The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain For promis’d joy.
There are lots of benefits to being married to a Scottish person. They share a deep sense of humour and will not say no to any type of adventure. While they are fiercely independent they are also very happy to, in the words of Gerard Butler in 300 – ‘share their culture’ with others…
Auld Lang Syne, Tam O Shanter, The Cutty Sark, Haggis, Burn’s Suppers, Scots Wha Hae.New Year’s Eve has become Hogmanay and I now celebrate the 25th of January like it was MY birthday. I also use the word ‘Och’ quite a lot too.
A lot of this culture was created by one man – Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns. Scotland’s national poet and pioneer of the Romantic movement.
After 11 years of missed opportunities, and during our last visit back to Scotland I decided to put my foot down and go on a pilgrimage to Alloway and the birthplace of this man.
When in Ayr
It was a short drive down the road to Alloway and the birthplace of Robert Burns. His first home, a simple two roomed clay and thatch cottage that was built by his father William Burness two years prior to his birth in 1759. Today it forms part of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and we would spend that rainy day exploring it.
The rain was turning up a notch when we paid for our tickets at the kiosk next to the cottage. Two of the Trump family were visiting the nearby Turnberry Resort and we asked had they visited yet. Taking our jest as a serious question the ticket master answered in the negative. Shame. I am sure they could maybe learn one or two things from the ‘Ploughman Poet’ himself.
While I have never seen the cottage before or walked on the hallowed ground around – it was instantly recognisable. Karen’s grandfather Billy was a bit of a handy man and as well as a number of wooden doll’s houses he also made an amazing replica of Burn’s Cottage. The only difference now being that I would be able to work through that intimate portal.
Inside the cottage was simply arranged representing a true reflection of where Burns and his family lived and ate meals alongside farm animals before the crackling fireplace. The walls are adorned with phrases from his works. Words like ‘crambo-jingle’, ‘spunkie’ and ‘will o’ wisp’.
At age 7 the Bard and his family moved to a farm south of Alloway and the cottage spent the next 120 years moonlighting as a private residence and a pub before being taken over and restored by the Alloway Burns Monument Trust in 1881.
Normally the rest is history but in 1914 the Cottage became the target of the Suffragettes who attempted to fire and burn the building. The goal being maximum publicity during a visit by King George V.
Oft laid plans…
While we were in the cottage the rain went full ‘Irish Summer’ on us and we scuppered our plan to walk around the gardens and headed straight to the Interactive Center. If the cottage was the appetizer then this would be the main course and two desserts.
It started with a timeline of the major events of his life and a number of quotes on the wall before delving into the story of the myth behind the legend. It must be noted that Burns inhabited a time of a great awakening in Scotland. The Jacobite Rising and the Battle of Culloden were recent memories and thanks to the Highland clearances Scotland’s diaspora exploded almost overnight. It was a new time for Scotland.
Burns was a labourer as a teenager, a Masonic Lodge member by his 22nd birthday and then balanced slowly becoming Scotland’s National Poet with a personal life full of lovers and fathering children with them. A life that took him all over Ayrshire and Edinburgh (and almost Jamaica).
But the man is one thing and his work another with the second part of the museum was dedicated to that. What inspired him and what he inspired. A number of interactive segments broke up the usual Exhibit to Exhibit experience and Karen found delight with the Burns Jukebox!
One of the highlights was the chair. Made with wood from the Kilmarnock Printing Press that published Burn’s First Edition poems. Not the chair itself but the photo that sits over it. During a visit in Muhammad Ali steps over the ropes (he was used to that) and sat on it. He then proceeded to wax lyrically about the bard…
I’d heard of a man named Burns – supposed to be a poet – but, if he was, how come I didn’t know it? They told me his work was very, very neat so I replied: ‘But who did he ever beat?
One of those amazing stories.
This was one of those amazing set-ups where they are able to take the essence of a person’s life and fill a hall and not lose any of the magic. The centre is well worth visiting when in Ayr and while the rain conspired against us this time we will need to come back to visit the outdoor component – the Monument and gardens designed by Sir Thomas Hamilton (might be a familiar connection there) and the walkway between the centre and the cottage.
Beyond that I intend to learn a bit more about Robert Burns and his works. We don’t learn about him in Ireland.Our English syllabus is already full what with Frank O’Connor, James Joyce, Seamus Heaney and William Shakespeare. For now I leave you with one of his best quotes (imho) from his poem Man was made to Mourn: A Dirge
Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!