly reasonable question. My immediate reaction was I wish I had had a snappy sound bit ready but on reflection I was glad I didn’t. I had to think for a minute and then I came up with what I truly thought. I said that Burns was a prism through whom I looked to reflect on all that was happening at that fascinating period of time in Scotland.

Scotland was the most unlikely epi-centre of an enlightenment movement sweeping Europe in the latter part of the 18th century. From science to philosophy, history to medicine, economics to geology and beyond to numerous other subjects, Scottish thinkers of the 18th Century were redefining our understanding of the world and our place as humans within it.

Why this happened in Scotland is a bit of a conundrum; Scotland seemed a most unlikely seedbed for such an intellectual revolution. As Professor Tom Devine points out, “In the decades before the great creative transformation, it was regarded as a desperately poor country on the outer fringes of the great centers of European civilization, in the grip of a Taliban-like culture of unyielding religious orthodoxy fundamentally opposed to innovative thought.”

And yet in the mid 18th Century, in the height of the European Enlightenment, the renowned French philosopher, Voltaire, wrote “we look towards Scotland for all our standards of civilisation”.

Previous analysts have regarded Calvinism as the emphatic constraint on Enlightenment because of its core intolerance and hatred of diversity and innovation of ideas. However, over the last couple of decades historians have been reappraising this perception. In particular, there has been a realization that although some of the theological baggage of Calvinism was restrictive many of the core messages and institutions associated with Calvinism were still the central driving force.

The Scottish scene was quite different to the anti-clerical, anti-religious Enlightenment movement in France, because, as Devine points out, “running through the Scottish Enlightenment was Christian tradition; indeed, several of the literati of the period were ministers of the Church of Scotland.”

By the 1670s, as a result of the Calvinist revolution of the 16th Century on Scottish schooling, it was the normal thing for a Lowland parish to have a school. This was not primarily intended for intellectual development, but for religious development to ensure the Bible could be read and that lay persons could become trained Elders of the Kirk.

Burns was a beneficiary of that environment but only to a limited extent because his formal education lasted until he was just nine years old. He attended the parish school for only a short time but did benefit from a private education when Burns’ father and four other farmers clubbed together to hire a private tutor John Murdoch. As well as being made familiar with biblical texts, Burns also received a pamphlet on religious instruction written by his father William Burness. Although his father was a stern God-fearing product of an earlier age he was a humane man and relatively moderate in his views. Murdoch spoke of him as being, ‘by far the best of the human race that ever I had the pleasure of being acquainted with.’ He was ambitious for his children and Burns learned a great deal from him although he didn’t always follow his father’s advice. For example, he defied his father’s express instruction about not going to dancing classes. Obviously his father was of the more orthodox Calvinist opinion that dancing was nothing more than a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. And so to be avoided!

The Calvinist Revolution also saw the establishment of Grammar Schools for a talented elite of boys aged 9 to 13. These were extremely well educated boys destined to attend University. This was certainly a factor in explaining why the Scots were so heavily represented in the careers of Empire in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Having read the pamphlet about the number of Scots who were eminent personages in the early settlement of Camperdown, I see this was true of settlers in this area but more generally across Australia with three of the first six governors being of Scottish descent.

Some may be familiar with the apocryphal story of the head of the civil service in the British Raj in India. Someone commented that although he had been there for many years he still retained a strong Scottish accent. His reply was, “Oh it’s because in my position I’m dealing only with the heads of department.”

The Scottish Enlightenment was emphatically lodged in the universities of the country. Scotland had three universities prior to the Reformation in 1560. I like to remind people that at one time Aberdeen had as many universities as the whole of England combined with Marischall College and Kings College vying with Oxford and Cambridge! Many graduates from these universities still went abroad for further training. They were especially influenced by contact with the Low Countries where the Hugenot Protestants had converged after eviction from France. As historian Richard Cher remarks, “The Netherlands provided the model of a small, Protestant nation in which the boundaries separating sacred and profane learning had become almost imperceptible; the study of nature – from natural philosophy to natural law to natural theology – represented a legitimate means of obtaining knowledge about God and the divine order.” In particular there was total commitment to toleration. One of the striking features of the Enlightenment was that people were able to discuss freely critical issues of the day in an atmosphere of freedom from State intervention, State punishment, or hostility or punishment from religious organisations.

This emphasis on education and international contacts resulted in an extraordinary depth and range of intellectual activity across a wide range of subject areas, including medicine, economics, history, science, architecture art and literature, which were all beginning to develop as distinct disciplines. Burns recognizes this broader, international, dimension in his verse letter, his Epistle to William Simpson of Ochiltree, in which he writes “the game was played in many lands.”

That Epistle to Simpson also provides great insight into Burns’ engagement with Enlightenment thinking and shows how well informed he was about the multi-facets of that Enlightenment.

University life revolved around clubs and societies. As Professor Devine notes, “Scotland’s Enlightenment was emphatically convivial and its membership saw no problem with having a great time and partaking in the lubrication that could result in innovative thought!” In that respect Burns was very much in keeping with the prevailing atmosphere. At the age of 21 he started a debating Society in 1780, The Tarbolton Batchelor’s Club and rule 10 gives a clue as to who wrote the rules:

“Every man proper for a member of this Society, must have a frank honest open heart above anything mean or dirty; and must be a professed lover of one or more of the female sex. No haughty, self-conceited person, who looks upon himself as superior to the rest of the Club, and especially no mean-spirited, worldly mortal whose only will is to heap up money, shall upon any pretence whatever be admitted. In short, the proper person for this Society is, a cheerful, honest-hearted lad; who if he has a friend that is true, and a mistress that is kind, and as much wealth as genteelly to make both ends meet – is just as happy as this world can make him.”

The club was a serious debating club with strict rules on attendance and a modest limit on money spent on alcohol. One example of the topics debated shows Burns sensitivity to his station in life - something which would always be to the forefront of his attitude towards the upper classes but how perhaps that difference could be combated – i.e. through education,

“Whether is a young man of the lower ranks of life likeliest to be happy who has got an education, and his mind well informed, or, he who has just the education and information of those around him.”

The following year he joined the Freemasons which promised brotherhood and intellectual equality, one of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment. His fellow Freemasonry Brothers were also generous subscribers for the Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions of his works. Later still in Edinburgh he joined the notorious drinking club the Crochallan Fencibles. So we can say that Burns was literally getting into the spirits of the age.

As well as toleration a second aspect of the Enlightenment was a fierce opposition to accepting authority for its own sake. This attitude stemmed from the Presbyterian idea of a covenant, or contract, between the ruler and the ruled by which the people undertake to render obedience only so long as their ruler governs in the public interest.

This concept of railing against authority was very much a characteristic of Burns’ writing. In his poem The Twa Dogs for example, he lashes out against unscrupulous landlords who subjected tenants to harassment by their ‘estate manager’ the Factor. This was heartfelt and personal for Burns because his father had been threatened with eviction from Lochlea Farm by an officious Factor which had the family all in tears.

In his poem The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer to the Right Honourable, the Scotch Representatives of the House of Commons, Burns expresses his outrage at the imposition of a thumping increase in duty on whisky at the behest of England’s gin-makers.

And, most famously perhaps, he is railing against the authority of the Kirk in his many satires to which I will return in more detail later.

The glories of the Scottish Enlightenment seem to evolve from a society where the seedbed did not seem to promise anything like this degree of intellectual dynamism and the freedom and toleration of human thought. So how had this atmosphere of toleration and desire to challenge authority come about?

Professor Devine explains how things had begun to change in Scotland in the first half of the 18th Century: “Firstly, in terms of the governance of the church, there was a movement towards Moderatism; a movement towards the acceptance of a degree of diversity of opinion. Secondly, the Patronage Act meant that land owners often had the final say in the selection of ministers, often selecting those who were compatible with their more liberal ideals which were then passed on by those ministers in their sermons. Thirdly, many hardliners within the Kirk left the established church, leaving a harmonious form of governance within the Church of Scotland. Finally, following the destruction of the Jacobite threat at Culloden there was a relatively quiet period in Scottish politics which meant the intellectuals could indulge in a greater freedom of argumentative intercourse.”

Burns’ most telling engagement with the Enlightenment would come in his Kirk satires.

He had legendary battles with the ‘Auld Lichts’ of the Kirk and openly challenged the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. In one of his greatest satires Holy Willie’s Prayer he highlights the hypocrisy of one of the ‘chosen’ the elder of the Kirk, Willie Fisher, who has been literally caught with his pants down and he doesn’t like it!

Willie considers himself to be a chosen sample,

I’m here a pillar o’ thy temple
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a’ thy flock.

Yet he admits that he is sometimes fashed with fleshly lust and guilty of fornication yet puts that down to being buffeted by God as a warning about getting a too proud and high opinion of himself. And anyway he was drunk at the time so it doesn’t really count. But for others who dared to criticise him he implores:

But for Thy people’s sake destroy them,
An’ dinna spare!

Burns burning satire condemns both the doctrine and the practice of institutional religion and he refused to accept the orthodox position of the so-called Auld Lichts.

Talking of the Kirk, I am reminded of the story of a group of Scotsmen who went down to Yorkshire with weaving trade and decided to build a kirk. When they had finished on a small corner they painted Scotland for Ever. The new minister complained vehemently, saying it was totally inappropriate for an ecclesiastical building. Suitably contrite, they returned the next day and added, ‘Scotland for ever and ever, amen.’

However, although Burns rants against the Kirk it was not a hollow venting of the spleen and an attack on religion per se. As Liam McIllvaney points out, “It was grounded in an unfolding tradition of Christian reformism. He was hostile not to piety but to the vanity of dogmatism, not to scripture but to theocracy and supported a Calvinistic opposition to formalism.” Calvin’s remark, “wherever there is great ostentation in ceremonies, sincerity of heart is rare indeed’ might almost stand as a paraphrase of these lines from ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’

Compar’d with this, how poor Religion’s pride,
In all the pomp of method, and of art,
When all men display to congregations wide,
Devotion’s ev’ry grace, except the heart!

And as Burns said himself “the hearts aye the part aye that maks us right or wrang.”

To really rub it in he actually suggests what they should be preaching. In his Address to the Unco Guid he writes just the most exquisite and eloquent words about the art of forgiveness – how we should take the plank out of our own eye before criticizing the splinter in someone else’s:

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho’ they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human;
One point must still be greatly dark,
The moving why they do it;
And just as lamely can you mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, ‘tis He alone,
Decidedly can try us:
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance, let’s be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What’s done we partly may compute,
But know not what’s resisted

He showed immense moral courage in taking on, and outwitting, the establishment. He knew the dangers of this, and he had to have all his wits about him to avoid being more severely punished. As a government employee in the Customs and Excise, Burns had a lot to lose and had to be especially careful.

His objective was to prepare the ground on which the rights of ordinary men and women would be built, but he was well aware that it would not be accomplished in his lifetime. So when he says that he would be more thought of in a hundred years than at present I believe he was well aware of the impact his writings would have long after he was gone.


The second aspect of his legacy I want to examine his promotion of the Scots language in the face the intellectual snobbery of the Enlightenment Literati. The first review of his Kilmarnock Edition came out in the Lounger magazine and the reviewer, Henry MacKenzie, apologised for the use of the Scots language in the poems. Other members of the Edinburgh Literati, David Hume, Adam Smith and Hugh Blair were also desperately keen to eliminate ‘Scotticisms’ in their writing and encouraged others to do so. By writing in Scots, Burns was swimming headlong against the cultural tide.

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson best sums up the situation when he says of Burns’s work, it “offers the only example in history of a language made classic through the genius of a single man” It would not be too strong a claim to say that without him the language may well have withered and died.

I remember attending a lecture on Burns by the brilliant Irish poet, Seamus Heaney during the bi-centenary year 1996. I had gone because I wanted to find out if Burns' poetry was considered to be good technically in the opinion of someone like the internationally renowned poet as Heaney. Not someone like TV presenter Jeremy Paxman who described Burns as the “king of sentimental doggerel.” During the lecture Heaney talked about visiting Russia and related the occasion when he was verbally sparring with the Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky asked Heaney what was the best rhyming word for love. Heaney thought for a minute, dove, shove? No said Brodsky, "Diagalev." “OK” said Heaney “what's the best rhyming word for mahogany.” He had Brodsky stumped. “Well” said Heaney,

Paddy furnished his home with the finest mahogany,
And perfumed his hair with eau-de-collogony.

He talked about the effect the poem To a Mouse had on him when he was going through college in Derry. In poetry lessons, the class was conditioned to be on its best verbal behaviour. Quotes like, “Hail to thee blythe spirit” for example, or “Tyger, Tyger burning bright” would be typical. But next came, “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, timorous beastie!” and that, he said, was different. The word “Wee” put its stressed foot down and in one pre-emptive, vocal strike took over the emotional and cultural ground. “Wee” came on strong. It was just suddenly and solidly there in front of you, like a parent or a pillar and there it remains today. He said that was genius at work and use of his native tongue was absolutely key in making that genius.

However I recognize that by writing in Scots Burns created an obstacle for some readers who are unable or, dare I say unwilling, to get to grips with the language. As a consolation there are over 100 poems and songs written completely in English and all his letters are in English except one and they alone are worth reading – he was a brilliant letter writer. However, the authentic voice of Burns appears most vigorously in the poems and songs in Scots and to get to the soul of Burns one needs to at least try to hear and speak the vernacular language.

The feeling of loss we would feel if we lost the Scots language is captured beautifully in the poem Old Tongue by Scottish poet Jackie Kay:

When I was eight, I was forced south.
Not long after, when I opened
my mouth, a strange thing happened.
I lost my Scottish accent.
Words fell off my tongue:

Eedyit, driech, wabbit, crabbit,
Stummer, teuchter, heidbanger,
So you are, so am ur, see you, see ma ma,
Shut yer geggie or I’ll gie ye the malkie!

My own vowels started to stretch like my bones
and I turned my back on Scotland.
Words disappeared in the dead of night,
new words marched in: ghastly, awful,
quite dreadful, scones said like stones,
Pokey hats into ice-cream cones.
Oh, where did all the words go –
My old words, my lost words?
Did you ever feel sad when you lost a word,
Did you ever try and call it back,
Like calling in the sea?
If I could have found my words wandering
I swear I would have taken them in,
swallowed them whole, knocked them back.

Out in the English soil, my old words
buried themselves. It made my mother’s blood boil.
I cried one day with the wrong sound in my mouth
I wanted them back: I wanted my old words back,
My old tongue, my dour soor Scottish tongue,
Sing-songy. I wanted to gie it - laldie!

Burns writings offer a wellspring of Scots words and phrases in our native tongue to which we can keep returning. I see evidence of that at the Burns Federation Schools competition. One thing which resonated with me is how comfortable the children are in their use of the Scots tongue. One can see their delight as they proudly voiced their guttural ‘ochs,’ rolled their ‘Rs’ with gay abandon and relished in the sounds of ‘sleekit beasties,’ ‘trenching gushing entrails’ and ‘ugly, creepin, blastit wonners.’

In giving us such wonderfully evocative poems and songs in Scots, Burns demonstrated the power of the language and provided an invaluable insight into what such a loss would mean to Scotland’s cultural heritage. We owe him a tremendous debt.

Finally then, we’re on the last stretch.


As James Currie, the poet’s early biographer, puts it, Burns’s verse “displays, as it were embalms, the peculiar manners of his country.” Burns provides us with a word portrait of a Scotland in that period of transformation, just before being ravaged by the forces of industrialization, urbanization and emigration. Many emigrant Scots made sense of their dislocation through Burns and his life and works are central to the story of the Scottish diaspora. By packing Burns poems in your emigrant baggage, you were taking the Old Country with you and by celebrating Burns when you reached your destination, you were keeping that connection alive.

I believe fundamental to that celebration was the Burns Supper and that is why I make bold to suggest that the most important poem Burns ever wrote was The Address to the Haggis. It was after all a meal of sheep’s heid and haggis (apparently known as a ‘Duddingston Dinner’) that nine of his friends sat down to in that wee ‘but and ben’ cottage in Alloway in 1801, five years after his death, to commemorate the life and works of the poet.

During the evening the Reverend Hamilton Paul recited the poem. From that time, the haggis, with all its theatrical trappings, has become the centre-piece of the annual celebration to commemorate our national Bard. It helped establish the Burns legend because Burns suppers led to Burns Clubs and eventually a World Federation of clubs and individuals which helped spread the celebration of Burns which continues to this day. And what better example could we have to reinforce my contention than this festival at Camperdown.

Haggis has become Scotland’s national dish and Burns had the pre-eminent role in making it so. In many ways it defines who he was and what he stood for.

It radiates with his sense of humour as this inanimate object ‘wie the sonsie face’ gets elevated to Chieftain status. It can still generate some humour and I’m reminded of the rival butchers in Ballater on Royal Deeside. In the window of one was the elaborate shield declaring ‘By appointment to her majesty the Queen – purveyors of the finest Scottish haggis.’ In the rival’s window he simply put up a sign saying, ‘God save the queen.’

It is the rustic worker who is honoured with the trenching duties, reflecting Burns’s affinity with ordinary folk and his egalitarian leanings.

He reveals his spiritual side when he acknowledges a Supreme Power ‘wha makes mankind his care.’

It takes a swipe at English tripe as well as French ragout and Spanish Olio and elevates Scotland’s dish to Egon Ronay status. Scotland does not want second best that ‘Jaups in Luggies’ but give her the real McCoy, the genuine article, the haggis.

It has to be the Haggis, preferably with neeps and tatties, i.e. turnips and potatoes. Bangers and mash just won’t cut it.

Mind you, I made a bit of an arse of myself once when speaking about bangers and mash to an English RAF colleague, “Ah,” I said, “you have bangers and mash but you don’t have the neeps – all the neeps are in Scotland.” Maybe my teacher was justified when he said to me ‘Aye Duguid you’ve got a good heid on ye,’ before adding cruelly, ‘an’ so has a turnip.’ But I digress.

The Address to the Haggis is an excellent example of the performative nature of Burns’s poetry and its role in creating rituals that establish a sense of community. In other words, it binds us together. It is a poem, above all, in which he expresses his Scottish patriotism.

And perhaps I could round off by suggesting how the emerging cosmopolitan country that is Australia could help in promoting the legacy of the Scottish diaspora. I bring to your attention the sort of thing which is happening in Vancouver where they also have an increasingly diverse population. They have a celebration known as Gung Haggis Fat Choy. It is a mixture of Burns Night and Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. Gung Haggis Fat Choy is a pun on the transliterated words for “Happy New Year” in Mandarin, Gung Hay Fat Choy. It was the brainchild of a fifth-generation Asian-Canadian Todd Wong or Toddish McWong as he calls himself.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy takes many of the features of traditional Burns nights and gives them a non-traditional twist. The "Address to the Haggis" morphs into the "Rap to the Haggis," The "Toast to the Lassies" in 2009 was a rap-poem delivered by a lassie with an all-male chorus. In addition, Asian elements are added, such as a "bamboo clappertale" about Robert Burns and his teacher. Haggis wontons and other delicacies suggest a culinary as well as cultural fusion. Gung Haggis Fat Choy does not stop at mixing together just those of Chinese and Scottish heritage. Rather, its aim is to provide a celebratory venue in which those from all cultures can be comfortable. The 2009 dinner opened, for example, with a blessing from Native Indian elder Larry Grant.

Leith Davis an eminent Burns Scholar at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver sees the Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebration as a "diasporic traversal." In other words,” while it arguably relies on symbolic accoutrements of Scottishness - tartan, bagpipes, haggis, Burns - it presents them in such a way as to divest them of their nostalgic contexts. They become sites which can encourage a regeneration of interest in Scotland by young people of Scottish as well as non-Scottish heritage.”

To conclude. I have tried to highlight the environment, often oppressive, in which Burns wrote and how his works coincided with parallel developments in the wider Scottish Enlightenment movement. I have stressed the importance of his contribution to the continuance of the Scots language and, finally, examined his impact on the Scottish diaspora in carrying Scottish culture to far flung parts of the world.

In his award winning book, The Bard, Robert Crawford sums it up very well when he writes, “after his death in 1796, his poetry was left to go on without him, but remarkably, Burns’ poetry carries so much of its maker with it that it seems to extend a hand to invite, grasp and caress our own.”

Ladies and gentlemen that is one of the key aspects of Burns - he is one of our own. He embraces all of us and speaks like no other writer about the human condition in all its glory but also with all its flaws.

He has given us so much and I ask you all to:

Fill your cups with generous juice,
As generous as your mind.
And drink with me a generous toast,
To the Bard of humankind.


Professor Tom Devine OBE HonMRIA FBA FRSE, University of Edinburgh

The Professor Tom Devine quote on page 3 was taken from a lecture, sponsored by the The Royal Society of Edinburgh, entitled; A Puzzle from Scotland’s Past: Why did the Scottish Enlightenment happen? which I heard him deliver at Lockerbie Academy, Lockerbie on Thursday 25 April 2013.

Liam McIllvaney quote on page 7 is from ‘Burns the Radical - Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland.’ Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 2002, page 161

I obtained permission from Jackie Kay to quote her poem Old Tongue in full.

The quote from Robert Crawford on page 13 is from The Bard - Robert Burns a Biography Jonathon Cape, London, 2009, page 407

The Leith Davis quote on page 13 is from an article in the Association for Scottish Literary Studies magazine The Bottle Imp, Issue 5, entitled A New Perspective on the Scottish Diaspora

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