Category Archives: Scottish history

Robert Burns – the Scottish Poet

‘Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, first saw the light on this day, the 25th January 1759, in a small cottage by the wayside near the Bridge of Doon, two miles from Ayr.  A wonderful destiny was that of the peasant’s babe born that day – a life of toil, imprudence, poverty, closed in early death, but to be followed by an afflatus of popular admiration and sympathy such as never before nor since attended a literary name in any country.  The strains of Burns touch all hearts.  He has put words together, as scarcely any writer ever did before him.  His name has become a stenograph for a whole system of nation feeling and predilections.’

So wrote the original Chambers Book of Days in 1864.  What can we add to this?  Perhaps the descriptions in the 2004 publications will serve us:-

‘The birthday of Robert Burns (1759-96) on 25 January is celebrated by people of Scottish descent all over the world.  The central attraction of the Burns Night festivities is a traditional Burns Supper of haggis – a dish made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or calf, chopped up with suet, onions and oatmeal – and traditionally boiled in a sheep’s stomach-bag.  It is then served with tatties and neeps – potatoes and mashed swede.

The meal begins with the ‘Selkirk Grace’ and a short rhyme of an unknown author:  Some hae meat and canna eat; And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat`, And sae the Lord be thank it.

The company then stand to ‘receive the haggis’ as it is ceremoniously piped into the room and set down in front of the chief guest, who the recites Burn’s poem of 1786 –    ‘To a Haggis’:-  Fair fa’ your honest, consie face, Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!  Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace as lang’s my arm.

This is, of course, just a touch of the whole event but – unless you have the right credentials – I’m afraid that I cannot tell you anymore!



A New Year begins

Hello all – I hope you have had a good Christmas and that 2018 will deliver everything you wish for – well, quite a lot of what you wish for, we mustn’t be too greedy!

Today is the first day of a New Year – a year that will, one hopes, deliver new work; new challenges – and that long standing beliefs will become truths. As far as my life is concerned many of these beliefs go back to happenings long ago.  Over the past few weeks I have been recalling the past and looking forward to the future.  Often these thoughts caused me to think – ‘was that a real happenings or am I just remembering things?‘

I have always lived and worked in England so – did I really go to Detroit and then on to Toronto in the 1970s at my boss’s request – and money?  Did a different company & boss take me to Las Vegas and San Francisco – and what about my 8 day in Japan for yet another company?  My life has had so many events and changes.

At this time of the year in Britain there are many things that I wish I had done but never have – and never will.  A friend of mine enjoyed one of these wishes and who knows – you may have the chance.   This is the story he told to me:

‘I walked along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on New Year Night to watch the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. I had been told that, for over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street would be lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads.

It looked dangerous but the fireballs were, I was told, very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours but now they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, marched down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

I was told that the ceremony dates from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but that the torch processions go back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and that there is a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

A Queen and her husband don’t quite get what they expected.

It was Tuesday 8th October 1861 and Britain’s Queen Victoria, and Albert her husband, are in Inverness-shire, Scotland and heading for their evening abode. She writes in her diary:

It became cold and windy with occasional rain. At length, and not till a quarter to nine, did we reach the inn of Dalwhinnie – 29 miles from where we had left our ponies – which stands by itself, away from any village.

Here, again (as yesterday), there were a few people assembled, and I thought they knew us; but it seems they did not, and it was only when we arrived that one of the maids recognised me.

She had seen me at Aberdeen and Edinburgh.  We went upstairs: the inn was much larger than at Fettercairn, but not nearly so nice and cheerful; there was a drawing-room and a dining-room; and we had a good-sized bed-room.

Albert had a dressing-room of equal size.  Mary Andrews [a wardrobe-maid] who was very useful and efficient and Lady Churchill’s maid had a room together, every one being in the house; but unfortunately there was hardly anything to eat, and two miserable starved Highland chickens, without any potatoes!  No pudding, and no fun; no little maid [the two there not wishing to come in], nor our two people – who were wet and drying our, and their, things – to wait on us!  It was not a nice supper; and the evening was wet.  As it was late we soon retired to rest.

Mary and Maxted [Lady Churchill’s maid] had been dining below with Grant, Brown, and Stewart [who came, the same as last time, with the maids] in the ‘commercial room’ at the foot of the stairs.  They had only the remains of our two starved chickens!

I wonder what the morrow will bring. 

The Waverley Novels

‘Waverley’ is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott that was published anonymously on Friday 8th July 1814.  It was Scott’s first publication of straight forward prose fiction and is now often regarded as the first historical novel of its kind.  The successful impact of the book led to his later novels being advertised as “by the author of Waverley” and to his following, similar, books being known as ‘The Waverley Novels’.

The stories are based on the Jacobite uprising of 1745 when supporters set about restoring the Stuart dynasty to the throne in the person of Charles Edward Stuart, known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and tell the story of a young English dreamer and soldier, Edward Waverley, who was sent to Scotland that year.

Here is not the place to expand further on the story but, suffice to say, Edward has many ups and downs in his time in the Highlands.  Why not have a look in your local library and find out more about Baron Bradwardine, the beautiful Flora Mac-Ivor, the Battle of Prestonpans and Edward’s meeting with Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.