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Heritage and Culture

Robert Burns: the Scottish Bard

Robert Burns: the Scottish Bard
By Kirsty McIntyre

We all know the famous poems - Auld Lang Syne, A Red, Red Rose, A Man's A Man for A' That. But how much do you know about the man who penned them?

Robert Burns was born in 1759 in the Ayrshire town of Alloway, the eldest of seven children. The son of a tenant farmer, he took up work on the family farm from a young age. Burns wrote his first poem at the age of fifteen when he met harvest worker Nelly Kilpatrick - a love poem entitled O, Once I Lov'd a Bonnie Lass.

The hard physical labour of farm work did not agree with Burns, and he became heavily involved in his other interests: poetry and women. He married Jean Armour, the "Belle of Mauchline", in 1788, and despite spending periods estranged they remained married until Burns' death in 1796. The couple had nine children together, only three of which survived beyond infancy.

Jean Armour's Statue, Dumfries

Burns was a versatile writer - although many of his most famous poems were written in the Scots language, he also wrote in English. Many of his political writings were written in either English, so as to make them more accessible to a wider audience. He spent much of his late twenties and thirties in Edinburgh, where he began to gain a reputation as the "Ploughman's Poet" due to the focus of his work on pastoral and romantic themes. He gained great success through his writing during his years in the city, and had a number of relationships with women, fathering several children.


In his later years Burns moved to Dumfries and reunited with his wife. He took up work as an Excise Officer and wrote several of his most famous songs, including Auld Lang Syne and A Red, Red Rose. His lifestyle and years of farm work eventually took their toll, and he died in 1796 aged 37. He was survived by Jean Armour and twelve children - the youngest of which, Maxwell, was born on the day Burns was buried.

Burns' legacy lives on, over 200 years after his death. In 2009 he was voted the greatest Scot in history in a poll run by the television company STV. Auld Lang Syne is sung at New Years Eve or Hogmanay celebrations around the world. As of 2012, there were over 600 living descendants of Robert Burns through his twelve children.

January 25th is celebrated annually as Burns Night, a chance to gather and celebrate the life and legacy of Scotland's national bard. Every year his birthday is marked around the world with "Burns Suppers", where his poems and songs are recited and celebrated, and the immortal memory of Robert Burns endures.


Ron Cunningham 1 month ago at 19:56
Members of the St. Andrew's Society of Detroit will unveil a 7' X 9' restored painting of Robert Burns at the Plow painted by member, Robert Hopkin in 1905 at their Burns Night on January 26. Mr Hopkin was born in Glasgow and was well'known for his seascapes and commercial works in the late 1900s. He painted over 300 works.
Kirsty McIntyre 29 days ago at 11:14
Thanks for the info Ron! It sounds like a great way to celebrate Burns. Have a good evening!