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Robert Burns Lives!
Visiting Ellisland Farm By Gerry Carruthers

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

Visiting Ellisland Farm
By Gerry Carruthers

The Robert Burns Ellisland Trust is a new, membership-based charity that took control of Ellisland Farm and its assets on 20 April this year. To mark the formation of the new Trust, the Board Secretary, Professor Gerry Carruthers, led an exciting virtual seminar titled “Burns@Ellisland” on Friday, 5 June. Professor Carruthers, who is Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow and one of the world’s leading experts on Burns, discussed new research and answered questions using the online video conferencing platform “Zoom.” Joan McAlpine MSP, Chair of the Robert Burns Ellisland Trust, chaired the event. The seminar can be viewed at:

The seminar looked at Burns’s crucial Nithsdale social relationships and at the writing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Tam o’ Shanter.’ It examined Burns’s mental, physical and imaginative health. As Professor Carruthers explained, “Ellisland speaks deeply to the psyche of Scotland’s national poet and, once we grasp this history, we begin also to realise the potential for Ellisland as a major heritage site for the future.”

Professor Carruthers’ initiative marks a turning point in the long life of Ellisland, built to the poet’s design back in 1788 when he set up home with Jean Armour following their marriage. It remained a working farm and was purchased in 1922 by Mr George Williamson, who bequeathed it “in trust” to promote appreciation of Burns. In the 1990s, The Friends of Ellisland charity formed to support the trust through fundraising and development. The dedication and hard work of The Friends is greatly appreciated by the new board and by everyone who loves Ellisland.

The Vision Statement for new Trust outlines the key ambitions for the future:

“The Robert Burns Ellisland Trust is committed to conserving and promoting the site as one of the most significant locations in the life of Robert Burns. We are ambitious to increase understanding of Ellisland as central to Burns’ artistic development, where he composed Auld Lang Syne and Tam o’ Shanter. We will enhance awareness of its environmental importance as the best place to see the natural world through the poet’s eyes. We will increase appreciation of Ellisland as Robert Burns’s first marital home with Jean Armour and the foundational site for European Romantic song.”

The Trust invites all Burnsians to share in this vision and looks forward to hearing your views and working with you to make it a reality.

Having inherited a very precarious financial situation, the Trust’s first objective is to get the estate on a sound financial footing. This will establish a platform for bringing to fruition their visionary plan for the long-term sustainability of the property, elevating its importance in the Burns story to the level it deserves but has never achieved. There has been an encouraging increase of 25% in membership of the Friends of Ellisland following the seminar but the immediate challenge is to raise sufficient funds to prevent the closure of Ellisland, which just cannot be allowed to happen. The seminar should help dispel any doubts about the importance of the site and also about the determination of the new Trust to raise the profile of the property and secure its short, medium and long-term future.

Donations can be made at or by becoming a "Friend of Ellisland." Details of membership can be found at:

Note from the editor: All of us would do well to send a gift of money to assist with all the expenses above to ensure the farm is well tended and backed with proper monetary support. I urge you to do it now and also down the road when more money will be needed. This is a wonderful project that we all can support. Dig deep!

Fond Memories of an Ellisland visit with son Scott, his wife Denise, and our grandchildren

Ian Bascombe and Stirling Elizabeth Shaw

Susan and I visited Ellisland several times throughout the years, and we always left Scotland wishing our visits could have been longer and had included our son, Scott, his wife Denise and their children Ian and Stirling. Our dream was realized in 2009 when we visited with Les Byers, the farm’s curator at the time. Les welcomed us with open arms and a huge smile of welcome, and from him we learned many interesting and important facts about Burns. Our family visit was the highlight of all our trips to Ellisland, and I will always be grateful for Les’s warm hospitality to our family. He had a way with Ian and Stirling that endeared him to our little ones. Yes, holding the authenticated Burns sword was like magic!

If you are so inclined, it is an easy place to stop off on your way from Glasgow to Dumfries. Susan and I never had difficulty finding a good place to spend one or more nights on our journey, and the same goes for restaurants. The people of the area were simply wonderful to talk with, and we were always welcomed with a smile when we asked for information in the stores or on the streets of Dumfries. It is a visit Susan and I hope to make from time to time in the future before we reach the age of no travel, the Good Lord willing, but it is hard for me to believe any other visit will ever outshine our time there with our little family! Scott, Denise, Ian, Stirling, Susan and I all had a most marvelous time at Ellisland Farm.

(October 7, 2020)

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