Every January one of the most famous people from Scotland’s history is celebrated: Robert Burns. As Burns Night approaches it is the perfect time to learn about why and how it is celebrated, in addition to an interesting connection to The Real Mary King’s Close.
Robert Burns (a.k.a Rabbie Burns) is the National Bard of Scotland. Born in 1759 in Ayrshire, he was a poet and lyricist.
His poems, including “To a mouse”, “To a louse” and “Tam o’Shanter” are known worldwide. He has been considered a pioneer of the Romantic Movement. He is one of the best known Scots language poets and is often considered to be the National Poet of Scotland. Some of his poems include political or civil commentary.
Burns was also a lyricist who created original compositions. He also collected folk songs from across Scotland to revise and adapt. One of his most famous songs is “Auld Lang Syne”, which is often sung on Hogmanay (the Scottish name for New Year’s Eve).
Burns died in Dumfries in 1796. His work continues to influence poets and writers.
A Burns Supper is a meal that celebrates the life and work of Burns. It is normally held on or near the 25th of January, which was the bard’s birthday.
The first Burns Supper was held at Burns Cottage, the poet’s birthplace, by his friends on the fifth anniversary of his death.
The Burns Supper can be a formal or informal event, with the more formal versions following a standard order. There is often singing of songs by Burns and poetry recitals. A bagpiper usually plays at more formal Burns Suppers while guests enter.
The traditional food is a big part of the event. The main course is traditionally haggis, neeps and tatties. Haggis is a meat dish made mainly from sheep, neeps are mashed swede turnip and tatties are mashed potatoes.
The Real Mary King’s Close has a connection to a famous Scottish poet who was also an inspiration to Robert Burns: Robert Fergusson. He was born in 1750 on Cap and Feather Close, which led off the Royal Mile and would have been only a short walk from Mary King’s Close before it was demolished to allow for the construction of the North Bridge.
After studying at the University of St Andrews, Fergusson returned to Edinburgh where he started his career as a poet. One of his most famous works is “Auld Reekie”, which has become a nickname for Edinburgh.
Fergusson also had an active social life when he returned to Edinburgh. He was a member of the Cape Club, which was a tavern-based society. Members had a name and character assigned to them that they had to maintain at all meetings and Fergusson’s character was known as “Sir Precentor”. Fergusson dedicated “Auld Reekie” to his fellow Knights of The Cape. Meetings were held at a tavern on Craig’s Close. What remains of Craig’s Close can be seen on a visit to The Real Mary King’s Close.
After his death in 1774, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Canongate Kirkyard. Robert Burns privately commissioned and paid for a memorial headstone. He designed it himself and it was installed in 1789.
This year, join us for An Edinburgh Burns Night. We’ve partnered with Amber Restaurant, from The Scotch Whisky Experience, to create a unique Burns Night experience filled with poetry, history, Scottish whisky and delightful dishes.
When: 5.30pm & 6pm on 25th, 28th and 29th January 2022.
Find out more here.
Step down into Edinburgh’s hidden history with a visit to The Real Mary King’s Close.