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Robert Burns

10th January 2017 by Scran | 0 comments


01850104Robert Burns is not only Scotland’s best known poet and songwriter but one of the most widely acclaimed literary figures of all time. He is held in very special affection by millions around the world, with Burns’ suppers taking place on or near his birthday on the 25th January.

Stature

02050042Burns’ stature owes much to the huge range of his songs and poems, some of which are still familiar nearly two hundred and fifty years after his birth. In fact, there would be few English speaking people who do not recognise “Auld Lang Syne” – a staple at New Year celebrations.

His popularity is also linked to his association with a brand of socialism radical for his time and timeless in its understanding of the plight of the common man. Burns would have naturally understood these issues having experienced hardships not untypical for the ordinary man of the eighteenth century.

Birth & Youth

He was born in 1759 in the village of Alloway, in Ayrshire and was the son of a small farmer, Jacobite in sympathies, who had moved from near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. In Scots rural tradition – which Burns himself recognised in “The Man’s the Gowd for A’ that” – and probably because of his father’s support of education, Burns had a fairly extensive education. He attended several schools and was given lessons from his tutor, John Murdoch, who introduced him to Scots and other literature in the English language. The family was never wealthy, living on and scraping a bare living from poor farming land. When Burns’ father died in 1784, he and his younger brother, Gilbert, tried and failed to make a success of farming at Mossgiel, near Mauchline. Also at this time, Burns began what was to be a stormy relationship with Jean Armour whom he left and betrayed many times.

His intensity, bred of hardships, seems to have caused Burns to produce some of his finest literary achievements. With a formal educational background, supplemented by a desire to read great literature and an admiration for the work of Allan Ramsay the elder, and steeped in Scots traditional ballads and legends, Robert Burns began to create his earliest and some of his best loved poems.

Poetry & Fame

In 1785 and 1786 alone, Burns wrote, amongst other works, ‘The Address to a Mouse‘, ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer‘, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night‘ and ‘The Twa Dogs‘ and published his later famous Kilmarnock Edition with the intention of emigrating to Jamaica to seek a better existence. However, the popular response to his book of poems attracted him to Edinburgh to receive the adulation of the polite society of the capital, who became fascinated by the ‘ploughman poet’ and dubbed him “Caledonia’s Bard”. 3,000 copies of his Edinburgh Edition of poems were selling well at this time.

In 1787, he first visited Dumfries and was immediately made an honorary burgess. In 1788, unsure of making a living from the pen, he signed a lease on Ellisland Farm on the banks of the Nith and sought employment as an Exciseman. This was a latter day VAT man and Burns used his income to supplement his farm. His health was variable but during that time, he edited – with James Johnson – the second edition of the ‘Scots Musical Museum’. It was published in 1788 and contained 40 of his own songs. The third volume, which appeared in the following year, had 50 more.

01980173Burns asked Captain Francis Grose who was compiling a book on the antiquities of Scotland to include an illustration of Alloway Kirk. Grose agreed provided the poet would contribute a ‘witch story’ to accompany the drawing. The result was ‘Tam O’Shanter’. The poem was written in a single day on the banks of the Nith and is arguably one of his best works.

After two years, Burns gave up the farm and moved to Dumfries as a full-time Exciseman. During this time, Burns had at least one major affair and sired a daughter whom his own wife agreed to raise. Burns led an erratic lifestyle, being alternately drawn to and repelled by the bourgeois lifestyle. He wrote poems in English instead of his vernacular Scots, and flirted with ‘Clarinda’, Agnes McLehose.

00570461In May 1793 the family moved to a better quality house in Mill Street (now Burns Street). Their standard of living was good and they employed a maid servant. He was now writing songs for a new book ‘A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs’ produced by George Thomson. At the same time, some of his most lasting songs like ‘My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose‘ and others set to traditional airs, which revived the words and tales of ballads, were produced.

Ill Health & Death

The war with France was causing food shortages in Britain. In March 1796 there were serious food riots in Dumfries. Gradually, during the year, Burns’ health became poorer and in April he was unable to continue with his Excise duties. His friend Dr Maxwell mistakenly diagnosed his illness as “flying gout” and prescribed sea bathing as a cure. On the morning of Thursday 21st July he became delirious. His children were brought to see him for a last time and shortly afterwards he lapsed into unconsciousness and died. He was 37 years old.

It was the intention of friends that a biography of Burns should be written as soon as possible and the profits used to aid Mrs Burns. Dr James Currie, a Liverpool physician, who came originally from Annan, was chosen as biographer. The biography, published in 1800, was an immediate success and raised £1400. However, when Dorothy and William Wordsworth visited Dumfries in 1803 they had difficulty in even finding Burns’s grave. So, in 1813 subscriptions were sought. One of the subscribers was the Prince Regent, later George IV. On the 19th September 1815 Burns’ body was exhumed and placed in the new mausoleum. In 1823 the cenotaph on the banks of the Doon at Alloway, Burns’ birthplace, was completed at a cost of £3300. In 1844 a huge festival in his honour was held at Alloway, presided over by the Earl of Eglinton. The centenaries of his birth in 1859 and his death in 1896 saw nationwide celebrations.

Reputation

The cult of Burns rapidly rose. As the ‘National Bard’ he assumed spiritual dimensions, becoming all things to all people – admired as poet, nationalist, democrat, republican, conversationalist, womaniser, drinker, naturalist, folklorist, lyricist, Freemason and atheist to name a few. His humble origins, in particular as the ‘heaven taught ploughman’, have added to the idolatry.

Timeline

1759 January 25 Robert Burns born at Alloway
1781 Works as a flax-dresser in Irvine
1782 Returns to Lochlea after the burning of the Irvine shop
1784 Father dies. Robert moves to Mossgiel. Meets Jean Armour
1785 Birth of Elizabeth, daughter by servant Betty Paton. Writes To a Mouse. Affair with Highland Mary Margaret Campbell.
1786 Kilmarnock Poems published. Re-unites for a time with Jean Armour. Plans emigration to Jamaica. Stays in Edinburgh. Jean remains with family in Mauchline.
1787 Edinburgh Edition of Poems
1788 Ellisland Farm, Dumfries. Commissioned as exciseman. Marries Jean Armour. Writes Auld Lang Syne.
1790 Tam o’ Shanter completed
1791 Jean and Robert move to Dumfries
1792 Accused of political disaffection during revolutionary commotion in Dumfries.
1793 Second Edinburgh edition of Poems
1795 Ill with rheumatic fever
1796 July 21 Burns dies at Dumfries
1796 July 25 Son Maxwell born on day of his funeral

 

Images © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Trustees of Burns Monument & Burns Cottage, Bayley & Ferguson Ltd| Licensor Scran 

New Year & Hogmanay

28th December 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


06712115The celebration of the New Year is one of the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago when the beginning of spring was the logical time to start a new year. The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days.

The Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But it wasn’t until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar that the months became synchronised with the seasons and the sun. The early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread, the early church began aligning its own religious observances with many pagan celebrations. During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Year. However, it remained an important festival linked with mid-winter.

Traditions

05015276Traditions of the season include the making of New Year’s resolutions which dates back to the early Babylonians. Using a baby to signify the new year was begun in Greece around 600 BC. They celebrated their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the god’s rebirth as the spirit of fertility. Luck in the New Year – traditionally, it was thought that one could affect luck throughout the coming year. For that reason, it become common to feast and make merry into the first moment of the new year – hence New Year’s Eve. This feast took place with family and friends.

Scotland & New Year

For many English speaking countries, Scotland has come to represent a focus for New Year with its own particular Hogmanay [New Year’s Eve] and New Year’s Day celebrations which weave pagan and winter themes together. In Scotland, for many years, the official winter holiday was New Year’s Day and not Christmas Day. Over the last fifty years, Christmas has become more equalised in regard. There is a particular vocabulary to a Scottish New Year:09053042

Whisky is seen as an important part of the festival where one sips a dram [a measure of whisky] and proposes toasts to the New Year – maintaining the association with wishing a lucky year.

First Footing is very important in Scotland. This is where the first person to set foot in your house, after the midnight bells chime, should bring luck. It is particularly lucky if that visitor happens to be a tall dark-haired man. First Footers have to be treated generously but also should show their own generosity. All-in-all, it’s a great excuse for a party into the wee sma’ hours [early hours of the next morning].

Gifts should be carried by the first footer. Traditionally, they are expected to carry at least aHawf or half bottle of whisky. You may be invited to “have a wee hawf” – to take a glass of whisky with the first footer. In fact, this is expected – and in return, the first footer will drink from your bottle. First Footers used also to carry a lump of coal with them and this would be thrown on the fire with the wish that lang may yer lum reek [long may your chimney smoke]! One should also carry something to eat and, traditionally Black Bun – a rich cake full of currants and perhaps alcohol – was provided.

Good Spirits & Fellow Feeling are expected. All those who meet after the bells are expected to wish each other a Guid New Year; and to shake hands and kiss if they know each other.

First Footing Rulesimgzoom-image-0749-07491417

  • The first footer brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead.
  • They should be male, tall, dark and handsome.
  • They cannot be doctors, ministers or grave-diggers & cannot have eyebrows that meet in the middle!
  • They should come with drinks and food and should be merrily generous.
  • Such a first footer can claim a kiss from every woman. Woe betide the house that does not have such a First Footer – because they are heading for an unlucky year.

 

Auld Lang Syne

Many sing Auld Lang Syne at New Year – probably best sung at parting. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700s, it was first published in 1796 after Burns’s death. It is old Scottish tune and literally means “old long since,” or simply, “the old times.” It mixes the perennial constants of Scotland at New Year – generosity, sentimentality and reminiscence with those you love and remember. Here are the most commonly sung verses:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,02070078
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

A very Happy New Year to You from Scran

Images © The Scotsman, National Museums Scotland & Scottish Life Archive | Licensor Scran

25th October 2016
by Scran
0 comments

Day of the Dead

The 1st & 2nd November are the Days of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos, the annual festival in Mexico where families remember the dead. It is believed the souls of the departed return to the land of … Continue reading

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2nd August 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

  

108600046For three weeks every August the population of Edinburgh explodes as thousands of performers and their audiences fill the city. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world!

History

In 1947, eight theatre companies came to Edinburgh wanting to perform at The Edinburgh International Festival. The Festival had been formed after the Second World War to celebrate cultural life in Europe. As the eight companies were uninvited they did not get to perform as part of the official Festival, but they performed anyway, finding unusual venues for their shows. Every year after that more and more companies returned to follow their example. In 1948 Scottish playwright and journalist, Robert Kemp said while writing about the Edinburgh International Festival: “Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before”, giving this ever growing festival its name.

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Festival Fringe Society, the box office 1977

The Festival Fringe Society

At first the theatre companies performing at the Fringe managed everything themselves, but in 1951 the University of Edinburgh set up a centre point for performers to eat, sleep and meet. It proved popular. The following year the University set up a box office. However, not all Fringe theatre companies used it. In fact, some of them were very much opposed to the idea. In 1959, a year that saw 19 companies perform, the Festival Fringe Society was set up. It ran a drop-in centre, a box office and published a programme of all Fringe performances. Over the years the society, along with the Festival, has grown in size. It has begun to employ paid staff alongside original volunteer roles. Despite these developments the society has maintained the same principle that anyone can perform at the Fringe.

Variety of Spaces & Performances

05230186

Street Performance, fire eater on the Royal Mile

  • It has always been the policy of the Festival Fringe that anyone can perform. Even after the formation of the Fringe Society no person or group can decide who can or can’t perform at the Festival Fringe. This has led to a huge range of performances from classical to bizarre. There is something for everyone regardless of your tastes.
  • A festival of such a huge size requires a lot of venues to house performances. There are a huge variety of spaces used, theatres, old church halls, courtyards, conference rooms, lecture theatres, school gym halls and even the back of a taxi.
  • In recent years comedy has become the biggest part of the Fringe followed by theatre. The Fringe programme is split into different categories; Comedy, Theatre, Music, Musicals and Opera, Dance and Physical Theatre, Children’s Shows, Exhibitions and Events.

The Royal Mile

With so many shows on at the same time the choice for audiences can be overwhelming. Many performers showcase their acts on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. A pedestrianised section becomes an advertising space where performers can make contact with the public, hand out flyers and publicise their shows. Small stages are set aside for actors to perform extracts of their pieces. This area also attracts Street Performers and huge crowds gather to watch them juggle, perform magic, dance and busk.

09055000

A young Rowan Atkinson gets an award at the Fringe 1979

Famous Performers

The Fringe has helped to launch the careers of many now-famous actors and comedians, and for many is still a favourite performing opportunity. Some of the performers who got their big break at the Fringe include Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Steve Coogan, Christian Slater, Derek Jacobi and Emma Thompson.

Image © Cairns Aitken, The Scotsman, Marius Alexander  Licensor Scran

Saint Patrick’s Day

16th March 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

Saint Patrick is the patron saint credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. People all over the world commemorate him on 17th March.

Who was St Patrick?

06722366

Irish Harp © National Museums Scotland

Patrick (c. AD 387–461) is believed to have come from a wealthy family in Roman Britain who had already converted to Christianity. It is thought that his father and grandfather were prominent Church members. Patrick was kidnapped and taken into slavery, possibly to the west coast of Ireland, when he was sixteen. He remained in Ireland until he was twenty two when God told him in a dream to leave Ireland and go home. Patrick escaped and boarded a ship back to the mainland and joined the Church, studying to be a priest.

By around 432 he was a bishop and was called back to Ireland by God to bring Christianity to the Irish people. He is said to have explained the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to people using a three-leafed shamrock or white clover. This plant and the colour green has been associated with him and Ireland ever since. Legend has it that the reason why there are no snakes in Ireland today is because St Patrick drove them all away, believing them to represent evil. Patrick remained in Ireland for the rest of his life and is believed to have died on 17th March 461.

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Guinness Brewery 1949 © Hulton Getty

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world where people of Irish descent are prominent. It has also become a celebration of Irish culture as well as a day of religious observance and activities include taking part in parades, holding parties, wearing shamrocks, dressing in green and general socialising.

1681 Irish halfpenny of Charles II © Hunterian Museum

Formerly a day of religious observance and quiet celebration in Ireland, St Patrick’s Day has become more of a carnival. The first recorded St Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York, 1762 when Irish soldiers marched through the city and Irish immigrant communities in America also began celebrating their heritage in this way. These customs have spread all over the world, wherever Irish people have settled.

Images © National Museums Scotland & Hulton Getty | Licensor Scran