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On Sunday, Janaury 25th, people from all over the world will be enjoying a supper of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties and raising a toast of Scotch whisky to the Memory of “Rabbie Burns”.
Burns night is the annual celebration of the life and works of Scotland’s favourite son, poet and lyricist Robbie Burns. Burn’s night suppers began at the end of the 18th century, and were originally held in memoriam by the Bards personal friends and relatives. They are now a regular occurrence in many countries and are attended by millions every year.
Born to a self-educated tenant farmer two miles South of Ayr in 1759, Burns produced over 500 different works during the 37 years he was alive. As a poet he recorded and celebrated many different aspects of Scottish society such as farm life, regional experiences, traditional culture, class culture and distinctions, and religious practice and belief, before finally becoming the national poet of Scotland.
Widely regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, Burn’s work became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish communities around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries and continues to this day while his influence been strong on Scottish literature since his death.
To Mark the 213th anniversary of The Bard’s birth, we have searched our records and newspapers for five surprising Burn’s Night facts……
- According to a 1940 article in the Nottingham Evening Post, the inaugural Burns supper was held on January 29th 1802 to commemorate the poet’s birthday. It was organised by the Greenock Burns club, the first of its kind to be established, and was attended by local admirers of Burns as well as a number of his acquaintances. Despite personal friends of the poet being among the society’s members, the club had actually got the date for the celebration completely wrong. After examining church records from the parish of Ayr the following year, they discovered that they had missed the anniversary of Burn’s birth by four days. Burn’s night suppers have been held on 25 January ever since.
- Burns Clubs now exist throughout the world. They encourage and cherish the memory of Burns, foster a love of his writings and generally encourage an interest in Scots language and literature. Although the Burn’s club established in Greenock in 1801 was the first of its kind, the longest running is probably The Irvine Burns Club. Founded on 2 June 1826, it has met continuously for 188 and it thought to be the world's longest continuously active Club. At least five personal friends of Robbie’s were among the group of local gentleman whose idea it was to form the club, including Dr John Mackenzie, who attended to Burn’s dying father and became the clubs first president.
- It has recently been discovered that Burns has a rather famous descendant. American designer Tommy Hilfiger, who has never set foot in Scotland, is related to the poet through his elderly aunt Rose. Rose’s grandmother was the grand-daughter of Robbie's younger brother, Gilbert, making Hilfiger the bard’s great- great-great-nephew. Gilbert, a farmer and part time poet, was Robbie’s trusted confidant and best friend for many years. He had 6 sons and 5 daughters with his wife, Jean Breckenridge.
- After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure. A statue of Burns in Camperdown, Australia, is thought to be the oldest existing statue of the poet anywhere in the world. Newspaper reports show that the sculpture, carved by John Greenshields in 1826, was shipped to Australia in the 1850s.
- During his brief 37 years of life, Burns fathered no less than 12 children with four different women. His first child, Elizabeth Paton Burns, was born in 1785 to his mother's servant while he was embarking on a relationship with his future wife, Jean Armour. Armour became pregnant with twins in March 1786 and records show that the couple registered their marriage in 1888. Birth records also show that Burn’s youngest child, Maxwell, was born on the day of his father’s funeral. Through his twelve children, Burns has over 600 living descendants as of 2012.
To learn more about the life of Burns and his family, explore our collection of UK birth marriage and death records as well as our collection of historic British Newspapers. A particularly detailed obituary published in the Hampshire Chronicle on August 6th 1796 can be found here: