Traditionally ‘Burns Night Suppers’ are held all over the UK on or around the 25th January to celebrate the life and work of The Bard, Robert Burns. The day is often referred to as Burns Night or Robert Burns Day and falls on the day of his birth; 25th January 1759. 2014 marks the 255th Anniversary of Burns’ birth and the 211th Anniversary of the Burns Night we celebrate today. During his short life, he was prolific in his poetry and writing, and also in his fathering of 14 children with 6 different mothers! While he is well known for his writing, a possibly less well-known and unlikely fact is that he was employed as a Tax Inspector from 1789 until his death in 1796, at only 37 years old. A particularly tragic fact is that his wife gave birth to their last child on the day of his funeral.
Turning to the lighter topic of his writing, some sources attribute a total of 559 poems and songs to him. Among these are the well known:
“Green Grow the Rashes, O”
“A Man’s a Man for A’ That”
“A Red, Red Rose”
These are true song lyrics; i.e. poems written to melodies that define the rhythm. Undoubtedly his most well known work is ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (1788) written in old Scottish language, translating roughly to ‘For Old Times’ Sake’. It’s often referred to as ‘The song that no one knows’ – but almost everyone has sung! It’s probably still ringing in the ears of many of us, following the traditional singing of it at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We are proud to say that the talented artists of The Royal Mint Engraving Team designed the £2 coin issued in 2009 to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of his birth. The coin features the very wording of his most famous work and is still in circulation today. You may have been lucky enough to find one, only 3,253,000 were minted, a relatively low mintage figure.
‘Auld Lang Syne’ also closes the ritual proceedings of many a Burns Night Supper. These suppers usually follow an historic order that includes; ‘Piping in the Guests’ with bagpipes playing, the saying of ‘The Selkirk Grace’ before ‘The Address to the Haggis’ which must be carried out before the feast begins. Following the feast is ‘The Immortal Memory’, a short speech remembering some aspect of Burns’ work. ‘A Toast to the Lassies’ is given by a male guest thanking the women who prepared the meal and nowadays is an often humorous wide-ranging speech about the women. ‘A Toast to the Laddies’ is the humorous rebuttal made by a female guest before the ritual is completed with ‘Works by Burns’ a recital of his work. Whilst the tradition is carried out worldwide, Burns Night Suppers are most common in his native Scotland.
Scotland has a high profile in 2014 with its hosting of the 20th Commonwealth Games in one of its major cities, Glasgow. Again, a Royal Mint coin will record the event, this time on the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games 50p coin. In 1986 the 13th Games were also held in Scotland and were commemorated on the design of a new UK denomination – the £2 coin.
The Referendum on Scottish Independence is also due to be held this year. Ironically, one of the 2014 coin designs is the £5 coin that commemorates the 300th Anniversary of the death of Queen Anne. She became the first monarch of Great Britain following the Act of Union in 1707 that united the kingdom of England and Wales with that of Scotland.
In a further 2014 Scottish connection, the next two designs in the Floral £1 series were announced this year – showing two floral emblems of both Northern Ireland and Scotland. The links go on…
For these reasons, we couldn’t let ‘Burns Night’ pass without writing about one of Scotland’s most famous sons. We hope many of you will enjoy the celebrations involved, whether you are Scottish by birth or inclination!