To The Bard Robert Burns

Every year on January 25th, Scots around the world participate in a magnificent feast called a “Burns Supper,” celebrating the life and poetry of the nation’s poet, Robert Burns, on his birthday. The bard was born on January 25, 1759, 262 years ago. This year, virtual celebrations can be found everywhere you look, making it easier than ever before to celebrate Burns at home (Burns Night In, if you will). 

Robert Burns is a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world. He is also 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. Did you know there are more statues dedicated to Robert Burns than any other secular figure in the world?

1898 — Robert Burns Engraving by William Harry Warren Bicknell — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Many would recognize the Burns poem “Auld Lang Syne,” which is sung across the globe to ring in the New Year. Other popular Burns poems include, “A Red, Red Rose,” “Tam O’Shanter,” and “A Mans a Man for A’ That.”

If you would like to celebrate the the life of Robert Burns and host your own Burns Supper, you can find a great how-to guide here and recipes here. While this year’s Burns Supper may look different due to the pandemic, you can still gather with friends virtually, eat a meal together, and take turns reciting your favorite Burns poems or songs. You can even learn a few traditional Scottish dances virtually thanks to our friends at the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Boston Branch, who are hosting an evening of dance with a Burns Night theme on Monday, January 25, 2021 from 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST. Send an inquiry note to: cambridgeclass@rscdsboston.org.

In a typical year, a Burns Supper usually takes the following format:

  • To begin, the guests are piped into the venue, followed by the “Selkirk Grace.”
  • Next, the haggis is piped in and the host performs “Address to a Haggis.” As the poem wraps, everyone toasts to the haggis and the main meal is served, followed by dessert. If you don’t have access to haggis, you can serve lamb, steak pie, or a vegetarian alternative.
  • After the meal, the host typically recites a well known Burns poem, followed by the “Immortal Memory,” the main tribute speech to Burns. Next up is a tongue in cheek speech written in advance called the Toast to the Lassies,” followed by a similarly jokey retort, “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.” After the meal and toasts is a Ceilidh, a series of Scottish dances.
  • To close the Burns Supper, give thanks to all who attended and participated, and together sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Cheers to Robert Burns! Please let us know how you plan to celebrate in the comments!

Happy Hogmanay!

As we think back on 2020, we wanted to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for each of our members and friends of the Society. None of us could have imagined what 2020 had in store for us all. While many of our projects had to be put on hold, we remained true to our mission of Scots helping Scots and used the extraordinary circumstances we were presented with as an opportunity to reset our compass. By refocusing our organizational goals, we were able to accomplish quite a bit, despite the many challenges we all faced. Looking back, we have much to be proud of.

Masks for Scotland PPE donation

Highlights of our year include:

  • We made a sizable donation made to Masks for Scotland, assisting their efforts to provide PPE to front-line health care workers.
  • We contributed to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s appeal for donations for PPE for the Commonwealth’s front-line workers.
  • Our annual scholarship program went entirely virtual and provided $77,000 to 39 college students of Scottish descent who reside in the New England area.
  • We assisted in the Save Our Scotland appeal by the National Trust of Scotland and, in the process, arranged an affinity program with the National Trust to offer 15% discounts to National Trust membership for members of the Scots’ Charitable Society.

All of these contributions were in addition to our regular relief activity for Scots in the area in need.

In addition, we moved all of our meetings to virtual platforms, unveiled a new logo, and even managed to celebrate St. Andrew via an interview with a well-known Scottish storyteller, David Campbell, which was then shared with our members.

Reflecting on the year also lends itself to reflecting on traditions and some ways in which we can adapt them for our current situation. Hogmanay, the Scots word for the last day of the year, is typically a time to welcome friends and strangers with warm hospitality into your home. While social distancing prevents us from celebrating in typical fashion this year, many are still gathering virtually.

Since ancient times, households across Scotland have welcomed strangers through their doors with the aim of bringing good fortune for the year ahead. This tradition, called “first footing,” stems from the Gaelic practice of “qualtagh.” Traditionally, the first footer should be someone who was not already in the house when midnight struck – hence a Scottish party tradition of having one guest leave just before the bells so they can knock on the door as the new year begins. They usually come bearing gifts; per tradition, they would arrive loaded with a coin, bread, salt, a lump of coal, and whisky – gifts representing all the things the new year would hopefully bring, such as prosperity, food, warmth and good cheer.

Carrying out this tradition while still being socially distant is possible! Perhaps have a surprise guest drop in on your virtual gathering at midnight. Your virtual first footer could even take advantage of liquor delivery services and have a wee dram delivered to the organizers.

Looking ahead, we are excited to continue our efforts as Scots helping Scots and send our best wishes to you and your families. Happy Hogmanay!

St. Andrew’s Day

Saint Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland, is celebrated today, November 30th. Who is Saint Andrew? He was a Galilean fisherman and one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, believed to have been born between 5AD and 10AD. But, funny enough, despite being Scotland’s Patron Saint, he was never believed to have stepped foot in Scotland!

There are many legends as to why St. Andrew became the Patron Saint of Scotland, but one tale is that in the 9th Century, as King Angus was preparing to battle the English, the king dreamt St. Andrew visited him and promised him victory. On the day of the battle an X, the symbol of St. Andrew, appeared in the sky, assuring King Angus that he would win the battle. This X went on to become a part of the Scottish flag.

Stained glass window of St Andrew in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Photo by Lawrence OP

Traditionally, St. Andrew’s day is celebrated with a ceilidh and feast, but this year things look a little different for many Scots and those of Scottish descent. Instead, many of us will stay home and prepare a traditional meal, or order one from our favorite Scottish pubs and toast to St. Andrew.

To learn more about St. Andrew, click here!

And if you want to try to prepare your own feast, a few favorite recipes can be found linked below!

Cullen Skink – Smoked haddock chowder
Roast Scottish Lemon Sole on the Bone
And of course, don’t forget a wee dram of your favorite Scotch!

Also, a quick reminder to our members, if you haven’t done so recently please check your e-mail for a special St. Andrew’s message!

Scottish Participation at the Battles of Lexington and Concord

April 19, 2020 will mark the 245th Anniversary of the start of the American Revolutionary War.  

The battles of Lexington and Concord which triggered the War of Independence and was a brewing response to the Boston Massacre, taxation without representation, and other hardships such as the Sugar Act, Stamp Act and Townshend Acts imposed by Great Britain. These events generated fierce resentment in the eyes of the colonists. 

The “story” behind the story.  

More than a century before the American Revolution, the English Civil War raged from 1642 -1651. The final battles began in 1650 Charles (Stewart) II sent his Royalist army led by David Leslie to invade England comprised mostly of Scottish highlanders determined to regain the throne. In a disastrous campaign Leslie and his army were defeated by Oliver Cromwell’s Covenanter army at the Battles of Dunbar, Scotland and Worcester, England.  Ultimately, the losses forced Charles II to escape to the continent and English Civil War had ended. 

As a result of this failed campaign 15,000 Scots were taken prisoner where many died in captivity.  Cromwell deported 470 Scottish prisoners as indentured servants to Boston (arriving in Charlestown and Lynn MA). Upon arrival, the majority of these were sent to work as laborers at the Saugus and Braintree Ironworks and a smaller contingent was sent to work at the sawmills in Oyster River New Hampshire, Kittery and Berwick Maine.

In January 1657, 28 Scots who had fulfilled their time as indentured servants came together to form the Scots Charitable Society.  Their purpose, to raise funds to help release fellow former Scottish prisoners of war from servitude and to provide charitable support for Scottish families. 

In the years that followed, the descendants of the Scottish prisoners grew, prospered and merged into colonial society. The Scots played a prominent role in defending the colonies against marauding Indians and fought the Indians in King Philip’s War.  During the French & Indian War (1754-1763) which pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, Scots allied with the British in defense of the colonies. Then, fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.

On April 18, 1775, one day before the outbreak of the battle on the Lexington Common, a meeting was held at Munroe Tavern, a locally gathering place for colonials, owned by William Munroe, an Orderly Sergeant serving under Capt. John Parker, and a great grandson of the original William Monroe who was a transported prisoner of war after his capture at the Battle of Worcester.

In the predawn hours of April 19, 1775, Capt. Parker assembled his militia in response to the news General Gage had dispatched 800 British Regulars to march toward Lexington on their way to Concord to seize a large stockpile of gunpowder and ammunition. As the morning mist gave way to the light of dawn, 77 minutemen bravely stood facing well-trained British soldiers on the Lexington common.  Among these minutemen were 32 patriots of Scottish descent. Along with William Munroe, others may have also been the grandsons and great grandsons of the Scottish prisoners of war taken a century earlier at the Battles of Dunbar and Worcester.

The Scottish Origins of Bobby Orr

Robert Gordon Orr, born in Perry Sound, Ontario, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest hockey players of all time.  Orr’s speed, scoring and playmaking skills revolutionized the position of defensemen.  He played for the NHL for 12 seasons, ten of them with Bruins.  He was inducted into NHL Hall of Fame in 1979. He is remembered by most Bruins fans for the acrobatic game winning goal he scored in overtime of the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals that brought the championship back to Boston after a 29 year hiatus.

The name Orr is a sept or division of the Campbell Clan.  The name, Orr was first given to the son of Alpin, King of Scots, by Druid advisors and is believed to originate from the Kirkcudbright area of Scotland.  It is from a mainly lowland or Border family of the clan Campbell, who were also found in the region of Argyll and other family branches were found on the Isle of Skye.  Most interesting, but not surprising, name Orr means “enchanted,” as able to cause the death of enemies without combat.  No surprise here, throughout his career, Bobby Orr had most certainly enchanted many a fan and foe with his dazzling style of play! 

Additionally, his middle name, “Gordon” derives from Clan Gordon, that originated in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The Scots Charitable in American History

Gilbert Charles Stuart was a famous artist and portraitist born in North Kingstown, Rhode Island in 1755. His father was a Scottish immigrant and business owner, his mother was born into a prominent family in Middletown, Rhode Island. Stuart’s artistic talent was apparent at an early age.

Cosmo Alexander, a famous Scottish artist, brought Stuart to Europe to pursue his artistic studies. After a short stint abroad, Stuart had moved to Boston and was admitted to the Scots’ Charitable Society in February 1775. Shortly thereafter, Stuart left for Europe again, spent 16 years in England and Ireland before returning to the United States. While living in Philadelphia he created his most famous works that we still remember today.

He painted nearly 1,000 portraits of politicians and prominent figures of the time but one stands as the most famous of all.. The Athenaeum, the unfinished portrait of George Washington is the image portrayed on The United States One Dollar Bill! His work was also displayed on U.S. postage during that time. I

In 1805, he returned to Boston/Roxbury and lived on Devonshire Street until his death 1828. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the Old South Burial Ground.

Scottish New England: Provincetown Pilgrim Monument

At the outermost tip of Cape Cod is one of the most popular summer destinations for New Englanders, Provincetown. This quaint little city is not only known for its art galleries, shops and beaches, but also as the place where pilgrims on the Mayflower first landed in the New World.

Cape Cod map post card circa 1930 ( The Mayflower Sales Co., Provincetown, Mass.
Tichnor Bros. Inc., Boston, Mass.)

To commemorate their landing, an unmistakable structure dots the Provincetown skyline: the Pilgrim Monument. Within the 252-foot stone structure are memorial stones from the cities and towns representing settlements in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies, and from the three oldest chartered organizations in the state, including yours truly, The Scots Charitable Society. The cornerstone for this venerable tower was first laid by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and was completed in 1910 with a dedication led by President William Howard Taft.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Napier

If you are in the area, check out the view from the top and don’t forget to stop by The Scots Charitable stone on your way up!  To read more about the history of The Pilgrim Monument, visit their website at https://www.pilgrim-monument.org/.

Photo courtesy of Mark Martins

Member Spotlight: Our Three New Members

On Thursday, June 27th 2019 the Scots’ Charitable Society welcomed three new members; Kirk Brunson, Karen Mahoney and Peggy Wynne. Below we have blog passages from Kirk and Karen explaining what SCS means to them.

Kirk Brunson: 

Scottish arts and heritage is a longstanding aspect of my family. From a young age I visited my grandfather, William Buchanan, and listened to bagpipe music with him. Shortly thereafter I began bagpipe lessons and since have taught and performed throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland and Scotland. Celtic music has been a focus of mine for a number of years, and I look forward to contributing to the Society’s purpose of advancing Scottish and Celtic heritage.

Kirk Brunson and Peggy Wynne

Karen Mahoney: 

Why did I seek to join SCS? 

In May of 1993, I said goodbye to the town of my birth, Kearny, NJ, and it’s three fish n’ chip shops, two Scottish butchers, two pipe bands, my Scottish Highland Dancing teacher of 19 years, and my employer at The Piper’s Cove and I moved to Boston. I knew my new city would enrich me in many ways, and it certainly has, but as I had intended, I started teaching Scottish Highland dance out of my Roslindale, MA apartment soon after settling here. I didn’t know then, that what I was doing was creating my own cultural outlet. Before long, I had students competing at Games and Festivals near and far. Over the past 25+ years of teaching dance, I’ve met so many people who have influenced and shaped me, including our current SCS President, Alan McCall and SCS member, Dennis Napier. When a fellow dancer asked me recently “why did you join SCS”, it was an easy answer: I’m a do-er and a giver, as are both of these wonderful men. I am not a passive participant in anything I do, and the idea of simply donating monetarily to the good works and mission of the SCS did not appeal to me. I had to do something, and actively participate. So, here I am, giving and doing, and living up to my high school honor of “Most Helpful”. 

Kirk Brunson and Karen Mahoney

The Travels of the Robert Burns Statue of the Fen and Winthrop Square

By William Budde, Historian, Scots’ Charitable Society, Boston, Massachusetts

Winthrop Square
(re-located back to the Fen in 2019)

The Robert Burns statue that graces Winthrop Square in Boston was originally erected in the Back Bay Fen. Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759 and died on July 21, 1796, is often referred to the National Bard of Scotland. A prolific writer, he produced about 300 poems, songs, and ballads that romanticized everyday Scottish life. It helped that he wrote in a vernacular Scottish dialect that was easily understood and pronounced by readers without knowledge of the native Scottish tongue. 

Traditionally, Boston has had a large Scottish population. From about 1870 to 1930, the Scots living in Boston were extremely active, especially in the organizations, events, and celebrations they organized. The oldest charitable society was the Scots’ Charitable Society organized in 1657 to assist needy Scots in the Boston area. Events often attracted 300 attendees, with one report of over 1,000, and honored guests included the mayor of Boston and Governor of Massachusetts, a future United States president, and Andrew Carnegie. 

The Burns Memorial Association was organized in 1899 to plan and erect a suitable memorial to Robert Burns. In 1910, the association announced a competition to design a statue. The winner was Henry Hudson Kitson, an English emigre, and he was awarded the commission in the autumn of 1911. Kitson was a well-known artist living in the Boston area. His list of earlier New England works included the David Farragut statue at Marine Park in South Boston (1881), the Minute Man statue on the Lexington Town Green (1900), and the Roger Conant statue in Salem (1905). Later work in the Boston area included the Henry B. Endicott tablet in Boston (1921), the Pilgrim Maiden statue in Plymouth (1922), and the Richard Saltonsall monument in Watertown (1931).

The original design for the bronze Robert Burns monument included a more elaborate base. The chosen site was in the Caledonian Grove in the Fen along the Charles River, near the memorial to the well-known Irishman John Boyle O’Reilly. Although the commission was awarded in 1911, the statue was not erected until 1919. The delays were probably due in part to fund raising, but a significant delay was the involvement of the United States in World War I. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge (the future U.S. president) dedicated the statue on New Years Day 1920. 

Robert Burns stood in the Fen for 56 years. According to some reports, when developer Ted Raymond renovated the old Hearst Building at Winthrop Square the plans included a small park. The park apparently seemed somewhat empty so a search was started to find a suitable statue of historic import. The first choice, John Winthrop, was not available, so another monument was sought. One source indicates it was the chairman of the Boston Art Commission, Nelson Aldrich, that suggested the Burns statue be moved from the Fenway site to a more prominent location at Winthrop Square about 1974. Burns then settled into a new location in the square in 1975. 

Why was Robert Burns moved? In all likelihood, there were probably several reasons. The first choice, John Winthrop, was not available. To commission a new statue would take years, not to mention the cost that would have been involved. And who can say what influence the Boston Scots had in the decision?