The poet also wrote songs and is said to have been able to play the crozier and the horn, the violin and the guitar.
However, Burns was much more interested in women and quickly became a ladies’ man: while involved with Jean Armour, his affair with his mother’s servant Elizabeth Paton resulted in his first child in 1784; the following year, Armor gave birth to her twins.
Around the same time, Burns also became involved with Mary Campbell – who inspired the poems “The Highland Lassie O”, “To Mary in Heaven”, and “Highland Mary”.
Struggling for money, Burns planned to move to Jamaica to work as an accountant on a slave plantation, a role he may have struggled with given the forward-thinking abolitionist views he expressed. in his song “The Slave’s Lament”.
To pay for his trip, Burns published his poems in a book known as the Kilmarnock Volume. The works became an immediate success and the published poet shelved his plans for Jamaica, leaving instead for Edinburgh where he won literary acclaim.
After her father’s protests, Armor and Burns were finally married in 1788. During their life together, she gave birth to nine children, although only three survived. Over the years, he continued to publish poems, work on farms, and as an excise officer to support his family financially.
However, Burns only lived to be 37. A life of poor health due to his weak heart and frequent drinking resulted in his untimely death on July 21, 1796, from rheumatic fever.
Born into poverty, he never escaped financial hardship: when his tailor heard he was dying, he presented him with a bill on his deathbed.
The poet’s funeral took place four days later, the day Armor gave birth to her first son, Maxwell. At the time of her death, Burns had borne 12 children by four different women.
How is Burns Night celebrated and what are the traditional activities?
Whether or not Burns would have worn a kilt is still disputed, with some claiming that as a plainsman he would not have worn them – despite being a champion of the right to wear traditional dress.
The full night’s ritual includes whiskey, haggis and poetry readings. Those who participate are heard and then The Selkirk Grace – the prayer of thanks attributed to Burns – is said before dinner.
The prayer says:
Some have meat and cannot eat,
And some eat it whoever wants to;
But we have meat, and we can eat
May the Lord be grateful.
A traditional Burns Supper begins with a soup, often a Scottish broth. The haggis is then served with turnips and potatoes – known as neeps and tatties if you’re a true Scot. Haggis, usually carried on a silver platter, is also ushered in by diners with a slow standing clap.
He is the “Great Chief of the Puddin Race” according to the “Address to the Haggis”. During the address (also written by Burns), the speaker pulls out a knife and at the line “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht”, opens the dish. After all the fanfare is over, the guests toast the haggis and feast.
The meal is followed by the Immortal Memory toast, during which a guest delivers a speech in honor of the great poet. Then a Toast to the Lassies, once an opportunity to thank the women who prepare the meal, is now the humorous highlight of the evening. A Men’s Dinner offers a fun but complementary take on the role of women in life in general, taking quotes from Burns’ works and referencing the women in the group.
Any man giving the toast should be careful, as it is followed by a response from women.
The rest of the evening is filled with a vote of thanks and guests performing works by Burns, ending with the Auld Lang Syne. The group stands and holds hands to sing it.
This year, however, many Burns Night celebrations have been canceled due to the latest Covid-19 restrictions. On January 4, Scotland was placed under quarantine to help combat the growing spread of the latest variant of coronavirus. In an address to the Scottish Parliament on January 19, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the restrictions will remain in place until at least mid-February, adding that any relaxation of the rules while cases remain high could “quickly turn the tide”.
Could Haggis actually be English?
While the dish might be a Scottish favourite, it might actually have English roots. A 1430 cookbook called Liber Cure Cocorum from Lancashire contains the earliest known recipe for haggis.
The meal is a savory pudding, made from a mixture of mutton heart, liver and lungs, rolled oats, onion, suet and broth. While for centuries it was served in the stomach of the animal, this tradition has (fortunately) died out.
The eminent food historian Catherine Brown thinks Scottish nationalists may have appropriated the haggis as a symbol of their nationality in the decades following the Act of Union with England in 1707.
“There seems to be an identity problem there. We had lost our monarchy, we had lost our parliament and we had won our haggis,” she said.
“There was a clinging to all that was distinctively Scottish, and Burns identified the dish in such an evocative way.”
She added that Burns claimed the pudding as Scottish with his poem “Address to a Haggis” in 1787, as it was a thrifty contrast to the elaborate and pretentious French cuisine popular in Edinburgh at the time.
Things you didn’t know about haggis
- Despite the $1,000 fine for anyone caught smuggling haggis into America, there is believed to be a multi-million dollar haggis smuggling ring dedicated to ensuring Scottish expats get their haggis . The dish was banned in America in 1971, with authorities declaring it unfit for human consumption.
- Haggis hurling is one thing. Truly. In June 2011, Lorne Coltart set the record by throwing his haggis 217 feet.
- An ancient version of haggis is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, “a man before a great blazing fire turning rapidly in this way, and a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to roast it quickly”.
- The world’s largest haggis was made by Halls of Scotland and weighs 2,226lbs 10oz – that’s as much as a small car.
Burns Night Dinner Recipes
From traditional haggis to delicious cranachan, here are the best recipes for a Burns Night dinner.
A perfect starter for your Burns Night festivities is Rooster and Leek Soup. Rich and warming, this version uses just three ingredients – chicken, leeks and prunes – and is easy to whip up.