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Tag: Scottish

Scottish Traditions: Burn’s Night

Burns Night

Burns Night is a traditional celebration of Scotland’s national bard, or poet, Robert Burns. It is held on 25th January, Burns’s birthday, when Burns suppers are held. They consist of a meal, poetry recitals and songs. The first supper was held at Burns Cottage by his friends on 21st July 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death.

If you think that you don’t know any of Burns’s work, ask yourself if you have ever sung Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay/New Year’s Eve or used the lines “My love is like a red, red rose” on a Valentine card. If you have then you are familiar with some of his best-known work. Burns wrote his first poem aged 15 and in his short life wrote a vast number of songs and poems that can be accessed here. He wrote in a light Scots dialect which was easier for those outside Scotland to understand and often wrote about very humble subjects, for example, his poem “To a Mouse” is inspired by the field mice Burns saw while ploughing on his farm.

The Life of Robert Burns

Burns was born on 25th January 1759 in Alloway south of Ayr, the son of poor tenant farmers. He received little regular schooling, but his father taught him to read and write along with arithmetic, history and geography. He was also taught Latin, French and maths by John Murdoch.

For much of his life Burns, like his father, was a tenant farmer, all the while writing poetry and songs. But he struggled to make a living from farming and when he was offered a position on a plantation in Jamaica, he decided to emigrate. He could not afford the passage and a friend suggested he try to publish some of his work to raise the funds. In 1786 Poems in the Scottish Dialect was published and became an immediate success. Later that year Burns left for Edinburgh to publish a second edition which again was successful and earned him a substantial sum of money. He was well received in Edinburgh, often a guest of aristocracy, and made many friends, some becoming sponsors.

In 1787 Burns returned to southwest Scotland taking a lease on a farm in Dumfriesshire, but he also trained as an exciseman in case the farm was unsuccessful. He gave up farming in 1791 and moved to Dumfries where he made contributions to several volumes of songs, sometimes adding his own lyrics to traditional folk melodies and composing his own melodies from fragments of tunes. He continued to write poetry too, some advocating reform such as “The Slaves Lament”.

He continued to work as an exciseman, often making long journeys on horseback in all weathers and this may have contributed to his ill-health at a rather young age for the time. On 21st July 1796 Burns died aged just 37.  His body lies in the Burns Mausoleum is St. Michael’s Kirkyard, Dumfries along with that of his wife at the time, Jean Armour.

Burns is renowned for having had many romantic relationships which resulted in several children being born, although not all survived infancy. Today over 900 people worldwide claim to be descendants of Burns.

Host your own Burns Night

Due to covid-19 restrictions, many Burn’s suppers will be cancelled this year, but you could host your own with your household.

Need some inspiration to host your own Burns Supper? Why not try out some Burns Night recipes here. Penguin books have a guide on how to run your night and for inspiration, you can listen to or read some of Burns’s work through our Library.

By Vivienne Hamilton

Learn about other World traditions on our blog by reading:

New Year Traditions from Around the World

Spanish Christmas Traditions

Woman’s History Month: Wonder Women of Scotland

Woman’s History Month: Wonder Women of Scotland

To celebrate Women’s History month we thought it might be nice to celebrate some incredible Scottish women both alive and sadly gone. We can only fit in a few here so if you are interested in learning more, why not look up some more information at librarysearch.napier.ac.uk

Christina Miller

Photo of Christina Miller

Source: Heriot Watt University

One little know Scottish woman whose story deserves to be better remembered is Christina Miller. Despite being born both female and hearing impaired in 1899, and later losing her sight in one eye, she battled against the norms of the time to become a respected analytical chemist. She was an inspirational teacher and mentor to generations of students.

Miller was awarded the Keith Prize by the Royal Society of Edinburgh for her scientific paper on phosphorus trioxide, and become one of the first 5 to become elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. There is even a building at the University of Edinburgh named after her.

Photo of Mukami McCrum

Source: British Library

Mukami McCrum

All-round amazing person, Mukami McCrum has lived in Scotland most of her life. She fights for women’s rights, in particular BAME and LGBT women who need support from domestic abuse. She is one of the founders of Shakti Women’s Aid and campaigns to end Female Genital Mutilation.

She was the chief executive of Central Scotland Racial Equality Council and has brought her deep commitment to race and gender justice to many organisations, including Akina Mama wa Afrika, World Council of Churches, Responding to Conflict Trust. She has an MBE for her community and human rights work.

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The Poet and the Doctor, Craiglockhart War Hospital 1917 (War Poets Collection)

Craiglockhart War Hospital March 1917  Image courtesy of Edinburgh Napier University

The month of March includes two important dates in the calendar for the War Poets Collection at Craiglockhart Campus, as we mark the birthday’s of the celebrated poet  Wilfred Owen (born 18th March 1893) and the eminent psychiatrist and anthropologist, Dr William Rivers (born 12th March 1864)

At our Craiglockhart campus, the original building was used as a military hospital during the First World War.  The hospital treated around 1801 officers, suffering mostly from neurasthenia  , or war neurosis, between 1916-1919. Neurasthenia was more commonly known at the time as shell shock.

Craiglockhart old frontage

Craiglockhart old frontage

Those of you who studied English literature at school may be familiar with Wilfred Owen, the WW1 soldier-poet, as his works are taught not only in the UK  but in many other countries around the world.  2nd Lt. Owen was to become one of the leading poets of the First World War.  He was treated at Craiglockhart War Hospital for shell shock during the summer months of 1917.  Wilfred was in the care of Dr (Capt.) Arthur Brock, who treated his patients using ergo-therapy, or the “work cure”.  More than a century later, the University’s Occupational Therapy students provide us with a contemporary link to Dr Brock’s work.

Wilfred Owen Bust. Sculpture by Anthony Padgett.

Many of Wilfred Owen’s  poems, such as Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum Est  were drafted or composed whilst he was a patient and he edited six issues of the hospital magazine, The Hydra.  Wilfred Owen recovered his health and returned to the Front but was killed on active service on the 4th November 1918, just one week before the Armistice was declared.

Image of Hydra Magazine

The recently discovered missing copies of The Hydra magazine.

One of the most recognised names in English anthropology and psychiatry is that of Doctor William H R Rivers, born in Chatham, Kent on 12th March 1864.  William Rivers qualified as a doctor from the University of London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital at the tender age of twenty-two, the youngest graduate until recent times. You may recognise the hospital, as the Duke of Edinburgh was treated there for a heart problem recently. Rivers lectured at the University of Cambridge and was a polymath, being involved in the fields of ethnography, anthropology, medicine and psychiatry.

Dr Rivers joined the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War and was appointed Senior Psychiatrist at Craiglockhart War Hospital.  Dr (Capt.) Rivers was an extremely popular member of the medical team at the hospital, using dream analysis and the talking cures to help his patients. He is best known in literary circles as being the doctor who treated the poet Siegfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart. Dr Rivers returned to academia after the war but died in June 1922.

You can find out more about both these men in the War Poets Collection at Craiglockhart (University Covid-19 restrictions apply at the moment) or visit our website at www.napier.ac.uk/warpoets

By Catherine Walker

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