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Weekly Snippets from Scotland

Scottish American Society

Bits and pieces of information gleaned from Scottish Sites and History


Producer David Gest, once married to Liza Minnelli, has pulled out of the world premiere of a new musical dedicated to the life of Robert Burns.

 “Robert Burns The Musical”, which puts a modern spin on the Bard’s life, is due to have its premiere at the Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen, on Burn’s Night (January 25). Mr. Gest was due to appear in the show, in a small cameo role as Tam O’ Shanter. However, due to conflicting commitments, he will now be unable to appear in the show.

The musical rooted in the north-east is being performed by Lossiemouth-based Rock Academy..”

Robert Burns was harassed on his death bed by a tailor who insisted on payment for a military uniform, forcing the poet to beg friends to pay the bill rather than leave his ­family in debt according to a new book.

Scotland’s national bard had reluctantly joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers in 1795 after war had broken out between Britain and France in order to secure his job as an excise man and camouflage his radical political views, which at the time could have led to imprisonment or transportation to Australia.

The position did not pay but each member was still ­required to be kitted out in a fancy uniform which consisted of a blue coat, with red cape and cuffs with gilt buttons on which was engraved the letters “R.D.V”. Unable to pay for the uniform Burns was provided the clothes on credit but when the tailor, David Williamson, learned in July 1796 that the poet was dying he quickly presented him with the bill. The new book In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s War, 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow reports: “Burns flew into a rage, humiliated at having to beg the sum from friends.”

The book also revealed the national bard’s last wishes were ignored. Burns had asked that the Dumfries Volunteers not fire over his grave as was tradition. He said: “don’t let the aukward squad fire over me?” Yet on 25 July 1796 ­soldiers in uniform lined the streets and three volleys were fired over his coffin.

Yesterday Uglow explained: “Burns joined because he needed to look patriotic, and stand alongside the authorities in the town, to be sure of keeping his job – there was much hostility towards radicals in the early 1790s, with a fierce crackdown on anyone who spoke out against the government. But he kept his radical views in private, as we can see from his poems.

“He didn’t want the ‘aukward squad’ to fire over his grave, largely because he had just had a row over the payment for his expensive volunteer uniform. But also, perhaps, he didn’t want to support the authorities and the war in death?”

Uglow believes the Napoleonic campaigns helped make Scotland’s reputation as a fighting nation: “The Highland regiments won great acclaim in Egypt and in all campaigns up to Waterloo, and became national heroes,” she said. She also says Scotland was changed by the experience: “It was ­affected, like the rest of the nation, by the drain of manpower, food shortages and the trade blockades, but particularly by the Highland clearances in the latter years of the war. The perception of the nation changed, largely through the work of Walter Scott.”

Burns Cottage gift wrapped

The birthplace of Robert Burns in Ayrshire is to be wrapped up in a big red bow as part of this year’s events to mark his 256th birthday. The cottage where Scotland’s Bard was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, is being adorned for the Big Burns Birthday Bash, in events held over 24 and 25 January.

A series of events are scheduled for the Alloway 1759 festival which celebrates all things Burns and takes place over the weekend closest to his 256th birthday. Events run by the National Trust for Scotland, include a ceilidh and a “haggis pass”.

Event organiser Stuart Cochrane said today: “The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum has got Burns’ birthday all wrapped up, so come and celebrate the bard’s 256th birthday with us. We’ve put together our biggest party programme ever, at the very spot where the great man was born.”

Along with the Auld Kirk and Brig o’ Doon, the cottage where Burns was born has been combined with the Burns Monument and the new award-winning museum building to form the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Since opening to the public in December 2010, the museum has welcomed more than a million visitors and has won a series of accolades including being selected as a finalist for the prestigious Art Fund prize, securing a five star rating from VisitScotland.

Salmon Fishing Season Opens

The salmon fishing season has been declared open as dozens of anglers lined the banks of the River Tay.

Traditional ceremonies were held to mark the first flies being cast on stretches of the river.

A large crowd of anglers and local residents gathered at the Kenmore Hotel in Perthshire before a pipe band led them to the water’s edge where they waited for the season to be officially opened.

A dram was poured into the river by Liz Grant, provost of Perth and Kinross, before the fishing got under way. The pouring of whisky is a symbolic gesture to keep the salmon “in good health”.

Greyfriars Bobby Honored

Edinburgh’s  most famous dog was honoured with a special ceremony on Wednesday 14 January. It’s 143 years since the death of Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal terrier known for guarding his master’s grave for 14 years.

A Bobby lookalike, Maggie the Cairn terrier, was due to attend the commemoration, hosted by Depute Lord Provost Deidre Brock, which also included pupils from George Heriot’s laying flowers on the grave and Tribute to Greyfriars Bobby played on bagpipes by Jennifer Hutcheon.


January 16 1746 - Retreating Jacobite army defeated Hanoverian forces at Battle of Falkirk.

January 16 1707 - Treaty of Union of Scottish and Westminster Parliaments ratified.

January 16 1945 - 52nd Highland Light Infantry and 1st Commando Brigade cross from Holland into Germany and assault Heinsberg.

January 17 1795 - Duddingston Curling Society became formally organised, one of the earliest in the history of curling - though Kilsyth lays claim to a date of 1716.

January 17 1883 - Author Compton Mackenzie (Whisky Galore etc) born.

January 18 – James (Shay) Harvey birthday

January 18 1782 - Death of Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society from 1772-1778 and physician to King George III. Sometimes called the "father of modern military medicine", the Scottish-born physician focused on the need to adopt a clean medical environment for the treatment of wounded soldiers. He also coined the term "influenza".

January 18 1976 - Launch of Scottish Labour Party in Glasgow. 

January 19 1644 - A Scottish army under the Earl of Leven crossed the river Tweed into England. It remained in England for three years playing an important part in the Civil War.

January 19 1736 - Birth of James Watt, mathematical instrument maker who developed the steam engine, invented the condenser and copying machine.

January 20 1937 - Benny Lynch crowned world flyweight champion.

January 20 1805 - Thomas Graham born.  He was the chemist who discovered the diffusion rate of gasses known at “Graham’s Law”. 

January 21 1290 - Sweetheart Abbey, near Dumfries, founded by Devorguilla, mother of John Balliol.

January 22 1788 - Poet George Gordon Byron (later Lord Byron) born. He moved to Aberdeen at the age of four and attended Aberdeen Grammar School. The title was inherited from an uncle.

January 23 1570 - James Stewart, the Regent Moray on the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots, murdered in Linlithgow, triggering civil war.



Puns Intended

There was a man who entered a local paper's pun contest.. He sent in ten different puns, in the hope that at least one of the puns would win. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

Man went to the local market.  "I want to make a complaint.  This vinegar's got lumps in it'' he said.  Manager looked at the jar and handed it back to the customer.  "That's because those are pickled onions,'' he commented.          

Man goes to the track and makes a bet, then complains, "I backed a horse last week at ten to one.  It came in at quarter past four."