Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Robert Burns Lives!
You Can Meet Rabbie In Many Unexpected Places! By Clark McGinn

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

Once again and with great pleasure, I welcome the internationally known Robert Burns speaker Clark McGinn to the pages of Robert Burns Lives!. Clark delivers more Immortal Memories in a year than most speakers do in a lifetime. He is a prolific writer of articles for newspapers and various publications and is author of The Ultimate Guide to Being Scottish and The Ultimate Burns Supper Book, as well as the afterword for The Luath Kilmarnock Edition. He rides the speaker circuit for Burns more than anyone I know, and one of the highlights was Clark’s speech in Westminster Abbey during the London Burns Club’s 250th celebration of the birth of Scotland’s bard.

I have long marvelled at the many trips and speeches he makes on behalf of Burns. After an enquiry, I received the following email which tells us just how busy Clark is. Any club or organization would be honored to have him as its speaker, and one day it is my desire to see him speak to my fellow members of the Burns Club of Atlanta in our Burns Cottage. On 4 April 2010 Clark shared the following information with me:

Dear Frank,

I was just doing the math for you and it gave me quite a surprise!

In the last five years I've travelled 105,300 miles (that's 4.2 times round the globe) with 63 speeches in 20 different cities in 11 countries!

Last year, the 250th Anniversary was a busy year but more London based (as president of the Burns Club of London and the London President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers) so my busiest travel year was actually the year before. 2008 saw me literally cross the globe with 19 speeches, New York then London and the UK/Sydney (at the Opera House), Pasadena/Chicago/Washington, DC and Houston, TX, then home to Harrow-on-the Hill!

We're just firming up next year's bookings but it's on course for a dozen.

But the best fun is meeting so many different people and watching them enjoy Robert Burns!

Best wishes

4 April 2010

Google him at Serious Burns + Clark McGinn for a full picture of just how active this Burns ambassador is around the globe and how to obtain his books for your library. (FRS: 4.14.10)

You Can Meet Rabbie In Many Unexpected Places!
By Clark McGinn

Clark McGinn at the Edinburgh Castle
Clark McGinn at the Edinburgh Castle

I was looking at all the various menu cards and invitations that I had collected over this January –and it’s fair to say that during the Burns Supper season, it’s not hard to find one of the iconic pictures of our Poet staring enigmatically from menu cards on every continent. But you might not know that Rabbie’s popularity extends further than that. Over the last two hundred years he’s been commemorated in many other ways than a mug shot on a menu. In fact, after Queen Victoria (and some say Christopher Columbus), Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him than any other non-religious figure. (In the days of their dictatorship, Lenin and Stalin had a good run but they are all rusting in a Russian junk yard now).

So when you are next on your holidays, you might just find a statue of Burns on your travels. For while Scotland boasts 15 monuments to him across our wee country, Canada and Australia tie with seven statues each, with England praising our Scottish national poet six times (including a bust in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poets’ Corner where, many Burnsians say he sits up higher than Willie Shakespeare). New Zealand (where it is claimed that there are more active bagpipers than in the whole of Scotland) boasts four and Ireland has a single statue up in Belfast. In the true spirit of the Auld Alliance there’s even one at the Sorbonne in Paris.

The biggest collection of statues outside Scotland is in a country that took Rabbie close to its heart: America is proud to display memorials ranging from Quincy, Mass across to San Fran and from Barre in the snowy North of Vermont down to the newest and southernmost statue, a life sized bust in Houston Texas which upon unveiling tied the US with Scotland at 15 statues each.

In some incarnations he stands thoughtfully staring into the distance, in others he is inspired and in the process of penning a verse, but my favourites are where you can see Rab the ploughman interrupting a hard day’s toil to look up and inspire us all with a new deathless verse. Perhaps my favourite is in Boston where you can find young Robert tramping through the fields with his faithful collie dog Luath at his heels

The thing I find interesting is that when choosing a sculptor, many of the towns opted for copies of existing statues that they liked. When New York unveiled its blockbuster in 1880 (in Central Park alongside Sir Walter Scott) it was a popular success and within weeks Dundee, Scotland had a copy to be followed over the next few years by London, England and Dunedin, NZ (a town founded by Burns’s nephew!). It depicts Rabbie quite literally larger than life in the midst of writing ‘To Mary In Heaven’ and its 46,000 pounds of bronze remains massively popular today. In fact Scotland’s worst poet, the Dundonian William McGonagall was so moved by the unveiling of Burns’s statue in his own town he wrote his own personal poetic commemoration:

Fellow-citizens, this Statue seems most beautiful to the eye,
Which would cause Kings and Queens for such a one to sigh,
And make them feel envious while passing by
In fear of not getting such a beautiful Statue after they die.

And you can’t say fairer than that! So if you like the look of the centrepiece of Burns Statue Square in Ayr by George Lawson, you go on a round the world trip to see the same statue in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Montreal, a version in Garfield Park, Chicago then across the continent to Vancouver, then pop down to Melbourne and back home to Ayr via Paris!

Of all the memorials, there is a very special one in Georgia. Off a road called Alloway Place in the lovely city of Atlanta there isn’t a representation of the poet – but a life size replica of Burns Cottage! At the great World’s Fair in St Louis held in 1904 one exhibit was a replica cottage which gave a dedicated group of Atlanta Burnsians the great idea of obtaining detailed plans from Alloway and, on land donated by one of the Coca-Cola Company’s founders, this labour of love was undertaken in 1907. The Atlanta Burns Club still meets there - the only difference is that the local fire brigade asked for the thatched roof to be replaced with something a bit less combustible (they have unhappy memories of buildings burning in Atlanta even today). Just imagine how exciting it is to have your Burns Supper in his cottage but 5,000 miles west of Ayr!

That ability to capture a bit of old Scotland and transplant it into another culture can be seen if you jump across the North American continent to Vancouver. Not just to see the statue in Stanley Park (or the one of RB and Highland Mary across the bay in Victoria on Vancouver Island) but to enjoy the fusion that Todd Wong a.k.a. Toddish McWong has created in blending the best of Burns Night and Chinese New Year together in the extraordinary celebration he calls Gung Haggis Fat Choy! This year saw the Year of The Tiger come roaring in with rantin’ rovin’ Robin combining kilts and dragons, bagpipes and traditional Chinese cuisine.

So don’t forget that Robert Burns is an all year round poet – not just for January nights – wherever you visit right around the world you can find something that bit extra and surprising if you are looking to celebrate with Robert Burns!

Clark McGinn speaks and writes on Robert Burns. This year he has proposed the Immortal Memory twelve times including London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Stockholm, Helsinki, Gothenburg and Oslo. His popular books, ‘The Ultimate Burns Supper Book’ and ‘The Ultimate Guide To Being Scottish’ are available on Amazon and in bookshops.

A version of this article was first published on Scotland: The Official Online gateway (

Return to Robert Burns Lives! Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus