You asked me for something original,I hardly know where to begin,
for there's nothing original in me
except original sin!
I can't find anything by googling Michael.............hope someone can help you.
Gentlemen.As I rise in trepidation to address you this evening my mind goes back to a message I remember reading many years ago. A message posted on the notice board of a wayside pulpit outside a church in my native Belfast. A message displayed with the intention of challenging all those who cared to cast an eye, as they happened to pass by. The words read "What on earth are you doing for heaven's sake” encapsulating a question very much on my mind tonight.
Gentlemen I am fully aware that the importance of being Ernest comes about this evening not through any merit on my part but because the Presidency of Paisley Burns Club follows a strict chronological sequence determined by the date on which one becomes a member. Indeed the only qualification required to make this speech is the ability to stay alive for about fifteen years in the faint hope that a smatter of the erudition of some of your illustrious fellow members may rub off along the way.
With half of the membership of tonight’s top table made up of architects I take comfort and pleasure in remembering that this noble building was designed by the Belfast architect W. H. Lynn who won the right through competition scoring what might be described as an "away win". My friends I fear that this may be a concept totally unfamiliar to those brave souls amongst us who loyally support St. Mirren football club.
The Paisley Burns Club cherishes its traditions. As a consequence, and by way of ensuring variety, each President is expected to bring something from his own discipline and professional calling. This is a daunting challenge to a timorous Ulsterman who spent the first half of his working life as a Fire Loss Adjuster and the second as a Professional Beggar raising funds for charities.
Twenty years ago when I organised the first Burns Supper for Accord Hospice under the tutelage of Tom Gibson and the late Lawrie Morton I little imagined that this would lead to my role here this evening.
In approaching my task of endeavouring to bring something original to you I discovered that the earliest volume in my meagre library, with any pretension to originality, is an old Autograph Book from my boyhood days containing the following entry from an honest uncle:-
“You ask me for something original but I don't know how to begin
For there's nothing original in me except original sin.”
At least we have a starting point as sin was something Burns well understood in theory and in practice illustrating this to great effect in Holy Willie's Prayer.
"But yet, O Lord! confess I must, At times I'm fash'd wi fleshly lust:
An sometimes, too in wardly trust, Vile self gets in;
But Thou remembers we are dust, Defil'd wi sin.”
In Mackay's A - Z, the Complete Word Finder, there are no fewer than 25 references to sin but only one to righteousness. Continuing on this theme I remember that sin had its origins in the garden of Eden that the Bible begins there but eventually ends with Revelations. In truth there is no shortage of material to study about the life and work of Robert Burns. Writing verse is a difficult art as I discovered to my cost in endeavouring to pen a few lines about the task in hand.
"I embarked on a mission, to achieve a suspicion of faint erudition and some recognition,
But the books I have studied, the books I have bought,
the countless opinions in print I have sought;
So many opinions, such differing views, who’s do you follow, which do you choose.
I toiled with the essays of Thomas Carlyle, tho' they hardly encouraged a laugh or a smile,
Biographers differ in pictures they paint some make him a sinner, some paint him a saint.
I struggled with Ramsay and Fergusson too, as their influence on Burns is well known to be true,
I never liked Currie nor thought that MacNaught ever captured the flavour Ian Grimble has brought,
There's much to be said for MacKay and Kinsey and praise for the merit of dear Maurice Lindsay
In the end I discarded these treasures of wealth and decided to read what he'd written himself."
The only book handed down to me by my grandfather is a complete edition of the Poetical Works of Robert Burns.
His name, his address is written inside the front cover R. H. Smyth, 16 Avoca Street, Belfast, 1903, the year rather than the post code. Avoca Street took its name from the Vale of Avoca in Wicklow where two rivers join at the Meeting of the Waters. Steps lead down to an enchanting view and a bust of Thomas Moore, Ireland's national poet. Moore has certain parallels with Robert Burns. He too was a poet, a satirist, a composer and a musician of note. Moore's ten volume collection of Irish Melodies consists of some 130 poems of which many were set to his own music. Burns and Moore shared a love of nature and a fascination for rivers. Moore wrote The Meeting of the Waters and water flows like ink from the pen of Scotland's bard. Ye Banks and Braes and Flow Gently Sweet Afton are but two examples. Both men also shared a fascination for women and these few lines of Moore's might have proved a timely warning for Robert:-
“The time I've lost in wooing.
In watching and pursuing,
The light that lies in woman's eyes,
Has been my heart's undoing.
Though wisdom oft has sought me,
I scorned the lore she brought me,
My only books were woman's looks,
And folly's all they've taught me."
Moore gave us the last Rose of Summer but the love of Burns was like a red, red rose. Similarities there may be and I would argue that the true measure of Burns is best gauged by comparison with other writers both in and beyond his own period but in truth, even I, have to concede that he is more than a match for Moore. Moore is remembered as a national poet. Burns is revered as an international poet of world renown.
My own introduction to the songs of Burns was brought to me on the air waves by that same red, red, rose back in the days of wireless before it became radio. The singer had the fine distinctive tenor voice of Kenneth McKellar who made the song his own. On the 23rd of June of this year this singing son of Paisley celebrates his 80th birthday. The planners of this year's Paisley Choral Festival, to be held at the end of October, will I trust avail themselves of the opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge his anniversary in an appropriate concert of song.
Three men share the credit for bringing us "My Love is like a Red, Red, Rose" Robert Burns, the author, Kenneth McKellar the singer and R A. (Robert Archibald) Smith. Launched in 1821 Smith's song collection "The Scottish Minstrel” included this song set by him to the traditional tune “Low down in the broom" and going on to achieve world wide fame. Many pieces by contemporary lyricists were set by Smith, one of these Motherwell's "Midnight Wind" earned special praise from Thomas Moore. When Burns wrote the song I doubt if he realised that in our time the evocative words of verse three would become a prediction of global warming.
"Till a’ the sea gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear
While the sands o life shall run.”
The music for the Selkirk Grace, beautifully rendered by our septet, before tonight's Dinner was also composed by R.A. Smith. This year marks the 200th anniversary of his appointment as leader of Psalmody in the Abbey Church Paisley where he formed an excellent choir. In 1817 he conducted the first performance of public music in the Abbey and the success of this innovation set a well followed precedent. Smith left Paisley in 1823 on his appointment as musical conductor of St. George's Church Edinburgh and George McPhee succeeded him, .....just a few years later.
Apart from his music we are indebted to Smith in another way. The world's oldest constituted Burns Club was found
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