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Robert Burns Lives!
James Orr, Poet and Irish Radical

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA

Some books are a bit difficult to read for a variety of reasons, but the publication in today’s review is not in that category. It is most certainly a keeper. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only the story of a radical Irish poet. Robert Burns figures in this book with many references throughout its pages. Author Carol Baraniuk has written an outstanding book on James Orr, Poet and Irish Radical, that is most enjoyable. As the book cover reveals, it concerns “Poetry and Song in the Age of Revolution”.

There are many people in Scotland I have grown close to over the years and “family” seems to be the best word to describe our relationships. Carol is one of those people. I met her years ago while attending a Robert Burns Conference at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies. We sat across from each other in a restaurant close to campus at the end of the day’s conference. As I recall, it was a large table since there were so many of us, and I do remember the restaurant being full of patrons and the conversations and music were very noisy. It was a Saturday night and everyone was evidently celebrating the end of another work week. I do not remember what I had to eat, but I certainly remember my conversation with Carol about all things Scottish. She is a lovely person and it does not take long to get to know her as she is right at home with anyone she meets. She is, by the way, the aunt of Jennifer Orr whose own book was reviewed in these pages sometime back (see Chapter 138 in our index) and I might add that Jennifer has recently published another book that I will review in the near future. Writing must run through the veins of this talented and scholarly family!

I hope you take time to read the brief review of Carol’s book below and find something new about the times in which Burns lived, loved, and wrote as those in Ireland followed his career as much as the people did in his own little town or countryside. There is much more between the Irish writers and Burns than many current Burnsians know. Carol gives us the opportunity to obtain a new perspective on Burns and read what they were writing and saying about him in Ireland. Several of them made trips to his Scottish home to have meetings with him, and some knew his favorite pubs and waited there to converse with him. His Irish contemporaries looked up to him and sought him out for advice which they took back home to share with their fellow writers. These Irish writers have more to offer about Burns than some throughout Scotland, the United States or other countries. This book is worth the journey from page one through 238. Saddle up, hold on and enjoy a good ride. Your time in this book will be well rewarded…it is that good!

James Orr, Poet and Irish Radical
By Dr. Carol Baraniuk

This is the story of James Orr (1770-1816), a preacher man, a fighter, and a poet who once before was nearly forgotten but is remembered today as a top notch Irish poet. Dr. Baraniuk has given us a special book and it always tickles me to find that Robert Burns can turn up in the most unusual places. This is another publication that has proven to also have many references to Robert Burns. Were these Irish poets copying Burns, imitating him, or trying to follow the path of writing Burns chose? John Hewitt wrote regarding the Ulster Scots poets that they “were no more imitators of Burns than Burns himself was of earlier Scottish masters”. Hewitt passed away in 1987 and this has yet to be been refuted, challenged, or proven false as far as I can tell.

I will say again, this is a special book about poets and radicals in Ireland, but along the way we find that it is much more. It is a scholarly book written in a way the man in the street, also known as the common man whom Burns reached out to in his day, should find to his liking in today’s world. Thank Carol for that since she has the talent to write for the scholar and the common man by making her writing easier to comprehend no matter which part of the city, town, village or county you live in, be it Scotland, Ireland, England, Europe or America. We must remember the man himself, Robert Burns, prophesized the extent of his own popularity a hundred years after his death. Carol paints with a broad brush for the majority of her readers to grasp and not just a narrow one for the highly educated.

James Orr’s monument, Templecorran Cemetery, Ballycarry.
Photograph by author Carol Baraniuk

The two big experiences of Orr’s life found him caught up in rebellion and soon after slipping away to America into exile. According to Dr. Baraniuk, the articles about Orr while he was banished to America “tended to focus on his United Irish involvement, his honest character, his concern for the poor, his personal attractiveness, and the regrettable descent into alcoholism which may have brought about his premature death”. I must say that for me the most important thing Carol stresses in no uncertain terms is “this study argues that Orr must not be interpreted as Burns-dependent”. She has proven this point of study to me! Thanks, Carol, dear friend, for the opportunity to review your very special book!

Carol being interviewed for a BBC documentary about Ulster-Scots Literature and Language which aired just over a week ago. The setting is the pub in Ballycarry village - the same one that was there in Orr's lifetime, and where he met regularly with his Masonic Lodge.

If there is a complaint to be made about this book, and let me make it clear that this is in no way the writer’s fault, it belongs to the publisher who chose to use a font that is time consuming to read to say the least. Why? Maybe it was to use fewer pages in the book in order to bring down costs; only they can say. I remember reading as a high school student that an American automobile company eliminated one piece of exterior decoration on one of their cars to save the company $5 per vehicle. That’s not much. Yet they were planning to produce a million cars so you can do the math! Five million dollars is nothing to sneeze about. But do not let this deter you about the book, its subject, and the many things mentioned regarding Burns from an Irish point-of-view. The book has a wealth of Burns and Irish knowledge waiting for you and is one for the Irish and Scottish lovers of the Bard worldwide.
(FRS: Thanksgiving Eve, 11.25.15)

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