robert burns

Burns Night – Who, What, When and Where

Burns Night is celebrated all over the world, you’d be surprised where you can find people having a “wee dram” at the end of January! For those of you who have never heard of Burns Night or don’t know much about it, we have put together a guide to Burns Night – Who, What, When and Where.


Robert (Rabbie) Burns was a 18th Century poet, born on the 25th January 1759 in Alloway, just two miles south of Ayr on the south-west coast of Scotland. His parents, William and Agnes were tenant farmers and worked hard to ensure their son had a good education. Burns became an avid reader and began to write poems and songs, mostly inspired by his romantic relationships. The hard labour on the farm didn’t suit Burns, who began to concentrate more on poetry, nature, drinking and women – a running theme throughout his work and life!


A difficult relationship with his refuted wife, Jean Armour, almost led to Burns emigrating to the West Indies with his lover, Mary Campbell. However, Mary died suddenly and Burns’ first published collection of work became a huge success, so he stayed in Scotland and married Jean. The couple had 9 children and Jean outlived Burns by 38 years. Burns died in July 1796 aged 37.

What is Burns Night?

Burns Night is known these days as an excuse to “kilt-up” and head to a Ceilidh! It’s a celebration of the Immortal Memory of Rabbie Burns, people gather and enjoy a traditional menu and toast the Bard. But the origins date back to 1801, five years after Burns died, when nine men who knew him met for dinner at Burns Cottage to celebrate his life and great works. They enjoyed haggis and sang, recited and read the work of their late friend, toasting him with his own verse. They enjoyed it so much they planned to meet again on Robert Burns’ birthday in January and the occasion caught on in surrounding towns, with small groups of men, following the same format, creating Burns Supper Clubs of which many are still active today! The big boost to the popularity of the Burns Supper came when Sir Walter Scott organised a literary Burns Supper in Edinburgh in 1815 and Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd giving the Immortal Memory.



Burns Night is celebrated on (or close to) the 25th January, which was Robert Burns’ birthday. There are plenty of celebrations all over Edinburgh either side of the 25th, check out This Is Edinburgh for some ideas.


No other poet is so celebrated around the world like Rabbie Burns. From Hong Kong to Singapore, New Zealand to Hawaii, all over the USA and Canada, as well as closer to home in London, Paris – they all have their own Burns celebrations. Expat bars such as the Canny Man in Hong Kong serve traditional Scottish food and whisky all year round, but put on something a bit more special on Burns Night. Dunedin in New Zealand certainly celebrate in style. The city’s name is derived from the Gaelic word for Edinburgh and has Robert Burns’ nephew, Thomas Burns as a founding father. There is also promising news for all Scottish expats, descendants and those who are Scottish at heart in the USA .. they are looking into lifting the ban on importing Scotch lamb products! So America could soon be enjoying true Scottish haggis when they celebrate Burns Night – if not, there’s always an amazingly comfy king-size bed for you here at The Dunstane and we’ll cook some up for you!