Friday, 18 September 2009
Federation 'Homecoming' Conference Edinburgh
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.