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An Ode to Robert Burns

The stunning new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is as engaging, complex and creative
as the bard himself.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

'Twas then a blast o' Janwar win'
Blew Hansel in on Robin...

Thus Robert Burns, in his song Rantin' Rovin' Robin, recalled his birth at Alloway, Ayrshire, on January 25, 1759, referring to the fact that a few days after the event, a gale blew down the gable end of the family’s humble cottage, the "auld clay biggin" that the poet's hard-working father, William Burnes, had built himself.

If the perfidious west of Scotland weather battered the poet's earliest days, it also, ironically enough, had a hand in the creation of the state-of-the-art, £21 million Robert Burns Birthplace Museum which opened at the Ayrshire village in December. Looked after since 1814 by a small trust, the thatched cottage where Burns was born was badly in need of maintenance and weatherproofing, as was a modest museum building adjoining it. During the countdown to 2009’s Year of Homecoming, the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth, a national scandal erupted when it was reported that irreplaceable manuscripts and memorabilia were at risk as damp and inappropriate lighting took their toll, and Burns's father's Bible was damaged by rainwater leaking through the museum roof.

The resulting outcry from politicians, scholars and Burns enthusiasts helped focus attention on this most iconic of sites associated with the bard, agrees Nat Edwards, director of the new museum, which, with the surrounding former Burns Heritage Park, is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. "Although," he adds, "there were lots of factors, I think the incident helped focus everyone’s attention on the needs of the collection and what the consequences would be if we didn’t invest."

The full text of this article is available in the SUMMER 2011 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Cruising Loch Shiel by Terry Williams.

Click here to preview our feature article on Bagpipes Galore! by Candace Leslie.

Click here to preview our column on Scotland In Books by Hamish Coghill.

Click here to preview our column Scotland In Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.

Photo: © Wattie Cheung Photography