Friday, March 15, 2019

St Patrick was a Scotsman

St. Patrick of Ireland was born circa 385 AD, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. The parents of Maewyn Succat (or Patricius) were wealthy Romans living in Britain. His father was a deacon. When Patricius was fourteen, he was captured during a raiding party by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland as a slave. He was sold as a slave to a Michu, an Irish chieftain and remained there for six years and became a shepherd. Patrick sought solace in his predicament and prayed while he looked after the sheep. His spirituality brought the boy strength even although his captor was cruel and demanding. Patrick was clever and taught himself the Gaelic as well as studied druidism, the predominant religion in Ireland at that time. He escaped slavery when aged twenty, and returned to Scotland to reunite with his family.

He studied to be a priest and was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre before being sent by Pope Celestine as a bishop to take the Gospel to Ireland. The young man’s heart was still in Ireland and eventually when Pope St Celestine decided to make Ireland a Christian country St. Patrick was given the mission of evangelizing the Irish. Patrick became the special Apostle of the Irish nation.

He arrived in Ireland in 433 AD and from the onset met with hostility from the Druids. Overcoming hostilities, he converted the chieftain Dichu and began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland. He was a humble and brave priest who wore rough clothing and slept on hard rock bed. Patrick went from region to region winning respect and eventually the faith of the populous. As evidence of his presence Patrick is thought to have left his foot print on one of shore rocks just at the entrance to Skerries harbor.

Wherever he went on the Emerald Isle the fame of his miracles and sanctity went before him. After 40 years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering Patrick worked many miracles and established Ireland as Christian country. He retired to County Down and died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been celebrated as St. Patrick's Day ever since. There are many legends surrounding St Patrick most of which cannot be verified. Some of the more common were:

Patrick used the shamrock (a three leaf clover) to explain the Trinity and this icon became associated with the Irish ever since.

Another legend was Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland; snakes were a popular symbol among the Irish pagans.

He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross. The sun was a common symbol in Irish paganism and veneration of the symbol appealed to the Irish converts. By the seventh century, St Patrick was revered as the patron saint of Ireland.

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Reviewed 16/03/2019

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Petrosomatoglyphs of Scotland

A petrosomatoglyph is an indentation of parts of a human or animal body incised in rock. Feet are the most commonly found human petrosomatoglyph but knees, elbows, hands, head, and fingers are also in evidence. Early hominid footprints appear on rock beds found around the world. Footprints of Australopithecus boisei for example were discovered in Tanzania. These are thought to be 3.5 million years old. In Tchogha Zanbil, Iran at the ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam there is a stepped pyramid temple which dates back 3000 years. At the base of the steps is a child’s footprint. Many petrosomatoglyphs are natural whilst others are man-made. Although their original function is long forgotten many petrosomtoglyphs became associated with Saints, legendary figures, and fairies.

In antiquity many people carved footprints into stone including the ancient Celts. These became important symbols, used in religious and secular ceremonies, such as the crowning of kings. Sometimes petrosomatoglyphs were used by the superstitious. The Romans carved pairs of footprints in rock with the inscription ‘pro itu et reditu’, (for the journey and return). Before starting an important journey they stood in the carved footprints. Then on safe return they repeated the action as mark of thanksgiving. The same ritual was known in 6th c Wales when King Maelgwn of Gwynedd placed his feet in carved footprints to ensure his safe return from a pilgrimage to Rome.

In northern Europe, rock footprints were closely associated with Kingship or Chieftainship. Standing on a special stone was a link between the king and the land. Footprints may also have to do with the cult of the ancestors, whose spirits dwelt in the stone. The belief was the newly invested leader would received the luck (or mana) of his predecessors through contact with it. Petrosomatoglyphs used in the ordination of kings was considered a sacred place or Locus terribilis (awesome place), where only the rightful king was able to use them for the purpose that they were intended. Scottish Kings and Irish Chieftains were sworn to oath standing on footprints carved into the stone. Dunadd Hillfort is regarded as the crowning place for the original Kings of Scotland. It was the ancient capital of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata and lay on the west coast of Scotland. Built around 500AD after Fergus MacErc led a Scottish invasion from Ireland. The inhabitants of Dál Riata are often referred to as Scots, i.e., Latin scotti, a name for the inhabitants of Ireland and refer to all Gaelic-speakers. The kingdom's independent existence ended in the Viking Age (8th to 11th centuries), as it merged with the lands of the Picts to form the Kingdom of Alba. On rocks on the edge of Crinan Moss in Argyll, near the village of Lochgilphead there is a carved human footprint used during the crowning ceremony of the Kings of Scotland. This footprint is thought to be that of Oisin or Fergus Mor Mac Erca, the first King of Dalriada, who died in AD 501. The best preserved footprint (there are two) is 27 cm long, approximately 11 cm wide, 9 cm across at the heel and 2.5 cm deep. It is large enough to accommodate a shoe or boot. The second footprint of a right foot is, incomplete and measures 24 cm long and 10 cm in width.

The spot where St. Columba (521 – 597 AD) is reputed to have first set foot in Dalriada, Scotland, is marked by two footprints carved in a crag near the chapel of Keil and St. Columba's Well, between Dunaverty Bay and Carskey in Kintyre. These are called Columba's Footprints. It appears one footprint may date to the period but the second print was carved by a local stone mason in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately he carved the wrong date for Columba's landing of 564. Other St. Columba's footprints are found at Southend in Argyll. In one of the caves on the Isle of Arran is prints of two right feet, said to be of Saint Columba. Forging links with St Columba in the 1800s was more to do with attracting tourists.

On Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, was the Stone of Inauguration which lay beside Loch Finlaggan. The stone measured seven feet square and had a footprint cut into it (size 8). It was the sacred stone of the island Lordship and is thought to have been since the time of Somerled (King of Argyll and the Isles in 1164 AD). When a chief of the Clan Donald was installed as the King of the Isles, he required to stand barefoot on the imprint whilst he swore an oath. In 1615, by the order of the Earl of Argyll the block was destroyed and the fragments dispersed. After considerable detection the footprint segment was eventually located.

Other petrosomatoglyphs in Scotland include a 2-foot-long (0.61 m) footprint on a cave side in Arran.

There is also pair of footprints carved in a stone slab in a causeway at the Broch (Tower) of Clickhimin (or Clickemin), Lerwick, in Shetland. This site was occupied from about 1000 BC to AD 500.

On neighboring Orkney, at St. Mary's Church in Burwick, South Ronaldsay, the Ladykirk Stone has two clear footprints cut into it, said to be the footprints of Saint Magnus (1075–1117). One common belief was the footprints held healing powers and were used in medicines.

At Spittal on the western end of a long ridge of natural rock outcrop near Drymen, is a footprint which may be due to natural weathering. At Craigmaddie Muir, Baldernock, East Dunbartonshire is the Auld Wives Lifts. This is a complicated assemblage of carvings on a rock platform. On the rock are serpent-like forms, crosses, cups and an impression of the right foot of an adult.

In Ayr, on the southern bank of the River Ayr is 'Wallace's Heel', a natural sandstone slab, Sir William Wallace is said to have left the imprint behind whilst rushing to escape English soldiers who were pursuing him. At Dunino Den, near St Andrews in Fife, is a footprint and a basin carved in the surface of a sandstone outcrop. A Celtic cross has been carved nearby, possibly as an attempt to make the site Christian. On a boulder at Carnasserie, two miles (3 km) from Kilmartin in Argyll, are carved a pair of feet and two other examples can also be found in Angus.

Reviewed 3/03/2019

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Clyde Valley Stompers

The Clyde Valley Stompers were formed in 1952 in Glasgow, Scotland. The amateur trad jazz group quickly found a following at the Astra Ballroom in Glasgow and when band leader Jim McHarg (bass) emigrated to Canada two years later he was replaced by trombone player, Ian Menzies (1932 - 2001). Soon after the band became a full-time professional group. During the 50s, the moldy figs like Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttleton, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball became popular and the Clyde Valley Stompers extended their popularity beyond Scotland and released several records on the Beltona label.

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Essentially they were a live act and the recordings never quite caught their energy subsequently their records did not sell especially well beyond their loyal following. The band members included, successively, Charlie Gall and Malcolm Higgins (trumpet), Jimmy Doherty, Forrie Cairns and Peter Kerr (clarinet). The rhythm section included pianists John Doherty, John Cairns and Ronnie Duff, banjo players Norrie Brown and Jim Douglas, bass players Louis Reddie, Andrew Bennie and Bill Bain, and drummers Bobby Shannon, Robbie Winter, Sandy Malcolm and Billy Law; and vocalists Mary McGowan, Jeannie Lamb and Fionna "Fiona" Duncan.

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Dubbed ''the most travelled jazz band in Europe,'' they appeared in village halls and big venues alike and even topped the bill at Liverpool’s Cavern. As their popularity grew internationally the band moved to London, and signed for Pye Records.

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There they were managed by Lonnie Donegan and toured with him as well as other top names including Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.

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Sometimes the band were billed at the Clyde Valley Stompers and others as Ian Menzies and the Clyde Valley Stompers.

(Video Courtesy: Ian Menzies & The Clyde Valley Stompers - Topic by Youtube Channel)

In 1962 they had a UK Top 30 success with ‘Peter And The Wolf.’

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“Stompermania” predated the Mersey Sound but had all the same intensity. The Clyde Valley Stompers were the first trad jazz band to appear on the Royal Variety Performance, when it was held in Glasgow Empire. Their popularity in the UK was enhanced with guest appearances on television's Morecambe & Wise, Russ Conway, and Thank Your Lucky Stars shows. In 1963 the band appeared in a British musical called It's All Happening (The Dream Maker) and starring Tommy Steele..

(Video Courtesy: Jim Douglas by Youtube Channel)

As the fad for Trad Jazz passed the group disbanded in 1963. Over the decades the band has occasionally re-formed to perform as The Clyde Valley Stompers Reunion Band which included Jim McHarg.

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Worth a listen
Lonnie Donegan Presents Ian Menzies and Clyde Valley Stompers
The Swingin' Seamus (EP) (1959)
Roses of Picardy/Beale Street Blues/
Gettysburg March/Swingin’ Seamus

Ian Menzies and Clyde Valley Stompers
Big Man (1961)
Big Man (1961)
Play the gypsy (1961)
The fish man (1966)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Niel Gow (1727–1807)

Niel Gow was born in Strath brann, west of Dunkeld, Perthshire in 1727 to John Gow and Catherine McEwan. The population spoke mainly Gaelic and he was christened Niel (the Gaelic version of Neil). The family moved to nearby Inver, in Dunkeld where his father made a living as a plaid weaver. Young Niel showed an early aptitude for making music and taught himself to play fiddle on a kit (a half size fiddle) at the age of nine. Niel watched other fiddlers bowing technique and how they held their fiddles. In his early teens he had lessons from John Cameron of Grandtully and quickly established a reputation after winning an open competition in Perth in 1745 (the year of the Jacobite uprising). Fiddle competitions were judged by a blind musician to avoid favoritism. John McKaw, was the appointed judge and after naming Niel the winner, he declared he would recognize his bow hand anywhere. Where most fiddlers emphasised their downbow Gow put power into his up-bow and played it like an organ at full gallop. His standard and style of playing was such he became in great demand for all social occasions as far afield Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Dunkeld sat as the gateway to the Highlands and when Bonnie Prince Charlie visited Dunkeld House on his march south to Edinburgh, Niel Gow was asked to entertain the Young Pretender. He travelled with the Young Pretender’s army as far as Luncarty before returning to Inver. Niel was married to Margaret Wiseman and their first of eight children was born in 1751. They had five sons and three daughters and all the boys became fiddlers. After Margaret died he took a second wife Margaret Urquhart in 1768. From then on Niel enjoyed the patronage of the Murrays of Atholl and was associated with three Dukes of Atholl (2nd, 3rd and 4th) during his long life, the third Duke paid him a retainer of £5 per year for playing at the many parties and formal balls held at Blair Castle.

Niel originally trained as a plaid weaver, like his father, but soon became a full-time musician. He soon gained the reputation as the best fiddle player in Perthshire. Gow was a maestro of the fiddle and played the dance music which was very popular at the time. He could be compared to BB King and like King and the Delta Blues, he made fiddle playing very respectable. Prior to this fiddlers were thought rather disreputable types. The fiddle music had an aural tradition and was taught 'by ear' rather than written music. Scottish fiddling in the Highland tradition was influenced by the ornamentation and mixolydian scale of the Great Highland Bagpipe, as well as smoother bowing. Fiddlers frequently performed solo. Niel often performed with his brother Donald, on 'cello. Later his band included one or more of his sons, together with Samson Duncan of Kinclaven on fiddle. The line-up may have been further augmented by piano, but this would have depended very much on where the band was playing. His reputation grew until he was the most famous fiddler and traveling dance instructor in Scotland. Despite his fame he remained in Inver.

(Video Courtesy: DOUGLAS HADDEN by Youtube Channel)

Although he could scarcely read music he is credited with anything from 50 to 87 compositions many of which remain the backstay of modern Scottish country dance music. At the time much of the dance music was transmitted by ear from one fiddler to another so who actually composed which tune was impossible. Many of Gow’s tunes were derived from older tunes or are copies of tunes published earlier elsewhere, often under a different title. This was not uncommon at the time and was not an attempt to plagiarize just a means of musicians sharing the music. Many songs had several titles especially when fiddlers developed individual variations on the original tunes. When Niel and Nathaniel Gow published their various collections of music they would state "as played by Niel Gow and Sons". Many of the jigs, reels and strathspeys which survive today are labeled as "traditional." Gow inspired and excited dancers with powerfully rhythmical music and his regular cries of encouragement.

The strathspey is thought to have originated from the Strathspey area, the strath or broad glen of the River Spey, in Moray and Badenoch and Strathspey. The music was originally written for the fiddle and used for dancing. A slow and stylised form of reel it was originally called a 'Strathspey reel' while the standard reel was known as an 'Atholl reel'. The dance tune is in 4/4 time, but it sounds quite different because it is slower and contains dotted rhythms. One of these rhythms has a special name and is called the 'Scotch snap' or 'Scots snap'. Using a peculiar bowing technique to produce a very short note followed by a long (dotted) note played in sequence, it gives strathspey a 'snap' sound when played. The Scotch snap is generally exaggerated rhythmically for musical expression. In the highland dance there are generally 108 beats per minute with many Scotch snaps to give the piece a rhythmically tense idiom.

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Strathspey refers both to the type of tune and to the type of dance usually done to it. There are two basic kinds of strathspey dances. The first is the set dances that are danced as a 'longways set', with lines of men and women facing each other and interweaving across the central space in different patterns. The other is like a slow version of a reel of four, where two couples intertwine in figures of eight, and is one of the standard dances in Highland dancing.

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A Scottish country dance will typically consist of equal numbers of strathspeys, jigs and reels. The strathspey step is a slower and statelier version of the skip-change step used for jigs and reels. Traditionally, the strathspey was followed by a reel, which is in 2/2 with a swung rhythm, as a release of the rhythmic tension created during the strathspey.

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The reel is a very old form of music in Scotland. Reels are mentioned as early as the 16th century . It is the fastest of all the tunes played on instruments in Scotland. Reels are generally in 4/4 or 2/4 time, meaning that it has four or two beats in each bar. Reels highlight the agility and dexterity of musicians on their instruments, and they can be played on pipes, fiddle, accordion and other instruments. The reel is used for many set dances, mostly for three, four or eight dancers to a set. In Highland and Island Scotland, it was traditional at weddings for the bride and groom to dance a foursome reel with their best man (in Gaelic, the fleasgach) and the bridesmaid (maighdeann). The most popular set reel is the eightsome reel.

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Jigs are a form of dance tune in compound time. The origins are unknown but jigs appear to be related to the gigue, a European baroque dance. Most jigs are in 6/8 time, and Scottish jigs are relatively fast and lively with melodies featuring sequences of quavers and semiquavers, and often with dotted rhythms throughout the tune.

When not playing dance music, Gow enjoyed performing deeply moving laments. He published three well known laments: Niel Gow’s Lamentation for Abercarney (1784); Niel Gow’s Lamentation for the Death of his Brother (1788); Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of his 2d Wife (1809).

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Robert Burns visited Niel Gow in 1787 when touring the Highlands. Burns stayed at Culloden House (now the Scottish Horse Museum) and breakfasted with Dr Stewart, a well known fiddler in the district. Niel Gow was sent for and, with Dr. Stewart joining in and Peter Murray on the bass, Niel played a selection of his own compositions. Burns took such a fancy to Niel's tune "Loch Erroch Side" that he asked for a copy of it and afterwards set his "Address to the Woodlark" to it. The tune originated from an air, Niel had heard his wife Margaret singing. It is now better known as 'The lass o' Gowrie'. Many believe Gow's air of Locherroch Side is thought to be the basis for Robert Burns' ballad, "Oh! stay, sweet warbling Woodlark, stay."

Niel Gow was a man who was highly respected at all levels of society and at his height of fame Niel was welcome in any of the grand houses in the country. On his way to Aberdeen he stopped off at Brechin Castle where the Dalhousie family made him very welcome. Not only the master musician he was a good humoured fellow who enjoyed the company of others. On his death in 1807, he was buried in the local graveyard at Little Dunkeld. The Niel Gow Fiddle Festival takes place in Dunkeld and Birnam, Perthshire, Scotland every year.

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In loving memory of Dougal and Elsie McCallum, Aunty Anna and Peter Cameron.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Robert Burns (1759 –1796)

Robert Burnes was born in Alloway Scotland in 1759. The oldest of seven children to William Burnes (1721–1784) and Agnes Broun (Brown). William Burnes was a cotter (small farmer) and built the cottage where the family lived. In 1766 Robert’s father sold the cottage and took a tenancy at Mount Oliphant farm near Tarbolton. The young poet grew up in abject poverty and worked manual labour on the farm. Burns received little regular schooling but instead was educated in the basics by his father. For a short time he did attend an adventure school run by John Murdoch where he studied Latin, French, and mathematics. Ages 13, Burns was sent to Dalrymple Parish School in 1772, later he lodged with Murdoch for a short time to study grammar, French, and Latin. By the age of 15, he was the principal labourer at Mount Oliphant but in 1775 he completed his formal education with a tutor at Kirkoswald. Whilst times were hard the old Scottish belief in education proved fertile.

Robert was a sociable young man and loved girls and poetry with the same fevour. His first known muse was Nelly Kilpatrick who helped in the harvest of 1774. Burns wrote "O, Once I Lov'd A Bonnie Lass" in her honour. A year later he met Peggy Thompson , to whom he wrote two songs, "Now Westlin' Winds" and "I Dream'd I Lay". The young Burns joined a country dancing school in 1779 before forming the Tarbolton Bachelors' Club with his brother Gilbert, the following year. Robert Burns was initiated into the masons at the Masonic Lodge St David, Tarbolton, in 1781, when he was 22. He left the farm to become a flax-dresser but after the shop caught fire and burnt to the ground Burns was left to come home to the farm again.

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Burns was encouraged to become a poet by Captain Richard Brown, and started to write poems and songs in a commonplace book in 1783. He fell in love with Alison Begbie and wrote her four songs but despite his infatuation, she rejected him. William Burnes' died in 1784 and Robert and Gilbert made an ineffectual struggle to keep on the farm. When it failure they tried another farm at Mossgiel, near Mauchline. During the summer of 1784 Burns came to know a group of girls known collectively as The Belles of Mauchline, one of whom was Jean Armour, the daughter of a stonemason from Mauchline. Burnes was incurable romantic and lothario he loved to play the field. While courting Jean he made his mother’s servant, Elizabeth Paton pregnant with his first child, Elizabeth Paton Burns. Then in 1786 Jean Armour, fell pregnant with twins. Despite intention to marry Jean’s father objected and sent his daughter away to live with her uncle in Paisley. Eventually the couple was married in 1788 and Jean bore him nine children, but only three survived infancy.

When financial difficulties eventually forced the poet to consider alternative employ and accepted the position of a bookkeeper on a slave plantation in Jamaica. At the time he was head over heels in love with Mary Campbell and dedicated the poems "The Highland Lassie O", "Highland Mary", and "To Mary in Heaven" to her. His song "Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary, and leave auld Scotia's shore?" suggests that they planned to immigrate to Jamaica together. However Mary caught typhus while nursing her brother and died in 1786. Burns had insufficient funds to pay for his passage and was advised by a friend to publish his poems. Burns sent proposals for publishing his Scotch Poems to a local printer in Kilmarnock. The volume of works by Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect became known as the Kilmarnock volume. It sold for 3 shillings and contained much of his best writing, including "The Twa Dogs", "Address to the Deil", "Halloween", "The Cotter's Saturday Night", "To a Mouse", "Epitaph for James Smith", and "To a Mountain Daisy", many of which had been written at Mossgiel farm. The success of the work was immediate, and soon he was known across the country.

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Dr Thomas Blacklock, a well known critic, wrote to Burns expressing admiration for the poetry in the Kilmarnock volume and suggested an enlarged second edition. Blacklock encouraged Burns to abandon his plans to emigrate and go to Edinburgh instead. Naïve in the way of business and keen to amass enough cash to live in the city Burns sold his copyright to Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect to William Creech for 100 guineas. His reputation as a man of letter preceded him and he was soon a guest at aristocratic gatherings, where he bore himself with unaffected rustic dignity. The new edition of his poems brought Burns £400. He embarked on a relationship with the separated Agnes "Nancy" McLehose (1758–1841), with whom he exchanged passionate letters under pseudonyms "Sylvander" and "Clarinda"'. When it became clear that Nancy would not be easily seduced he moved on to Nancy’s domestic servant , Jenny Clow (1766–1792), who bore him a son, Robert Burns Clow, in 1788. He also had an affair with another servant girl, Margaret "May" Cameron. His relationship with Nancy concluded in 1791 with a final meeting in Edinburgh before she sailed to Jamaica for what turned out to be a short-lived reconciliation with her estranged husband. Before she left, he sent her the manuscript of "Ae Fond Kiss" as a farewell.

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Burns started to contribute to The Scots Musical Museum and in the first volume in 1787 there were three songs by Burns published . The second volume contained 40 song and eventually Burns was responsible for about 200 songs in the whole collection. In 1788 he resumed his relationship with Jean Armour and took a lease on Ellisland Farm, Dumfriesshire. He also trained as a exciseman (a gauger) as a hedge against incase another failure at farming. He was appointed Customs and Excise officer in 1789 and eventually gave up the farm in 1791.

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Burns wrote "Tam O' Shanter" in 1790 by the banks of the River Dee. He gave up the farm and moved to Dumfries. During this time he made major contributions to George Thomson's A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice as well as to James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum. Burns also worked to collect and preserve Scottish folk songs, sometimes revising, expanding, and adapting them. One of the better known of these collections is The Merry Muses of Caledonia , a collection of bawdy lyrics that were popular in the music halls of Scotland as late as the 20th century.

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Burns was skilled in writing not only in the Scots language but also in the Scottish English dialect (Lallans) of the English language. Some of his works, such as "Love and Liberty" (also known as "The Jolly Beggars"), was written in both Scots and English for various effects. His themes included republicanism and Radicalism, which he expressed covertly in "Scots Wha Hae", Scottish patriotism, anticlericalism, class inequalities, gender roles, commentary on the Scottish Kirk of his time, Scottish cultural identity, poverty, sexuality, and the beneficial aspects of popular socialising (carousing, Scotch whisky, folk songs, and so forth). Despite his enormous popularity Burns's political affiliation and support for the French Revolution alienated him from many of his influential and affluent friends. In an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Crown, Burns joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers in March 1795 but his health began to give way and the Bard died in 1796 aged 37.

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He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world. The Robert Burns Club was set up "To cherish the name of Robert Burns; to foster a love of his writings, and generally to encourage an interest in the Scottish language and literature." The first, known as The Mother Club, was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known the poet personally. Soon Burns Clubs were set up across the Globe.

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Burns Night (Burns Super) is a celebration of the Bard’s birthday, on the 25th January. Over the centuries the format of Burns suppers has changed little and starts with a general welcome and announcements, followed with the Selkirk Grace. After the grace comes the piping and cutting of the haggis, when Burns's famous "Address to a Haggis" is read and the haggis is cut open. The event usually allows for people to start eating just after the haggis is presented.

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At the end of the meal, a series of toasts and replies are made, including A Toast to the Lassies.

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At this point an overview of Burns's life and work is given, in "The Immortal Memory".

(Video Courtesy: HiPerthshire by Youtube Channel)

The event concludes with the singing of "Auld Lang Syne".

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Robert Burns on the BBC

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BBC Radio Scotland's Esme Kennedy and Dave Batchelor recorded performances by some of Scotland's best-loved actors of Robert Burns's works. A team from the University of Glasgow provided the many guides featured throughout this website. Recordings from 716 works are available, many of which have now been associated with days of the year.

Robert Burns (BBC)

The mysteries of the haggis demystified

The exact historical origins of our great national dish appear to have been lost in the mists of time. Some claim the dish originated from the days of the old Scottish cattle drovers, who took their herds from the Highlands to market in Edinburgh. Others believe the dish is pre-historic and a pragmatic way of cooking and preserving offal that would otherwise spoil following a kill. Fresh offal or pluck consisted of heart, liver and lungs which was chopped and mixed with cereal (oats) and herbs then stuffed into the stomach of the animal before being immersed in boiling water for two to three hours. Haggis became a popular dish with poor people because it used cheap cuts of nourishing meat that would otherwise have been thrown away.

The first published haggis recipe (hagese) appeared circa 1430 in the verse cookbook Liber Cure Cocorum which came from Lancashire.

For hagese'.

Þe hert of schepe, þe nere þou take,
Þo bowel noght þou shalle forsake,
On þe turbilen made, and boyled wele,
Hacke alle togeder with gode persole,

It was eaten in Scotland because in 1520 the Scottish poet William Dunbar, penned Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy which refers to 'haggeis'.

“Thy fowll front had, and he that Bartilmo flaid;

The gallowis gaipis eftir thy graceles gruntill, As thow wald for ane haggeis, hungry gled.

Dunbar and Kennedy’s Flyting (poetic jousting) was a popular and influential poem and was almost a de rigueur inclusion in Scottish anthologies of verse for the next two centuries.

Gervase Markham wrote The English Hus Wife (1615) and included a receipt for Haggas or Haggus in the section entitled “Skill in Oate meale”. Haggis was popular in England until the middle of the 18th Century before it became more associated with Scotland.

In 1771 there is reference to haggis as a Scottish delicacy in Tobias Smollett’s novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker.

In 1774 the English cookery writer Hannah Glasse published a recipe for Scotch haggis in The Art of Cookery. Glasse wrote mostly for domestic servants and referred to them as "lower sort". Her book was most influential with many of her receipts still recognizable today. She did however show marked disapproval of French cooking styles and in general avoided French culinary terminology.

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Burns immortalised the haggis in his eight verse poem Address to a Haggis (1786). By ringing the praises of common fare the bard was gently lampooning the pretentious French cuisine popular in Edinburgh at the time. Only after his death in 1796 when Burns’ close friends decided to celebrate his memory did they organized a supper in his honour and ate haggis. Each year on the 25th January Burns Suppers are held all over the world to commemorate Scotland’s national poet. Recitation of the poem Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns is an important part of the Burns supper. The haggis is now as firmly established as a Scottish national icon as the much revered whiskey.

There are many recipes for haggis but most have the following ingredients in common: sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock. The traditional animal's stomach has been replaced with sausage casing. The dish is served hot with neaps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and taken with a dram (a glass of Scotch whisky). Today there are many different varieties including vegetarian haggis and kosher haggis.

Since 1971, it has been illegal to import haggis into the US from the UK due to a ban on food containing sheep lung. The situation was further complicated in 1989 when all UK beef and lamb was banned from importation to the US due to the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis. Despite regular reviews of the ban on food products containing sheep lung it remains enforced. Hence Americans cannot get authentic Scot’s Haggis but make do with what is available

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A common fiction promulgated by some is the haggis is a small Scottish animal (Haggis scoticus) with longer legs on one side, so that it can run around the steep hills of the Scottish Highlands without falling over. The Hebridean Haggis is "thought" to be the original native species. The Lewis Haggis is different from the Haggis on the mainland: unlike its mainland relative all its legs are of the same length. The two varieties coexist peacefully but are unable to interbreed in the wild because in order for the male of one variety to mate with a female of the other, he must turn to face in the same direction as his intended mate, causing him to lose his balance before he can mount her. As a result of this difficulty, differences in leg length among the haggis population are accentuated.

Haggis Hurling has become popular of late and involves throwing a haggis as far as possible. The world record for haggis hurling was achieved by Lorne Coltart at the Milngavie Highland Games in 2011, who hurled his haggis 217 feet.

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Reviewed 30/1/2018