Scots Mark 250 Years Since National Poet Burns’ Birth


With whisky, haggis and poetry, Scots around the world, including here in Bali, celebrated the 250th anniversary Sunday of the birth of national bard Robert Burns, whose works include Auld Lang Syne.

From Scotland to the United States, China and even Afghanistan, millions who claim Scots ancestry worldwide enjoyed a traditional Burns supper of haggis – sheep’s heart and lungs chopped up with spices and oatmeal and stuffed into a sheep’s stomach – plus “neeps” (turnips) and “tatties” (potatoes).

Devoted “Rabbie” fans traditionally recite his Address To A Haggis, which hails the “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race,” before tucking into their meal.

Thousands of people joined celebrations across Scotland, including a church service at Glasgow cathedral in Scotland’s biggest city, and a running 15-minute light and sound show of his life projected onto Glasgow City Hall.

Some 10,000 people turned up at an evening lantern procession in Dumfries, the town where the poet died in 1796, for the burning of an effigy of Tam O’Shanter, arguably his most famous literary creation,

The bard’s birthday is celebrated in countries including the US, Canada, Australia, China, Hong Kong and Japan, according to national tourism body VisitScotland, which runs a website monitoring them.

More than 3,000 Burns supper events were registered in locations as diverse as Moscow or Malawi in southern Africa, while the Ministry of Defence said a group of British troops celebrated at their base in southern Afghanistan.

About 50 members of 3 Command Brigade, police and civilians ate a specially made haggis and recited Burns poetry at their headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province.

“Despite the lack of whisky, it has been a fabulous evening,” said Colour Sergeant Scottie Lamont, who is from Dumfries.

Born to a humble farming family on January 25, 1759, Burns died aged just 37, but his often bawdy verse, written in Scots dialect, is peppered with references to drinking, womanizing and good times.

He is perhaps best known for Auld Lang Syne, the words of which are sung by millions around the world each New Year’s Eve.

Sunday also saw the launch of a major tourism drive by the devolved Scottish government, which wants full independence from London starting with a referendum on Scotland’s national day, November 30, in 2010.

Encouraging those with Scottish roots to come back and visit, the Edinburgh government wants to attract at least an extra 100,000 tourists to Scotland this year, generating an extra £40 million (US$54.3 million).

Burns’s hometown of Alloway in Ayrshire, southwest Scotland, opened at the weekend a nationwide program of poetry readings, music and dance to celebrate his life, and hosted a Burns supper attended by First Minister Alex Salmond.

Salmond, whose pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) took power in Edinburgh in 2007, described Burns as “Scotland’s human being of the millennium.”

Fans of the poet set up a website in a bid to break the world record for the largest simultaneous toast, hoping that hundreds of thousands would raise their glasses to “the immortal memory of Robert Burns” on Sunday night.

Burns’ face also adorns a set of British postage stamps commemorating the anniversary, with one featuring the words of one of his best-known poems, A Man’s A Man For A’ That.

The poem, written in 1795, became an anthem of the slavery abolitionists and was also sung at the opening of the Scottish parliament in 1999.

“Around the world, people are proud of Robert Burns,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, himself a Scot and a fan of Burns’ writings.

“I think the whole world has a right to celebrate the achievement of one of the great poets of all time.”

Prince Charles has joined Salmond in reading poems for the country’s Burns archive.

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