Monday, 14 December 2009

Mabel Irving’s Funeral 4th December 2009

Although touched with sadness, the funeral of Mabel Irving was an uplifting occasion and I was honoured to represent the Federation. A variety of speakers recalled with fondness the different aspects of Mabel’s colourful life as a poet, thespian, teacher and lady of strong Christian faith.
As a good friend of Mabel, Chronicle Editor, Peter Westwood gave a humorous and very thoughtful eulogy on ‘Mabel the Burnsian’ and highlighted her major achievement of being the first female President of Greenock Burns Club, the Mother Club.
One of her own poems was read out at the service and seemed so apt for the occasion and perfectly reflected the dignity of one of the Federation’s most distinguished Burnsians.
There is a time, 'the good Lord said
'To laugh, and, yes to cry,
To bear and to be born,' said He
In My Good Time - to die!
Scottish Southern Counties Burns Association (SSCBA) 5th December 2009

The SSCBA held their usual well-attended and lively meeting in the Globe Inn at which they reflected on the wonderful Homecoming Concert, organised by the Howff Burns Club, and held in the Dumfries DG One Auditorium a couple of weeks earlier.

Also notable was the highly successful book entitled, A Wee Kist o’ Verse produced by the Howff Burns Club which features 100 of the 600 poems in the Scots language submitted by primary schools right across Dumfries and Galloway. As Howff Burns Club President John Caskie says in the forward, “there is no better way to keep alive the rich legacy of the old Scots’ tongue than to encourage youngsters to read and study the works of the National Bard.” Having a scan through my copy I can only echo John’s sentiments and congratulate all the children who took part with such obvious enthusiasm and poetic skill and thank all their teachers for encouraging them.

The Festival of St Andrew Service in St Giles Cathedral 6th December 2009

I had the pleasure and honour of leading the Federation delegation at the annual Festival of St Andrew Service at St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh'sRoyal Mile.

We met up in the very grand Signet Library which was turned into a gigantic dressing room as robes, hats, gowns and chains of office were donned ready for the procession to the Cathedral.

Looking down on us all from the fine dome ceiling in the library was the Bard himself (left side with blue sleeve), sitting beside William Shakespeare, and, hopefully, giving an approving wink at the assembled Burnsians keeping his memory alive. As the honourable members of the Order of the Thistle proceeded through the Cathedral I couldn’t help noting that three of them, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord MacFarlane of Bearsden appear in Andy Hall’s book Touched by Burns which I had been reading over breakfast that very morning. In it they all extol the philosophies of the Poet and declare themselves as strong devotees of his works so I felt all the more proud to represent the Federation at such an auspicious occasion.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Executive Meeting 21 November 2009

Despite the appalling weather there was a healthy turn out for the Federation’s Executive Meeting at the new Kay Park Museum in Kilmarnock. Built round the Burns Statue in the remains of original museum, which was destroyed by fire in 2004, the new museum area proved to be an excellent venue, with scope to be even better when additional rooms become available.

The committees’ reports showed the Federation in good heart and still striving hard to maintain the momentum generated by the Year of Homecoming. A robust discussion centred around the question of getting more young people involved in the Federation’s work, which is central to the future development of the organisation.

During the meeting it was a great pleasure for me to meet with Janet Elsie-May Coom, the great, great, great granddaughter of the poet through Anna Park, barmaid at the Globe Inn, Dumfries. Irvine Burns Club Homecoming Exhibition 26th November 2009

By one of those great co-incidences, my next appointment was to attend the opening of a splendid exhibition entitled Dear Mr Burns at Irvine Burns Club. Among the exhibits was a letter from the same Janet Elsie-May Coom, dated January 09, accepting honorary membership of the Club. This was one of the 35 letters on display from the collection of almost 300 letters from famous personalities around the world who have accepted an invitation to become honorary members of one of the great Burns Clubs, formed in 1826, and the longest continuously operating club in the world. The exhibition was organised and promoted by Bill Nolan and Ian Dickson who had clearly put a huge amount of effort into this grand finale for the Year of Homecoming, as had President Billy Dickson (pictured below) who opened the event.

Much more information on the letter collection can be found on the website at: Dinner was provided courtesy of Irvine Burns Club member Iain Murray, who gave Pat and me a conducted tour of his premises, the famous Ship Inn on the harbour side in Irvine. Pictured left are Iain and I with a copy of a painting of Burns by local artist Graham McKean. Known locally as 'the village,’ Irvine has a strong connexion to the story of Burns because it was here that Captain Richard Brown encouraged Burns to put his verses in print. As Burns himself says, “you wondered I could resist the temptation of sending verses of such merit to a magazine: ‘twas actually this that gave me an idea of my own pieces which encouraged me to endeavour at the character of a Poet.”

The story of Burns’ time in Irvine is depicted in an excellent audio-visual presentation focussing on the beautiful mural painted by Ted and Elizabeth Odling. If you get the chance do go and visit the Irvine Burns Club; it is well worth a look.
Irvine Lasses Burns Club Concert Evening - 26th November 2009

As part of the same St Andrews celebrations at Irvine Burns Club, Pat and I enjoyed a very pleasant evening with the Irvine Lasses Burns Club at their concert featuring the Dreghorn Choir who entertained us with a delightful musical tour of Scotland. In a very generous gesture, the President of the Irvine Lasses, Anne Kennedy, presented the Federation with a cheque for £100 towards the ‘Big Issue’ Chronicle.

Ayrshire Cancer Support Dinner – 27th November 2009

As a special charity fundraiser in the Year of Homecoming, Ayrshire Cancer Support had organised “A Night with the Ayrshire Ploughman” at the Park Hotel in Kilmarnock. I was privileged to be invited along as a guest to attend what turned out to be a most memorable evening starring narrator, raconteur and singer Hugh McNellie, multi-instrumentalist Ian Muir, singer Sally Hastings and an introductory, slightly tongue-in-cheek, ‘talk’ on St Andrew by Prestwick Burns Club stalwart Tam Taylor.

This inaugural event for the charity had been organised by Margaret Anne Aitchinson (above right), Burns Night Committee Chair with help from fundraisers Kath Paton (above left) and Fraser Craig and raised the magnificent total of £1200. I also had the privilege of being ‘caricatured’ by internationally-renowned artist Malky McCormick who raised a substantial part of the proceeds through his comic, artful, drawings.

Re-opening of Burns’ Cottage – 29th November 2009

At the invitation of the National Trust for Scotland I attended the re-opening of Burns’ Cottage in Alloway along with Chief Executive Sam Judge and Chronicle Editor Peter Westwood.

The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, unveiled the plaque to commemorate the re-opening of the cottage and announced £2.1 million of additional support for the project. Sheena Wellington (see photo in red) led a spirited rendition of Rantin' rovin' Robin.

The cottage is a key part of the National Trust for Scotland's £21 million Robert burns Birthpalce Museum Project, which is due for completion next year. the building adjacent to the cottage now featuers a new Education Pavilion where people, and especially children, can learn more about the Poet.
The Saltire Society Homecoming Literary Awards Presentation Ceremony 30th November 2009

What a thrill to be at the National Library of Scotland to witness Robert Crawford receive the award for ‘Book of the Year’ at the Saltire Society Homecoming Literary Awards Presentation for his biography of Robert Burns. The judges praised the depth of research and readability of The Bard which showed Burns not only as a tradition bearer but also a challenger and refresher of tradition. The author reiterated his thanks to the Federation through me for its help in bringing the book to fruition. In the ‘Acknowledgement’ in the book he writes: “I owe a great debt to the Burns Federation (now the Robert Burns World Federation Ltd) for making available through their Burns Chronicle and in other ways information about Burns and his circle, and for providing a worldwide physical and virtual forum for Burns enthusiasts.”
Chief Executive Sam and I therefore felt fully justified in being photographed with the author immediately after his award, which he had received earlier from Mike Russell MSP (front centre), a great supporter of the Federation, pictured below with all the winners.

Auld Lang Syne - World Record Attempt 30th November 2009

As a finale to the Year of Homecoming what better event to stage than a rumbustious rendition of Auld Lang Syne in 41 different languages? That is just what Glasgow University did in Bute Hall on a very special St Andrew’s Night when over 200 staff and students sang their hearts out in that most famous of Burns’ songs, hopefully setting a new world record in the process. I joined another seven members of the Federation who had been invited to act as independent adjudicators.

This turned out to be a memorable occasion with a real buzz as different nationalities rubbed shoulders and shared in the joy of singing Burns’ world anthem. Kirsten McKue, a lecturer in the Robert Burns Centre at the University, led the singing and after a few practices the company’s voices blended beautifully, despite the wide variety of lyrics. Perhaps not surprisingly, photographs of the chain were much in demand! Below are me with Dr Gerard Carruthers Director of the Robert Burns Centre at Glasgow University, a Gaelic student and a Czech student who had a most delightful voice.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

First Minister Meets Burns Essay Competition Winner

On Thursday 5th November I had the pleasure of meeting the winner of the Robert Burns Essay Competition Russia 2009 during her visit to the Scottish Parliament. Organised by the St Petersburg Forum, in conjunction with the Federation's Schools' Committee, the competition took as its theme Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot.

Freda, me, Seraphima and First Minister

Following a comprehensive tour of the Paliament building, fourteen year-old Seraphima Nechaeva met the First Minister, Alec Salmond, and delivered an abridged version of her essay in perfect English, and occasional Scots, and demonstrated powerfully why she had been chosen as the winner. Without a note in sight, she spoke with a passion and an understanding of the poetry of Burns way beyond her years and had the audience spellbound by her use of language. Her essay was printed in the Spring Chronicle and is well worth a close read. If anyone has doubts about the impact Burns’ poetry and songs can have on people from outside Scotland this essay must surely dispel them.

As a token of his appreciation the First Minister presented Seraphima with a signed copy of a book on Burns and she in return presented him with an illustrated copy of her essay.
During their conversation it emerged
that her favourite Burns poem was John Barleycorn, which she knew off by heart, as she did several of his other poems and songs.

Seraphima was accompanied by her teacher Freda Zeitseva who had one of those ‘I can’t believe it’ moments during her visit to Ellisland Farm. One of the exhibits on display was a letter bearing the 1956 Russian ‘Burns’ stamps and the address on the letter was none other than that of Freda’s closest friend in St Petersburg. The phrase 'small world' springs to mind.

Meeting with Solway Offset Printers

On 10th November I joined Federation Chief Executive, Sam Judge, in meeting Mac Creedon and his staff at Solway Offset, the printers who produce the Chronicle and other Burns’ publications including the forthcoming ‘Big Issue’ which will chronicle all the Homecoming events. Following an enjoyable lunch in the Globe Inn, Peter Westwood and I gave Sam a conducted tour of Burns’ sites in Dumfries including Burns House and the Mausoleum.

Father of the Bard Project

On 13th November I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the launch of the second ‘Father of the Bard’ DVD in Mackie Academy, Stonehaven. The aim of the project is to promote a greater understanding of the life of the poet’s father, William Burnes, and also the poet’s links with Kincardineshire.
The project had a dynamic leader in Dave Ramsay (see photo above) and he achieved wonders in getting actors with severe mental and physical disabilities to play the leading roles in the DVDs. Local primary school children also took part as extras and they were thrilled to be driven to the event in stretched limos in true Hollywood style. During the morning Dave and I addressed the senior pupils at the Academy and hosted a most enjoyable question and answer session on the life and works of Burns.

Lanarkshire Association of Burns Clubs Meeting

On 14th November I attended a meeting of the Lanarkshire Association of Burns Clubs in Fir Park Social Club. Chaired by President Archie Cowie, the meeting highlighted the busy programme of events being undertaken by the Association and they are to be commended for their inter-club visitation programme with provides an opportunity for fellow Burnsians to mix at a social level. On display at the meeting was the glass trophy awarded by Super County in recognition of the work done by the Association in promoting Burns through the schools’ competition. The meeting highlighted to me yet again the importance of the work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to put the aims of the Federation into practice at grass roots level.

I was delighted to be presented with a paper-weight, specially commissioned for the Year of Homecoming, as a reminder of my visit.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Representing the Federation at Rotary Conference

Rotary District 1020 is one of three Rotary districts in Scotland and covers 64 clubs in and around Edinburgh, the Borders and the South West. As their contribution to the Year of Homecoming District 1020 helped sponsor the Federation’s Burns Summer School and Conference in Dumfries during the summer. It was therefore very gratifying for me to link up with these fellow Rotarians at the District Conference in York over the weekend of 23-25th October and, in particular, to relay a message of goodwill from the Federation to the President of Rotary International, John Kenny, the first Scotsman ever to hold that prestigious appointment.

I conveyed our good wishes firstly through, Colin Mailer (see right), the President of John Kenny’s home Rotary Club of Grangemouth and secondly through Virginian, Eric Adamson (see left), the RI President’s representative at the Conference. During his address to the conference Eric highlighted the strong influence of Robert Burns on the founder of Rotary, Paul Harris and, in particular his ideas of our common humanity which resonated with the ideals of the Rotary movement.

The conference also provided an opportunity for me to do a bit of international promotion of Burns through the Group Study Exchange (GSE) and the Ambassadorial Scholar programmes. The photograph above shows me with the GSE team from South Africa which the Rotary Club of Kirkcudbright hosted for a few days. Earlier in the week the team had enjoyed a comprehensive tour of Dumfries conducted by Federation Past President, Wilson Ogilvie.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Shirley’s Farewell Concert

In her usual selfless fashion the Federation Chief Executive, Shirley Bell, insisted that there should be no great fuss made of her impending retirement during the Edinburgh Conference because it would detract from the main focus of the event, the inauguration of the new President. However, the Board decided it couldn’t possibly just let her sneak off without some tangible recognition of the tremendous amount of work she had done for the Federation over the past twelve years. The result was a wonderful dinner concert on 9th October in Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries, ably organised by Past President John Haining. Shirley, husband Jack, daughter Alison and daughter Lesley with grandson Hunter, were piped in to a standing ovation from 96 of Shirley’s friends who had travelled from far and wide to join in the celebrations.

Shirley was particularly pleased to see eleven Past Presidents who had attended to pay their respects in person. I was reminded quite pointedly that I shouldn't be in the
photograph because I wasn't a Past President!

Her good friend Peter Westwood (right) had produced a beautiful programme, produced gratis by Mac Creedon of Solway Offset Printers, outlining the format of the evening.

I had the unenviable task of making a speech which would do justice to Shirley’s immense achievements as the Chief Executive over those twelve years, often in the face of hostile opposition. However, after it, I had the pleasure of handing over a farewell gift on behalf of the Federation. Senior Vice President David Baird presented her with a painting from the Federation and Jim Shields presented her with a bouquet of flowers, also from the Federation. Jim Robertson conveyed the good wishes of the Robert Burns Association North America (RBANA) and presented a gift from them.

After dinner, John Caskie acted as Master of Ceremonies for a most enjoyable evening of entertainment from singer and raconteur William Williamson, young Burnsian Holly Little, JVP Jim Shields, fiddler Ian Kirkpatrick, accordionist John Douglas and even John himself. In her gracious farewell speech Shirley thanked everyone who had supported her over the years and wished her successor Sam Judge every success as he takes the Federation forward.

‘The Whistle’ Recitation Competition

Most Burnsians will be familiar with the poem The Whistle written by Burns to record a drinking contest held on Friday 16 October 1789 at Friars’ Carse, the home of one of the three participants, Capt Robert Riddell. The winner of the contest was Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch. What a joy it was for me to attend the first-ever recitation competition featuring the poem, held exactly 220 years, to the day, since the original contest.

The Whistle William, Willie, and Andrew

The event was made all the more special because descendants of Alexander Fergusson, Andrew and William Fergusson-Cuninghame were present and had very kindly brought along “the little ebony whistle,” as Burns describes it, the trophy won by their doughty ancestor at the original contest.
The whistle had been brought to Scotland by a “matchless champion Bacchus” who accompanied Anne, James XI’s Danish queen in the sixteenth century. However, the Danish champ hadn’t reckoned on the drinking prowess of Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton who duly won it off him before he in turn lost it to a member of the Riddell family.

There were four competitors (see left) and the worthy winner of the recitation competition was Willie Horne (see right), past winner of both the Tam O’Shanter and John Lapraik recitation competitions.

The inspiration behind the competition was Ian Millar from the Thornhill Burns Club and he and his club colleagues are to be congratulated on organising a splendid evening compeered, in his usual good humoured and enthusiastic way, by Ronnie Cairns.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

International Connexions with Russia and Japan

One of the most satisfying links enjoyed by the Robert Burns World Federation is with the charity, The St Petersburg Forum, which has its roots in an association forged between Scotland and Russia during the 900-day siege of Leningrad in WWII. As a token of solidarity during the siege, the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge sent an Album of Friendship to the women of Leningrad (now known as St Petersburg) which had a huge impact on morale and so began the link with Scotland. In the mid-nineties the St Petersburg Forum charity was set up and one of its major initiatives is to organise schools competitions with a Scottish theme. The winners of the ‘Knowledge of Scotland’ competition are rewarded with a two-week tour of Scotland and I had the pleasure of meeting this year’s winners on two occasions. The first was in the Globe Inn, Dumfries, on Sunday 27th September, where the Russian students were joined by local Scottish youngsters for an evening concert organised by Jane Brown, the manager of the Globe Inn and an ardent supporter of the St Petersburg Forum. On the Russian side, Liza Kozunova and Veronica Shcheveleva gave their humorous take on the tradition of Hogmanay and Victor Zheltyannikakov enlightened us on the history of the Stone of Destiny, all of them displaying an impressive mastery of the English language. Corin Halliday led off the Scottish side with his stirring bagpiping followed by recitations and songs from Megan Mulgrew, Heather McCafferty and Sean McKenzie with Bethany Hanley chipping in with her spirited bagpiping. A most enjoyable evening.

Russian students with Young Burnsians and piper

The second occasion was two days later in the Eastwood Theatre, Giffnock, where the Russian students were joined by clarsach players Clara Wheeler and Cheryl Turner from St Ninians High School, both members of the East Renfrewshire Symphony Orchestra which will be touring St Petersburg next June. On this occasion Veronica gave a very moving address on the Holocaust Memorial Garden in Pushkin, Victor displayed his virtuosity on the classical guitar and Liza performed a brilliant gypsy dance which had the audience clapping enthusiastically. The photograph shows the three St Petersburg students, me, and Councillor Alan Lafferty the Education Convenor for East Renfrewshire Council. On the wall behind are some of the paintings from the Forum’s art competition organised by May McMaster. Also taking part were Helen Morrison, Anne Fawbert, and Tom and Elizabeth Clark, all doing splendid work with the Forum.

Keeping up the international theme, I spent a very enjoyable day, on Wednesday 30 September, with a Japanese journalist, Yoichi Haruyama, a staff writer on the Saturday edition of Japan’s largest selling newspaper The Asahi Shimbun which has an 8 million daily circulation. He is researching the origin of Auld Lang Syne so Burns Chronicle Editor, Peter Westwood, and I took him, and his very accomplished translator Yuko Satoh to Ellisland Farm to show him the very room in which Burns wrote his great anthem which is so popular in Japan that many people there believe it is a Japanese song! The article is due out by the end of the year and we have been promised an advance copy. We also showed them the Globe Inn, where they enjoyed the superb Cullen Skink soup, and Jane Brown kindly gave them a conducted tour of Burns’ favourite howff before we rounded of the tour with a visit to Burns House and the Mausoleum at St Michael’s Church. The photograph shows from left to right: Yoichi Katuyama, me, Yuko Satoh, Les Byers Curator at Ellisland Farm, Peter Westwood and Ronnie Cairns, Chairman of The Friends of Ellisland

Continuing the Japanese theme, my wife Pat and I were invited to a private viewing of Japanese Art and Crafts in the Dovecot Studio, Edinburgh, organised by Kozo Yoshino on behalf of the Victor Murphy Memorial Trust and opened by the Consul General of Japan, Mr Masataka Tarahara. The invitation stemmed from a guided tour I had given Kozo, and some visiting guests, of Broughton House, the National Trust of Scotland property in Kirkcudbright, with its wonderful Burns Collection and Japanese paintings by Edward Atkinson Hornel. Mixing with other guests I became even more aware of the popularity of Burns in Japan, especially his songs, yet again reinforcing the impact of Burns’ international appeal.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Tam O'Shanter Competition and Ellisland Ploughing Competition

One of the highlights of the President’s year is the Tam O’Shanter Competition, held in the Globe Inn (see right), the poet’s favourite Howff, and organised by the Dumfries Ladies Burns Club No1.

This year’s competition was no exception and I had the honour and pleasure of being one of the judges alongside Willie Horne, last year’s worthy winner, and Isa Hanley, the Federation’s Schools Convenor. We had six excellent and very different recitations which made judging a real challenge. However, Margaret Cook, from Irvine Lassies Burns Club, was chosen as the worthy winner. She is seen below, proudly clutching her trophy, alongside the other competitors, judges, and President of Dumfries Ladies Burns Club No1 Shona Shaw.
How appropriate that my next event following the Tam O’Shanter competition should be held at Ellisland Farm where Burns had written his masterpiece. And what an event it turned out to be! Much to the envy of all my male colleagues I was privileged to spend a whole day as escort to Joanna Lumley at the Homecoming Ploughing Match organised by the Friends of Ellisland Farm.

She was an absolute joy and threw herself wholeheartedly into the event, ploughing with tractors and with horses, signing autographs, posing for photographs, conversing with the competitors and public with her easy charm and showing a genuine interest in all that was going on. Her husband, internationally renowned composer and classical musician, Stephen Barlow, also played a full part chatting freely to everyone he met.

Before opening the event she received a surprise visit from a Nepalise family from Moffat who wanted to show their appreciation of her campaign to support the Ghurkas by presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. Most interestingly, the father, Dawa Sherpa, is the gardener at Craigieburn House, an area closely associated with the lovely Burns’ song Craigieburnwood written for Jean Lorimer.

Joanna opens the Homecoming Ploughing Match Surprise visit by Dawa Sherpa and his family

A full programme of entertainment was skilfully compeered by Robert Burns himself (AKA William Williamson) and included a supremely talented group of young Burnsians from Sanquhar who performed a selection of poems and songs from Burns and other poets. Joanna was particularly taken with Heather McCafferty’s expert rendition of ‘The Rights of Women’ and was pleasantly surprised to learn of Burns’ radical thinking on the issue.

'Robert Burns' explains the workings of Ellisland Farm

We both had the chance to plough a furrow with a pair of horses, the first time for us both, and quite a challenge, especially with the swing plough, but very fulfilling. As the owner of a shire horse herself, Joanna took a deep interest in the Clydesdales and the ploughing equipment. She clearly understood the enormous influence on his poems and songs which the unmediated closeness with the earth afforded Burns during his ploughing. I certainly began to appreciate how Burns might have developed a slight stoop.

During the day I had the pleasure of announcing the opening the new ‘Jean Armour’ path. Generously funded by the Glasgow Masonic Burns Club and the Rotary Club of Dumfries, the path was laid by the Friends of Ellisland and offers a new route from the farm down to the banks of the River Nith. All in all this was a fantastic day, blessed with good weather but I am only too aware it could only come about by the sheer hard work of lots of dedicated volunteers. My thanks go to Ronnie Cairns as chairman of the Friends of Ellisland and especially by Tom Johnstone who mastermined the event and ran it with calm determination and good humour.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Friday, 18 September 2009
Federation 'Homecoming' Conference Edinburgh

What a dream start to my year as President with a most memorable Annual Conference in the capital city. Now, almost two weeks after the event, I am only just surfacing from that dream. The weekend started in the sumptious surroundings of the National Gallery with a reception generously provided by the Scottish Government. My last duty as Senior Vice President was to propose a vote of thanks and I had the opportunity of meeting the First Minister Alex Salmond who had earlier given a rousing speech, rightly highlighting the outstanding success of the Homecoming initiative, with its special focus on the 250th birthday of our National Poet, extolling the virtues of the Robert Burns World Federation and challenging us to redouble our efforts to promote a greater understanding of the Bard's life and works. Master of ceremonies, Hardeep Singh Kohli, kept the evening's entertainment at high tempo and we were treated to acts of the highest calibre from singer Charlotte McKechnie, poet Rab Wilson, musical group Sgiobalta and the three wonderful Scottish tenors, Caledon.

Following the Annual General Meeting, at which Jim Shields was elected as the Junior Vice President, the delegates were treated to four outstanding lectures from Professor Ian Campbell, Dr Kirsteen McCue, Dr Gerry Carruthers and Professor David Purdie, each addressing an interesting aspect of the life and works of the poet. Clearly the highlight for me was the investiture dinner in the 'Thistle Suite' at Murrayfield Stadium. As I have already said in my first blog, it was a huge honour to assume the office of President of the Robert Burns World Federation. It was also a great honour to have as our guest speaker Mike Russell, MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, who gave an inspiring speech which demonstrated both his deep knowledge of, and admiration for, Robert Burns. As someone who had benefitted from studying for an honours degree in Scottish Studies at the Glasgow University Crichton Campus in Dumfries, I was delighted to be able to offer my personal thanks to him for his tireless efforts in helping to establish the campus in the first place but also for supporting the decision to save the campus from threatened closure in 2007.

I am particularly pleased to have such fine deputies in David Baird and Jim Shields. See the trio above, having clearly enjoyed our wine with dinner or maybe it was the effects of superb drinks reception hosted by official sponsors of the Federation, Isle of Arran Distillers, earlier in the evening.

Sunday's Morning Service was held at Canongate Kirk, The Kirk of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle and will long be remembered by those attending. Superbly conducted by the Reverend Neil Gardner MA, BD and with a suffusion of Burns music, including a beautiful solo of Ca the Yowes by Nicola Wood, the service was hugely uplifting. Dr Donald Smith, Director of the Scottsh Storytelling Centre, delivered an inspiring address in which he masterfully dispelled many of the myths surrounding Burns' religious beliefs. Burns again took centre stage when Mike Russell, MSP, unveiled a bust of the poet (see above), created specifically to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Burns by international sculptor David Cornell and generously donated to the Federation. Also on display was the 'Tam O'Shanter' chair, acquired by George IV in 1822 during his visit to Scotland, and sent to Holyroodhouse by Edward VII in 1901. It came to Canongate Kirk specially for the Federation Service by gracious permission of HM The Queen.

As a most fitting finale to the weekend a large group gathered on the Carlton Hill to witness the re-dedication of the Robert Burns Monument. Following a long campaign, led initially by Tom McIlwraith and continued with unwavering dedication by Ralph Balfour after Tom's death, the monument has been beautifully restored in a collaborative project between the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh World Heritage. The re-dedication ceremony was ably led by Jim Shields in his capacity as President of the Edinburgh and District Association of Burns Clubs and will be forever treasured for the 'roof raising' rendition of A Man's a Man for A' That. Luckily, a reporter from BBC Radio Four, there to record an interview with me as part of a series looking back at the 'Year of Homecoming,' arrived in time to record the singing, so hopefully it will feature when the programme goes out in late November around the St Andrews Night period.

Overall this was a memorable Federation Conference, a fitting tribute to the late Harry McGuffog who, as conference committee chairman, had set up the overall plans for the weekend. My sincere thanks go to his widow May who, along with other members of the conference committee, ensured all the arrangements worked seamlessly. This was especially true of the slick operation involved in getting all the delegates bussed to and from the venues, done with humour and efficiency by John Caskie and his team of 'bus stewards'. I also want to recognise the generous contribution made towards the cost of transport by Floridian, Frank Campbell, currently President of the Robert Burns Association North America (RBANA). Finally, I am indebted to Chief Executive Shirley Bell and Office Administrator Margaret Craig who spend weeks before the conference working hard to ensure the important business and social aspects are properly addressed.