Celebrating Scots Language

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As today is International Mother Language Day, our blog post explores the history of Scots language to celebrate and promote Scottish linguistic heritage.

Scots is descended from a form of Anglo-Saxon brought to the south-east of present day Scotland by the Angles (Germanic-speaking peoples) around AD 600. The video below, from The University of Edinburgh, illustrates the origins of Scots language.

Like many European countries, early Scots speakers primarily used Latin for official and literary purposes. The earliest surviving written poem in Scots, dated to 1300, is a short lyric on the death of King Alexander III (ruled 1249-1286) which appeared in Andrew Wyntoun’s work entitled The Original Chronicle:

“Qwhen Alexander our kynge was dede, That Scotland lede in lauch and le, Away was sons of alle and brede, Off wyne and wax, of gamyn and gle. Our golde was changit into lede. Crist, borne into virgynyte, Succoure Scotland and ramede, That is stade in perplexitie”.

Yet, the first Scots poem of any length called The Brus by John Barbour was recorded in 1375. Composed under the patronage of Robert II, this poem’s tale follows the actions of Robert the Bruce through the first war of independence.

The History of Scots from the 14th– 18th Century

Between the 14th and 16th century, writing in the vernacular thrived during the reigns of James III (ruled 1460-1488) and James IV (ruled 1488-1513): Scots language truly came into its own. This period’s Scots poets are known as medieval makars or master poets, after William Dunbar’s the Lament for the Makaris, for the great literacy culture that was produced in lowland Scotland. Dunbar was a virtuosic poet with an impressive range, varying from elaborate religious hymns to scurrilous bawdy verse.

Also a makar, King James VI (ruled 1567-1625) laid down a standard writers were expected to follow in his essay on literary theory entitled The Reulis and Cautellis. However, after James VI also became James I of England in 1603, Scots language and makars were no longer supported by the Royal Court. Pre-1603, James VI voiced the differences between English and Scots but now, as ruler of the British Empire, he attempted to Anglicise Scottish society for cultural, linguistic and political union of his kingdoms. Herein, the literary activity of 17th century Scots poets declined as many, like William Drummond of Hawthornden, decided to write in English instead. This change of language was encouraged by the Royal Court alongside the larger and more lucrative English publishing markets. In Scotland, all classes continued to write and speak in Scots but, for publications writers had their texts ‘Englished’.

The Great Scots Poets of the 18th Century

In the 18th century, under the 1707 Treaty of Union, Scotland joined England to form the new state of Great Britain and poets began to utilise an increasingly bilingual literary situation. Poets combined Augustan English poetry with Scots songs, tales and older poems to create a vernacular revival in Scots verse. The work of poets such as Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns demonstrated the popularity and poetic nature of Scots as a literature. These poets, expressing a national identity, produced poems that were, and continue to be, widely read.

Portrait of Allan Ramsay (left) alongside a statue of the poet (right) located in West Princes Street Gardens

Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) was born in Lanarkshire and educated at Crawfordmoor Parish School. Following his mother’s death, Ramsay moved to Edinburgh to study wig-making and eventually opened a shop near Grassmarket. He was an eminent portrait painter and began writing poetry from the early 1700s. In 1721, Ramsay published his first volume as a blend of English language and Scots poems. He abandoned the wig-making trade to become a bookseller, opening a shop near Edinburgh’s Luckenbooths- this also became Britain’s first circulating library. Ramsay’s works, such as Tea-Table Miscellany (1724), The Ever Green (1724) and The Gentle Shepard (1725), laid the foundations for Scot writers like Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns.

Robert Fergusson’s 1772 portrait (right) and the young poet’s statue (left) outside Canongate Kirk on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

Robert Fergusson (1750-1774) was born in Edinburgh’s Old Town to Aberdeenshire parents. He attended St. Andrews University and became infamous for his pranks- for which he came close to expulsion. In 1771, Fergusson anonymously published his first trio of pastorals entitled Morning, Noon and Night. He amassed an exquisite range of about 100 poems, developing existing literary forms and contributing to contemporary debate. Aged 24, Fergusson experienced a fatal blow to his head falling down a flight of stairs, he was deemed ‘insensible’ and transferred to Edinburgh’s Bedlam madhouse where he later died. In 1787, Robert Burns erected a monument at his grave, commemorating Fergusson as ‘Scotia’s Poet’.

A 1786 copy of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Burns’ first book)

Robert Burns called Fergusson “my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in muse”. Clearly inspired by the poet, Burns adopted both Fergusson and Ramsay’s use of Scots words and verse to master his own poetry and advance Scots literature. In doing this, Burns became Scots language’s most recognised voice with poems and songs read and sung worldwide. The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum displays volumes and poems by Fergusson and Ramsay (below), highlighting the similarities to Burns’ work in terms of tone, format, subject matter and, of course, Scots language.

Works by Ramsay and Fergusson from The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

The History of Scots Post-Burns to the Present

In the 19th century, building on the work of Scots poets, novelist began combining English and Scots in their writings. More often, English was used for the main narrative and Scots voiced Scots-speaking characters or short stories.

After this period, the 20th century saw a radical renaissance of Scots poetry, primarily through Hugh MacDiarmid (pen name of Christopher Murray Grieve). MacDiarmid’s work The Scottish Chapbook, reassessed early Scots verse by using words from across different regions. Later, Edinburgh poet Robert Garioch reopened links to the Scots verse MacDiarmid devalued. Garioch, to a greater extent than MacDiarmid, developed a form of Scots united to any particular locality and produced a model that future writers could follow. Other 20th century poets, included Edwin Morgan, and his translation of Vladmir Mayakovsky’s poetry into Scots, as well as Tom Leonard’s Six Glasgow Poems.

Today, Scots language continues to thrive. In communities across Scotland, people use Scots as a language to write and speak. As the 2011 Scottish Census reported, there are 1.5 million speakers of Scots within Scotland, which is around 30% of the population.

So, why not challenge yourself? And join them? To celebrate Scots language and International Mother Language Day, learn a new word or a new phrase or more!

Check out the links below for more ways to learn Scots:

  • On social media, we run a Scots word of the week campaign, encouraging our followers to guess and discuss what they mean. We often get international audiences commenting on the similarities between Scots and various European languages. Check it out on Facebook (@RobertBurnsBirthplaceMuseum) and Twitter (@RobertBurnsNTS).
  • Search our blog for Scots language posts:
  • For Scots on Twitter, take a look at these pages: @lairnscots, @scotslanguage, @ScotsScriever, @tracyanneharvey @rabwilson1 and @TheScotsCafe.
  • Join the Open University’s FREE online Scots language and culture course:
  • Or, check out some of these websites:

Gang oan, gie it an ettle!

An Invitation to Burn’s Banquet and the Celebrations of 1859

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An Invitation to Burn’s Banquet and the Celebrations of 1859

Residing in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, beside a table set for a banquet, lies an invitation to the 1859 Centenary Celebrations held at Edinburgh’s Music Hall. This invitation celebrates the poet, paying homage to the history and memory of Burns throughout not only Scotland but the World. His memory was something James Ballantine hoped to immortalise in his 1859 book entitled Chronicle of the Hundredth Birthday of Robert Burns.

Ballantine was a stained-glass artist and writer from Edinburgh, who also served as Secretary at Edinburgh Music Hall’s Centenary Celebrations. For his chronicle, Ballantine compiled descriptions from 872 celebrations taking place in city halls, corn exchanges, local meeting halls, hotels and private houses on the 25th January 1859. The book accounts the 872 recorded events by providing complete texts of proceedings and entertainment along with comprehensive guest lists of attendees. The latter, most likely, in strict pecking order!

While Ballantine acknowledges his work represented only a “condensation” of the actual number of celebrations that took place on the 25th January 1859, he nevertheless logged 676 events from Scotland, 76 from England, 10 from Ireland, 61 from the United States and 1 from Copenhagen. These written accounts owed thanks to an impressive network of sources, sending information and newspaper clippings from local papers. This network was indeed truly impressive as Ballantine published his work in Edinburgh and London, a mere four months after the January Celebrations.

Left sits James Ballantine alongside Dr George Bell (middle), a commissioner for the Poor Law of 1845. They are joined by the calotype photographer Davis Octavius Hill (right)

Edinburgh Music Hall’s 1859 Centenary Celebrations: A Banquet for Burns

“The Celebration of the hundredth birthday of Robert Burns, on the 25th day of January, in the year 1859, presented a spectacle unprecedented in the history of the world”. – James Ballantine

Throughout Scotland, the Centenary Celebrations of the 25th January 1859 were widely regarded as a holiday. In Edinburgh: shopkeepers closed early afternoon around 2 o’clock; the poet’s Calton Hill Monument was florally decorated with many visiting the memorial to pay homage to Burns; crowds formed across the city; and people proceeded to various centenary festivals. The invitation from the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (image above), showing a bust of Burns surrounded by banners alongside names of his poems, invited guests to Edinburgh Music Hall’s Banquet.

The Music Hall held as Ballantine claims “a great banquet”. Spectators gathered at every door, or promenaded along George Street, to observe the long lines of cabs and carriages arriving for the evening’s celebrations. Inside the Hall, tables were laid for seven hundred people, while the orchestra and galleries were filled by five hundred ladies, who Ballantine notes “took their places at an early hour, and remained till nearly the conclusion of proceedings”. The evening began as the banquet’s Chairman Lord Ardmillan, an Ayrshire man, presided and was accompanied to the platform by several other gentlemen, including James Ballantine.

An extensive list of councillors, lords and other ‘notable’ people attended the event such as Sir W. Dunbar (member of parliament), Bishop Gillis (served Eastern District of Scotland), Mr Hepburn (representative of the Caledonian Society of London), Sir John Richardson of Lancrigg (Arctic navigator, and in his youth a frequent visitor at Burns’ house in Dumfries) and Mr Gray of Preston (as a playmate of his children, knew the poet) among many others. Also attending the event was Miss Burns, granddaughter of the poet. She was accompanied by three daughters of Burns’ friend the late Mr. George Thomson.

The evening’s entertainment involved numerous speeches, toasts alongside various performances of songs and poems. Lord Ardmillan’s opening and lengthy speech attempted to connect the Music Hall Banquet to celebrations occurring across the Country, Nation and World that evening. He claimed, “…But Burns belongs not to Ayrshire alone, but to Scotland; and, in a sense not to Scotland alone but to humanity…”.

Ballantine also partook in the celebrations, reading verses he had composed especially for the occasion. The best-received recitation of the evening came from a Mr Walter Glover, performing Tam O’Shanter. Ballantine’s Chronicle claims this poem as “by far the most popular recitation in the 1859 celebrations”. At 101 years old, Glover, who used to carry packages for Burns between Dumfries and Edinburgh, “ascended the platform to loud cheers”. To the audience’s amazement, Glover recited Tam O’Shanter from end to end in, as Ballantine claimed, “a strong voice and with due emphasis and discretion”.  

Celebrations at The Music Hall continued late until the whole company, standing, hand-in-hand, sang Auld Lang Syne and departed in the early hours into their carriages and cabs. This time without the crowds watching!

Remembering the Centenary Celebrations

Procession in the high street at Dumfries’ Burns Centenary Festival

Across Scotland celebrations occurred from Alloway to Aberdeen, Greenock to Glasgow and Dumfries to Dundee. Up and down the country celebrations took place for our National poet, as we toasted, ate and sang to mark the centenary and memory of Robert Burns. Below is an image of the citizen’s banquet, held at the Corn Exchange at Edinburgh’s Dunedin Hall. Outside Scotland, celebrations were held across the World in the likes of London, Liverpool, Copenhagen, Canada and the United States. The Illustrated London News, of the 29th January 1859, indicted the global quality of celebrations noting “all who speak the English language… united on this remarkable occasion to recognise and to glorify a poet”.

An illustration of the Citizens Banquet at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh’s Dunedin Hall

Across the celebrations, those attended by relatives and friends of Burns offered a link to the poet. For example: William Nichol Burns attended celebrations in Dumfries; Colonel James Glencairn Burns (fourth son of the poet) and Mr Robert Burns Begg (nephew) were invited to Glasgow’s City Hall; and in Ulster, Eliza Burns (daughter of Burns’ eldest son) was presented with an oil painting of her grandfather.

Burns’ belongings also helped form radical connections. For instance: the New York celebration included “[a] piece of bark, elegantly framed, cut from a tree on Burn’s farm… [a] lock of Burns’ hair and an impression of his seal”;  while the Boston celebration presented a haggis specially cooked for the occasion in the cottage Burns was born in, here in Alloway; and London’s Crystal Palace festivities contained locks of Burns’ and Jean Armour’s hair, alongside the poet’s writing table and pages from his account book.

Nevertheless, with or without Burns belongings and relatives, different and countless events took place on the night of the 25th January 1859, to mark a hundred years since the birth of Robert Burns. These Centenary events sought to celebrate and immortalise Burns across not only Scotland but the World. Now, 161 years later the celebrations continue. So, in this month of January, enjoy your Burns’ Suppers and have a thocht aboot the celebrations by that mak-kit our Burns Night traditions.

Bards, Burns an Blether in The Bachelors’

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The Bachelors’ Club in Tarbolton:

It’s owre twa hunner year syne The Bachelors’ Club in Tarbolton saw the young Robert Burns an his cronies speirin aboot the issues o thaur day. It is therefore a braw honour tae gie this historic biggin a heize ainst mair by bein involved in organisin and hostin monthly spoken word an music nichts in the place whaur Robert Burns fordered his poetic genius, charisma an flair fir debate.

The Bachelors’ Club nichts stairtit in March this year eftir Robert Burns Birthplace Museum volunteer Hugh Farrell envisaged the success of sic nichts in sic an inspirational setting.

Hugh Farrell, volunteer at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, in front of the Burns Cottage. (June 2019)

Tuesday the third o September saw the eighth session, an it wis wan we will aye hae mind o. Wullie Dick wis oor compère as folk favoured the company wi a turn.

Oor headliner wis Ciaran McGhee, singer, bard an musician. Ciaran bides an works in Embra an I first shook his haun some twa year syne at New Cumnock Burns Club’s annual Scots verse nicht. The company wis impressed then an agin at the annual “smoker” an at a forder Scots verse nicht. Ciaran traivelled doon tae Ayrshire tae play fir us, despite haen jist duin a 52 show marathon owre the duration o Embra festival.

 Ciaran stertit wi a roarin rendition o “A Man’s a Man for a That”, an we hud a blether aboot hoo this song is as relevant noo, in these days o inequality an political carnage, as it wis twa hunner year syne, a fine example o Burns genius an insicht. Ciaran follaed wi Hamish Imlach’s birsie “Black is the Colour”, the raw emotion gien us aa goosebumps!!  Ciaran also performed Johnny Cash’s cantie “Folsom Prison Blues”, an then Richard Thomson’s classic “Beeswing”, a version sae bonnie it left us hert-sair! Ciaran also performed tracks fae his album “Don’t give up the Day Job”.

Ciaran McGhee jamming. (Photie taken by Robert Neil)

The company wir then entertained by Burns recitals an poetry readins fae a wheen o bards an raconteurs. A big hertie chiel recited “The Holy Fair”, speirin wi the company on hoo excitin this maun hae buin in Burns day, amaist lik today’s “T in the Park”.

We hud “Tam the Bunnet” a hilarious parody o Tam o Shanter an Hugh Farrell telt us aboot the dochters ca’ad Elizabeth born tae Burns by different mithers, Burn’s first born bein “Dear bocht Bess”, her mither servant lass Bess Paton. Later oan cam Elizabeth Park, Anna Park’s dochter, reart by Jean Armour, an thaur wis wee Elizabeth Riddell, Robert an Jean’s youngest dochter wha deid aged jist 3 year auld.  A “Farrell factoid” we learned wis that in Burns day, if a wee lassie wis born within mairrage, she was ca’ad fir her grandmither, if she wis born oot o wedlock she taen her mither’s first name. Hugh recited “A Poet’s Welcome To His Love-Begotten Daughter” fir us, the tender poem Burns scrievit, lamentin his love fir his first born wean, Elizabeth Paton.

We hud spoken word by various bards on sic diverse topics as a hen doo, a sardonic account o an ex girlfriend’s political tendencies, an a couthie poem inspired by a portrait o a mystery wummin sketched by the poets faither. In homage tae Burn’s “Poor Mailie’s Elegy”, we hud a lament in rhyme scrievit in the Scots leid, featurin the poet’s pet hen.

We learned o the poetess Janet Little, born in the same year as Burns, who selt owre fowre hunner copies o the book o her poetry she scrievit. This wummin wis kent as “The Scotch Milkmaid” an wis connected tae Burn’s freen an patron, Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop.

An engraving of Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop held at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

We also learned o hoo Burns wis spurned by Wilhelmina Alexander, “The Bonnie Lass of Ballochmyle” an hoo, eftir her daith, she wis foun tae hae kept a copy o the poem Burns scrievit fir her.

We hud mair hertie music fae Burness, performin Burns an Scottish songs sic as “Ye Jacobites by Name” an a contemporary version o “Auld Lang Syne” wi words added by Eddie Reader tae an auld Hebrew tune.

We hud “Caledonia” an “Ca the Yowes tae the Knowes” sung beautifully by a sonsie Auchinleck lass wha recently performed it at Lapraik festival in Muirkirk (oan Tibby’s Brig nae less!).

The newly appointed female president o Prestwick Burns Club entertained us on her ukelele wi the Burns song “The Gairdner wi his Paiddle” itherwise kent as “When Rosie May Comes in with Flowers”.

At the hinneren wi hud a sing alang tae Seamus Kennedy’s “The Little Fly” on the guitar an Ciaran feenished wi “Ae Fond Kiss”, interrupted by his mammy wha phoned tae see when he wis comin haim tae New Cumnock!

We hud sae muckle talent in The Bachelors’, that we didnae hae time fir a’body to dae a turn, so thaim that didnae will be first up neist time.

A braw photie o the company cheerin. (Photie taken by Robert Neil).

A hertie thanks tae a the crooners, bards an raconteurs an tae a’body in the audience fir gien up thaur time, sharin thaur talent an ken an gien sillar tae The Bachelors’ fund. Sae faur we hae roused £862 which hus been paid intae the account fir the keepin o The Bachelors’ Club.

Hugh Farrell is repeatin history by stertin a debatin group in The Bachelors’ on Monday 11th November, 239 year tae the day syne Burns launched it first time roon. Thaur will be a wee chainge tae the rules hooever, ye dinnae hae tae be a Bachelor an ye dinnae need tae be a man tae tak pairt!!

The Bachelors’ sessions are oan the 1st Tuesday o every month 7pm tae 10.30pm an a’body wi an enthusiasm for Burns is welcome.

Tracy Harvey in front of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. (August 2019)

Scrievit by Tracy Harvey, Resident Scots Scriever fir RBBM

Take Over Day 2019: Museum Objects

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In the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

The poems and stories in this final post were all inspired by objects in our collection. They’re all so creative and different – we hope you love reading them as much as we did!


  1. Bloody Skulls – Rebecca Hannah
  2. Fiddle – Evan Rolfe
  3. The Magic Cups – Douglas Hagen
  4. Book in Space – an Unknown Writer in P6W
  5. Robert Burns!!!!!!! – Charlie Thomson
  6. Robert Burns’ Socks! – Katie
  7. The Midget Burns Book – “Robert Burns”
  8. The Space Book – Ivy
  9. Toaster – Aston Ferguson
  10. What Should I Carve? – Jack St

Bloody Skulls – by Rebecca Hannah (P6CM)

A plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull – dating from 1834.

S – Skulls are the most important part of our body

K – Keeping our brain and everything together

U – Unfortunately for Rabbie his is in a case

L – Locked away but in full view

L – Looked at and viewed.

Fiddle – by Evan Rolfe (P6CM)

When Robert attended dancing lessons in Tarbolton his coach William Gregg played this fiddle while Robert learned the steps.

The fiddle used by Robert Burns’ dance teacher – William Gregg.

Pair of Glasses belonging to Anges McLehose (Clarinda)

The Magic Cups – by Douglas Hagen (P6CM)

Who’s drank them

Who’s drank them with dinner

Where have they been

What have they been used for

Book in Space – by an Unknown Writer (P6W)

After Robert Burns died he became very famous.  An astronaut named Nicholas Patrick thought it would be fun to take a tiny copy of Roberts’s poems with him so that’s what he did. Now Robert Burns’ poems have been in space! Who knows in the year 2036 the book could be on Mars?

‘The Book that Went to Space’ – a small collection of Burns poems and songs which accompanied astronaut Nicholas J M Patrick aboard NASA’s STS 130 Endeavour spacecraft.

Robert Burns!!!!!!! – by Charlie Thomson (P6W)

R – Robert burns is a very famous poem writer.

O – One day an astronaut took a poem book in space.

B – Books are usually bigger than your hand,

E – Even though this book was bigger than your finger,

R – Rockets can’t hold lots of luggage, only some .

T – The tiny book went out of earth…

Robert Burns’ Socks! – by Katie (P6W)

One dark dingy night I was wondering around my local ancient church when I discovered a thick looking sock. I pulled it out from under the pew. And I saw it had the initials RB. The next day I took it the local shop in Alloway to see if anybody new the initials. I handed it over to the cashier and I was surprise to hear that he knew so quickly – he said the initials stood for Robert Burns. That night I decided to investigate more on Robert Burns and I found out that is socks where a size 8 and he is very famous in Alloway – and all over the world. I was shocked that I had such a precious artefact so I decided to hand it in to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and it is now a very famous sock.

Robert Burns’ sock – initialled ‘R.B.’

The Midget Burns Book – by “Robert Burns” (P6W)

Rabbie Burns’ books were just tae long,

The wouldn’t fit inside ma pocket,

But the problem was between you and me,

That was I’m going into space!  

I looked high and low,

Back and forth tryna find that book,

I needed to find a book that was midget,

I needed a midget Burns book!

Until alas,

I found the book!

In a little shop doon the road,

It was small,

It was midget,

It was ma midget Burns book.

I took it on aboard the rocket, and kept it right by me,

I used a magnifying glass to read the tiny text, It read ‘the midget Burns book’

The Space Book – by Ivy (P6W)

One day I was a empty book, then I got picked up by this person called Robert Burns. A few hours later Robert Burns was writing little stories in me, one called Willie Wastle and one called Tae a Moose, there was lots of stories and poems written me. 1000 years later I got put in someone’s pocket and I went up to this land called SPACE. There was lots of planets and stars – it was so cool  then after I was in space I got put in a glass cupboard and lots of schools, laddies and lassies come to look at me now in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Toaster – by Aston Ferguson (P6W)

On the toaster JB was engraved on it because it was a gift that Robert gave to his wife Jean Burns that’s why the initials JB was put onto the toaster. Also on the toaster was 1788 that’s the date they got married. They didn’t actually use it to make toast they put oat cakes in the toaster instead.

A Bannock Toaster gifted to Jean Armour on her Wedding Day to Robert Burns in 1788.

What Should I Carve? – by Jack St (P6W)

Sitting at my desk,

 I don’t know what to carve,

And if I don’t carve something,

I will starve,

I’ll have no money,

I’ll be homeless too,

Wait a second,

I know what to do!

I should carve a poem,

A Robert Burns poem will be great,

And hopefully,

It won’t get hate,

But which one shall I choose,

A dramatic one with not too much banter,

I’ve got it!

Tam o Shanter,

It’s a great idea,

It will be great!

Let’s get to work,

Before it’s too late.

Detail from ‘Maggie’s Mettle’ – one in a series of four wood carvings showing the tale of Tam O Shanter. Carved by Thomas H. Tweedy c.1860. On display in the Museum.

Takeover Day 2019 – Poetry from P6W

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Maybe you already heard, but in the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

Alloway Primary are masters of Acrostic Poems! Read some of the poetic musings of P6W below. And stay tuned for our final instalment – Museum Objects!


  1. Back in the Bar – Findlay Andrew
  2. Burns Bible – Finley
  3. Acrostic Poem – Carter Jackson
  4. Bible – Jack Dillon
  5. Acrostic Poem – Kaiba
  6. Burns – Madeleine
  7. NO!!!!!!! – Alfie
  8. Skull – Paige
  9. Burns – an Unidentified Poet
By Alfie

Back in the Bar – by Findlay Andrew

B– Back in the bar

A– At the old kirk

R– Robert Burns wrote about a

D– Drunk cheating sod

By Finley D

Burns Bible – by Finley D

B– Burns was a poet,

I– Incredible at writing,

B– Beautiful,

L– Loving as a man,

E– Enormous feet.

Acrostic Poem – by Carter Jackson

B– Burns socks are in the Robert burns birthplace museum.

U– Until now Robert burns is celebrated every year in different countries

R– Robert burns was born in Alloway  in 1759 on the 25th January

N– Nannie was the witch who pulled Maggie the horse’s tail off in Tam O’Shanter

By Carter Jackson

S– Souter Johnnie was his drinking partner

Bible – by Jack Dillon

B– Bard of Scotland

I– Incredible he is

B– Burns liked the fiddle

L– Liked a lot of girls

E– Excellent Burns poetry

Acrostic Poem – by Kaiba

B– Book went to space

U– Under the roof of his house he wrote poem’s

R– Rainy days he wrote songs with a quill

N– Never gave up

S– So amazing !

Burns – by Madeleine

By Madeleine

B– Burns was born on the 25th January 1759

U– United Burns was born in Alloway

R– Rainy days Robert Burns wrote his poems 

N– Never gave up

S– Some people read his poems.

NO!!!!!!! – by Alfie

R– Running fae the witches

O– Oot and aboot in toon

B– Back at the bar wae Souter Johnny

E– Even though his wife said NO!

R– Ridiculous amount of alcohol

T– Though his wife said NO!

Skull – by Paige

By Lucy

S– Socks are shown to us in the first area.

K– Kilmarnock version available.

U– Ugly and old socks they were.


L– Loved he was by many hated by few.

L– Like our modern toaster – he has one – not like our toaster at all though.

Burns – by an Unidentified Poet

B– Book went to space.

U– Under the roof of his house he wrote poems.

R– Rainy days he wrote poems with a quill.

N– Never gave up.

S– Sold his books

Takeover Day 2019 – Poetry from P6CM

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Maybe you already heard, but in the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

By Laila and Rebecca

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

Alloway Primary are masters of Acrostic Poems! Read some of the poetic musings of P6CM below. And stay tuned for further instalments – next up: Poetry from P6W!


  1. Book – Zayne Mailk
  2. Brilliant Burns – Ben
  3. Burns Acrostic Poem – David Matemba
  4. Burns – Ross McMorland
  5. Rabbie B – Evan Smillie
  6. Robert Burns – Josh Fraser
  7. Burns – Harrison Rooke
  8. Robert – Robyn Cowe
  9. Tammie – Cara Wilmer
  10. The Birthplace of Burns – Jamie Hislop
  11. The Story of Burns – Cameron Cowan
  12. Burns – Madeline McMorland
  13. Witches and their Fiddle – Laila Buchanan
by Zayne

Book – by Zayne Mailk

B– Bible sitting in a cupboard

O– Original bible store

O– Objects big and small

K– Konsoles were not a thing or phones

By Ben

Brilliant Burns – by Ben

B– Bannock toasted from his wife Jean,

U– Used his skull to see what he was good at,

R- Robert Burns would dance to a fiddle,

N– Never without a girlfriend,

S– Small book went around the world.

Burns Acrostic Poem – by David Matemba

R– Robert had guns to protect him,

O– Oven hot toaster to see,

B– Brides too many to count,

E– Every poem he wrote got more famous each year,

R– Red roses cover a green field,

T– Tube socks to cover his big legs.

By Ross

Burns – by Ross McMorland

B– Bibles were used in his family.

U– Using pistols to protect himself.

R– Red, red, roses on the field.

N– Nancy was Agnes’ nickname.

S– Skull buried away in his grave since 1796.

Rabbie B – by Evan Smillie

R– Roaring bullets shot out his pistols.

A– At the nappy with Tam o Shanter.

B– Bibles were used in his family.

B– Behind his poems he loved to dance.

I– In 1796 he died.

E– Excise man was his other job.

B– Burns was his second name.

Robert Burns – by Josh Fraser

By Josh and Stewart

R– Robert Burns,

O– On Wee Johnie,

B– Bonnie Laddie, Highland Laddie

E– Esteem for Chloris,

R– Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie,

T– Tam O’Shanter,

B– Bonie Jean,

U– Up and warn a’ Willie,

R– Robin shure in Hairst,

N– Nature’s Law,

S– Scots Wha Hae.

By Harrison

Burns – by Harrison Rooke

B– Better famous for poetry,

U– Underground resting in pieces.

R– Rhymes and other styles of wrote he wrote –

N– Now he is world famous.

S– Sometimes he wouldn’t just write poetry and he would do other things.

Robert – by Robyn Cowe

R– Robert Burns learned to dance with a dance instructor with a fiddle.

O– Out of the cottage and in to the street,

B– Boozing at the nappie, Tam must ride, witches and warlocks, Maggie’s mettle.

E– Eating the haggis and drinking the beer,

R– Robert Burns got wine glasses to give to Agnes for a present.

T– They used to believe the bump on your head meant something…

Tammie – by Cara Wilmer

T– Tam is a drunk man on a horse.

A– And he dances with all the lassies.

M– Maggie flies and soars through the gorse.

O– Oh my gosh the witches pulled masses.

S– Sorry poor Maggie lost her tail.

H– Her body is mingin and manky.

A– All the time auld Tammie had to fail.

N– Nasty witches make the tail into a hanky.

T– Terrified Tam shouts in the air

E– Everyone is watching.

R– Rain and thunder starts as Tam is scared.

The Birthplace of Burns – by Jamie Hislop

B– Born in 1759 and died in 1796.

U– Used pistols to protect himself because he was a tax/excise man.

R– Robert Burns had a wife called Jean.

N– Nicolas J.M. Patrick brought a tiny book of Burns to space.

S– Size 8 feet and blue and white socks with his initials on them.

The Story of Burns – by Cameron Cowan

B– Bannock toaster for his wife Jean.

U– Used his skull to make a fake one.

R– Run run said Tam to Meg.

N– Never did he shoot a person with his gun only animals.

S– Small book went round the world hundreds of times.

Burns – by Madeline McMorland

B– Burns Museum, where we go to learn about Robert.

U– Up the road we came this morning.

Laila and Madeline

R– Rabbie! ←Who we learned about and now I’m here writing a poem.

N– Niches and artefacts are a pleasure.

S– Surprise we got to see the skull.

Witches and their Fiddle – Laila Buchanan

F– Foggy night at the Brig O’ Doon.

I– In the dark Robbie sees the witches.

D– Dancing and

D– Drinking round the fire.

L– Logs burning and a glazing sight.

E– End of Meg’s tail’s life.

Takeover Day 2019 – Romantic Musings

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Maybe you already heard, but in the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

These stories and poems are all the tales they came up with within the romance genre. Stay tuned for further instalments – next up: more Poetry!


  1. When Robert Went Out With Too Many Lassies!! – Ellie K
  2. Robert Burns and the Hair – Lucy
  3. Robert’s Lassies – Astrid
  4. The Girls – Amelia
An engraving of Jean Armour, Robert Burns’ widow. Dating from 1826. Part of the Museum collection.

When Robert Went Out With Too Many Lassies!! – by Ellie K (P6W)

When Robert Burns was young he went out with a lot of lassies, when this was happening Robert was cheating on his wife. When a girl asked Robert Burns out he would always say yes. He would say yes because he liked all the girls and thought that they were pretty. One of his girlfriends called Highland Mary gave Robert a piece of her hair and put it in the family bible.

Robert Burns and the Hair – by Lucy (P6W)

H- Hair was given to Robert as a present from Highland Mary to remember her.

A- A strange present to give your boyfriend.

I- It was highland Mary’s hair that she cut of and gave to Robert Burns.

R- Remembering her by the gift.

The Holy Bible belonging to ‘Highland’ Mary Campbell. Contains a lock of her hair. On display in the Museum.
‘The Betrothal of Burns and Highland Mary’ by W. H. Midwood, 1860. On display in the Museum.

Robert’s Lassies – by Astrid (P6W)

L- Loved by many ladies.

A- All around the globe.

S- So many lovely poems.

S- Some written for his many lovers.

I- International acclaim followed by his death.

E- Enjoyable poems he wrote.

S- Sadly died very young.

The Girls – by Amelia (P6W)

Robert Burns had a very romantic love life with so many girls he was with. He never said no to a girl in total he had 9 girlfriends and had 12 children by four women. What a life he had!

Takeover Day 2019 – Horror Stories and Mysterious Tales

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Poster by Evan

Maybe you already heard, but in the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

The scary stories and peculiar poems which follow are all the tales they came up with within the horror and mystery genres. Stay tuned for further instalments – next up: Romance!


  1. A Life of Robert Burns – Chloe Kincaid
  2. 2. A Meaning of a Skull – Lynden Kelly
  3. The Rosamund – Maya McCoard
  4. Pistols Kill! – Hope Struthers
  5. The Case of the Missing Fiddle – Evie Findlay
  6. The Horse’s Tail – Max Smedley
  7. Untitled – Raees Moir
  8. THE WEE RABBIT – Kyle
  9. Untitled (The Fiddle) – Sophia
  10. The Rosamond – Erin Morrow

A Life of Robert Burns – by Chloe Kincaid (P6CM)

Across the fields and far away was Robert Burns out one day. With some fish and bread in one hand and whisky in the other he felt some pressure in his life as it was coming to an end. He got his gun and pulled the trigger as he seen some smugglers run away. Then he knew his wife awaits across the sea. She was alright as she knew he would be home safe and sound.

Illustration by Chloe Kincaid

A Meaning of a Skull – by Lynden Kelly (P6CM)

A plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull, dating from 1834. On display in the Museum.

Shooting arrows in the night…

Krushing souls at the sight…

Under the soil is where they stay at night…

Looking at you till the day…

Like its watching you at night to play…

This is the meaning of a Skull…

The Rosamund – by Maya McCoard (P6CM)

Once on a stormy day, William was walking to his girlfriend’s house when he heard a bang! When someone fell to the ground, he ran to see what was going on, he turned the man over and he had been shot. At the same time a ship left the dock…

At the same time a ship left the dock…

He ran to a cottage warm and dear and knocked on the door. Jean answered the door and said “Can I help you?”

“Yes”, I said, “someone’s been shot dead – can I speak to your husband?” He walked in and saw Robert Burns sitting by the fire writing a poem. “Robert someone has been shot by a pistol and since you’re an excise-man, I thought you could help. I think the Rosamond might be back in business.”

“Well then”, Robert began, “I think we need to catch our killers.” He kissed his wife goodbye. They went in the boat and went on to the Rosamond caught the criminals and the case was closed. Or was it…?

Pistols Kill! – by Hope Struthers (P6CM)

Powering bullets kill someone.

It will hurt.

Sometimes the blood will drip down. Ouch!

Till you die have a good life.

Other times will be good, others bad.

Lives will be lost.

Saving lives is key.

Pistols belonging to Robert Burns, used during his Excise duties. On display in the Museum.

The Case of the Missing Fiddle – by Evie Findlay (P6CM)

The fiddle used by Robert Burns’ dance teacher, William Gregg. On display in the Museum.

It all started when Robert Burns was doing his dance class with his teacher William Gregg who was playing the fiddle along with the dancing. Once Robert had finished he went home and he told Jean (his wife) all about it.

The next day he went back to his dance class and he found William crying. “My fiddle!” he said. “It’s…gone!” William’s fiddle was worth lots of money and it meant a lot to him. “Well I don’t ken what has happened!” said Robert.

Robert walked home and decided to go and talk to the police about it. They said that a criminal must have taken it. It was time to investigate.

He went home and told Jean and his children about it. The next morning he went to William’s house and they both went investigating. Their friend Souter Johnnie was good at helping so they went to his house and he wasn’t in! “Weird that, Johnnie’s always in!” said Robert. They saw some music sheets in his bedroom. “Johnnie, NOOO!!” said William.

They looked around he was definitely not there. They heard music. They left and they headed to the town hall. They peered in and they saw… Souter Johnnie playing the fiddle! “AGHH!” screamed William. “No way!” said Robert.

Afterwards Johnnie was arrested. “I can’t believe you Johnnie!” said Robert.

“I am very ashamed” said Johnnie being taken away. He wasn’t as ashamed as he said he was. He would be back to steal something else valuable…

The Horse’s Tail – by Max Smedley (P6CM)

It was a windy, dark night and Robert Burns and his friend were in a pub drinking. Then they got on their horses and a witch grabbed the horse’s tail and pulled it off and the horse was tailless.

Tam O Shanter over Brig O Doon. Part of the Museum collection.

Untitled – by Raees Moir (P6CM)

It was a dark and stormy night at the farm. Robert Burns was ploughing the field. The next day his friend came over to his house, and went on the tractor.

The End

A Dark and Story Night…

THE WEE RABBIT – by Kyle (P6W)

When a wee fast rabbit was running past Burns Cottage at night it was very dark. Robert could no catch the little rabbit. Rabbie POINTED HIS GUN DOWN TO SHOOT THE LITTLE RABBIT. But the rabbit escaped, so Rabbie did not shoot it.

A Hare on display at the Museum. Photo taken by Alloway Primary pupils Taking Over our Social Media.

Untitled (The Fiddle) – by Sophia (P6W)

Dancing to the fiddle

One dark night when I was locking up the museum I heard a strange noise, it sounded like a fiddle. I crept back into the museum to see if I could find out what it was. I was shocked to see William Gregg playing his fiddle and loads of other people dancing round him. Everyone stopped and turned to face me in surprise. I suddenly realised that they were not people but there were witches and warlocks!! They told me to follow them. They lead me to Alloway Primary School. One by one we climbed and flew over the gates and we continued the party the whole time. Early that morning when the Head Teacher of the school came to open up she was shocked to see that her school had been trashed! Alloway Primary School was shut down – and every night you can still hear the fiddle being played by William Gregg.

The Rosamond – by Erin Morrow (P6W)

Could this be a smugglers ship?

I walk down the cobblestone street, my pistol in one hand and my satchel over my shoulder. Everything is normal, the bustle of the people and the birds chirping in the trees. Then, suddenly, out the corner of my eye, I see a ship. As I get closer I realise that it’s a smugglers ship called The Rosamond. It must be carrying alcohol and all sorts of other things into the country illegally! Once I am right up beside the ship I fire my pistol once. Then a second time, and then a third. Before I know it, the ship, the crew and the alcohol has been seized. At least I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight!

Volunteers Week – Roger Alexander

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For Volunteers Week, we asked our volunteers to write a blog post about their volunteering experience. Here’s Roger Alexander sharing some of his thoughts.

I retired from full time work eleven years ago; having spent the first five of those with The Conservation Volunteers, I came to RBBM just over six years ago as a “Buggy” driver. This involves meeting and greeting visitors, transporting them on the buggy between the Museum and Burns Cottage (or any other places the buggy will reach) and helping with other information and advice where I can.

As with most volunteering, the job rarely stops there. I now find myself helping out from time to time in all sorts of other ways, which I find very rewarding and stimulating, and it helps me feel part of the team.

Driving the buggy allows me to meet a whole range of interesting folk from all four corners of the planet and I am constantly amazed at how well Robert Burns is known even in the smallest and most remote of islands. However, these global travellers offer a wide range of stimulating conversation which is rarely restricted just to the “Bard”.

The Volunteers at RBBM also help run a Garden Shop, situated in the grounds of the museum, which offers a wide variety of goods manufactured by local crafters and is also a shop window for the RBBM itself. However, the main purpose of this venue is to raise funds for the restoration and improvement of the Burns Monument which is just one of the bold and innovative ideas being developed by the management team at RBBM.

One variation on the theme, which I particularly remember, was the great fun we all had on Halloween one year, volunteers and staff together, creating and acting out a costume drama incorporating the Burns Cottage, Poets Path and “Auld Kirk” and providing lots of “bloodthirsty” and scary moments for those visitors brave enough  to come back after dark!

I find volunteering a great way to keep fit and active, meet new people and maintain a standard of life which rarely falters, and you may go a long way before finding a better place to do all this than with the team at RBBM and the beautiful countryside surrounding it.

Volunteers Week: Hugh Farrell

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For Volunteers Week, we asked our volunteers to write a blog post about their volunteering experience. Here’s Hugh Farrell sharing some of his thoughts.

As a lifelong admirer of Robert Burns, a past president of four Burns Clubs and past secretary of a fifth, I volunteered to be a guide as soon as the National Trust came to Alloway. Indeed, wild horses could not have held me back! Confirmation that Robert Burns was the prime mover for my desire to become a volunteer.

To have the opportunity to immerse myself in the history of the Cottage and to find myself walking in the footsteps of the young Robert Burns is wonderful. Another plus is the opportunity to meet people who arrive from all around the world to visit the birthplace of Scotland’s National Bard who remains, in my opinion, The International Bard of Humanity. Then there are the thousands of schoolchildren who visit every year who we seek to inspire but who also inspire their guides. The children are encouraged to recite or sing their “Burns “ party pieces and a great many are really delighted to do so.

I always try to bring Robert Burns’ love of Scotland to the fore and note the light that comes into the eyes of visitors when I quote his poetry, songs or prose.

Communication is of course a two way process and whilst it pleases me to speak of the history of the Cottage, I am also intrigued to hear the tales of the visitors such as the American historian who informed me that Robert Burns was the first National Poet of the USA.

The first known Burns Supper was held in the Cottage in 1801, and continued to be held there until 1809, after which time it was relocated to the Kings Arms Hotel in Ayr. 

The Supper was returned to the Cottage on 25th January 2016 and has now become a fixture on the calendar. It is organised by the volunteers of the Friends of the Museum, with superb support from NTS staff, and is a major fundraiser.

There are many activities to be involved in at RBBM, some for fundraising and some for fun. There are various crafts and activities, and even a chance to scare visitors at Halloween as they are guided through the gardens to the haunted Auld Kirk of Alloway! (They then went on to the Cottage where Doctor Hornbook, a Burns character, was performing an amputation!)

As a volunteer guide, I also take tours of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum where I can expand on the life and times of our Bard as we view the great number of artefacts that are on display.

The question is often posed as to what is my favourite item, or song, or poem. The answer is always “too many to cover in such a short time.” However Robert Burns’ Kilmarnock Edition, where it all began, might be a good starting point.

I have written of the fantastic times that I have with our visitors but there is also so much pleasure in the camaraderie within the volunteer team and between volunteers and NTS staff members who support us in everything we do.

Retirement from the “day job” is the end of an era. Volunteering is the beginning of a better era.