On January 25, Scots (and Burns fans throughout the world) celebrate the birthday, life and works of Robert Burns. Why? Historian Ashley Cowie has delved into the life of the bard, to look at how he became a global legend.
He explained: “The reason we celebrate Burns more so than the other British poets is he spoke in language, these other great poets didn’t. He was speaking using the terminology and the words of the common person, which appealed to the educated man as much as the common, therefore we see he is celebrated by the masses more so than the other great poets that were UK-bred.”
When Burns - who was voted STV’s Greatest Scot out of 35 nominees - died in 1796, aged just 37, he had already become incredibly famous, and those closest to him decided to mark his life with a feast.
Ashley continued: “When he died in 1796, his group of friends and the people who knew him best all started not celebrating the death but commemorating his death. But about 1802, this was formalised by organisations of Burns clubs around Scotland, who thought it would be a better idea to celebrate the life of rather than remember the death of (him). And that’s a very traditional Scottish way of looking at things, it extends all the way through to our funeral, it’s as much a celebration as it’s a commemoration.”
By 1885 there were 50 Burns clubs around Scotland. To this day, people still gather on January 25, the day that Burns was born, to mark his life by holding Burns Suppers, feasting on haggis, neeps and tatties, and making various addresses, including one of the most famous, the Toast to the Lasses.
And lasses were of particular interest to old Rabbie… a notorious womaniser, he fathered 12 children by various different women, with his behaviour so shocking during the time that Alloway Parish Church banished him!
Burns sounds a lot like some of the more infamous ‘celebrities’ we see splashed across the tabloid papers on a daily basis. Had he been alive today, he would surely have been a candidate for Celebrity Big Brother?
“What’s really interesting about Burns I find, is a lot of the people who support him today, if he was alive today, they would absolutely write him off and push him to the side. Because he was politically offensive, he was quite crude when he used his terminology, and even when he became famous in the latter days of his life and he moved in the aristocratic circles in Edinburgh, he was sort of admired, but he was admired because of his distinction and distinctive ways, and not being scared to say what he thought,” Ashley explained.
MORE ON RABBIE
- Burns supper recipe
- How to host the perfect Burns supper
Full day of events to mark the bard's birthday