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A Nicht  Wi’ Burns

 Lochwinnoch  Community Library, January 2009


Adrian Tharme


There may have been bigger events  commemorating the 250th Anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth but none will have captured the essence of this celebration better than the Community Library’s “ A NICHT WI’ BURNS “.

The programme for a traditional Burns Supper adheres to a pre-set formula and therefore to a sense of “sameness“.  A change in format was needed to help differentiate this year’s extra-special celebration and the Community Library’s “A NICHT WI’ BURNS“ more than met that requirement. The event was co-produced by Community Librarian, Margaret Sweenie, and the   GARTHLAND ST WINNOCH CRONIES who also presented the entertainment. By choosing not to adopt the traditional “Supper“ for their acknowledgement of Burns on this 250th Anniversary, this event provided a much broader base for the presenters to express their admiration for the man and his works. The result was a well balanced and impressive commemoration of the national bard.

The GARTHLAND ST WINNOCH CRONIES have been building their reputation as exponents of Burns through appearances at various events this year. “A NICHT WI’ BURNS“ provided an ideal structure for their narrative and specially selected readings to resonate through to their audience.

JOHNNY MAIR launched the programme and set the standard for the night with his address “To a Haggis“, which had been piped in by JULIE DONN. 

BILL DAVEY then provided the framework for the evening with his insight into  Burns, delivered with an evident passion but which never betrayed the reality of the obvious paradoxes in Burns’character. Using his variation of Immortal Memory Toast, Bill guided the audience through the Bard’s life and work with particular focus on the farming aspect. At intervals selected readings were given by other “CRONIES“  to emphasise or illustrate specific points in the narrative.

MALKY BLAIR  gave the first of these, a very well received rendition of one of Burns’ most popular humourous poems, “To the Toothache“. This was followed by the raspingly barbed “Holy Willie’s Prayer“ superbly presented by GAVIN PRATT.  Johnny Mair then produced one of Burns’ less well-known poems “The Death and Dying Words of Mailie“ – a commentary on Burns’ favourite pet-sheep. The next reading was stylishly recited by Malky Blair, “ To a Mouse “ – a much loved tribute by Burns to the “tim’rous beastie“. The “moose’s” response “To a Ploughman“ was delivered by Johnny Mair and the reading incorporated the humour of the verses very well indeed.  There followed another of Burns’ tribute poems, “To a Mountain Daisy “ by Malky Blair whose recitation of this excellent work by Burns was much admired by the audience.           

 The last of the selected recitations was “Death and Doctor Hornbook “, delivered in costume and with great panache by JOHNNY MAIR and GAVIN PRATT. The audience were treated to the thoughts emanating from a “meeting” between an inebriated Burns and the Grim Reaper about the local self-taught apothecary (Dr Hornbook). Burns’ view that the apothecary’s potions were deadly harmful rather than healing is supported by amusing examples. Self-interest ensures that the Grim Reaper concurs with this assessment!   


 “ A NICHT WI’ BURNS “ was concluded with a toast to the Immortal Memory proposed by Bill Davey and drunk in a choice of either of our national tipples - a single malt or an Irn Bru ! Those lucky enough to have secured tickets for this sell-out event were then treated to a medley of pipe tunes by JULIE DONN while enjoying the excellent Scottish food  prepared by the ladies from the library, Margaret Gilmour, Dorothy Donn and Janet McCallion.                      

In appreciation for the excellent evening’s entertainment the GARTHLAND ST WINNOCH CRONIES were presented with specially engraved whisky glasses with which it is hoped they raise many more toasts to Burns. Julie Donn, a former World Champion Amateur Solo Piper and therefore the village’s most accomplished piper, was given a kilt-pin which it is hoped she wears when winning her next World Championship. 

Finally, many congratulations and a huge thank-you to Margaret Sweenie and the team at the Community Library for producing yet another superb evening event.

Lochwinnoch’s links with Burns’ work are significant. An early version of Auld Lang Syne attributed to Francis Sempill of Beltrees was one of the strongest influences leading to the version by Burns. The Scots Stanza favoured by Burns in much of his work was a poetry structure puioneered by Robert Sempill, another of the Beltrees branch of that family. “A NICHT WI’ BURNS“ fittingly re-established this link in a wonderfully convivial atmosphere which Burns and the Sempills would have revelled in !