Celebrating the great Scottish bard – Robbie Burns Day 2021

ABOVE: Royal Canadian Military Institute, 2018  (PHOTO: ERIC MORSE)

Every January 25th, the world focuses its attention, at least for a dinner, on things Scottish — particularly haggis and its great poet Robbie Burns. This year, 2021, is the two hundred and sixty second year of his birth. In 1759, Robbie Burns was born during an tumultuous era and grew up where common people, especially in Scotland, were subjected to complexity and uncertainty and where confounding simple matters were seemingly made confusing to enrich the lives of elites of the time.

Throughout Burns’ life, he was influenced by strong women. His affinity for socialist thought and action was largely formed through interaction with his mother and the attraction of several women including Jean Armour about whom he wrote lovingly and with whom he had 10 children. His writings became famous throughout Scotland and elsewhere when his first collection of “POEMS Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” were published by friends in 1786. His writing prompted some of the world’s best known artists to pay homage to him through their own work, among them Ludwig Van Beethoven and the Canadian bard, Robert Service.

It wasn’t until 1811, well after his death in 1796, that his friends and admirers began to mark his birth through the celebration of his memory. That event, the Robbie Burns Dinner, is now an annual event on or around this day and held in every country on earth and his Immortal Memory is honoured through an “Ode to the Haggis” and the singing of one of his most famous poems. It’s also a time where anyone of any ethnic background or heritage can regale themselves in the finest of Scottish tartan and formal dress and celebrate friendship.

During this pandemic, Robbie Burns Day at the Royal Canadian Military Institute (RCMI), where the event has been held for over 100 years, will be cancelled. It is also the first time that Robbie Burns at RCMI will not have the formal gala and will not be hosted by former Prime Minister John N. Turner and me. For several decades Mr. Turner and I feted well-known Canadians, politicians and many others like the great Canadian tenor John McDermott and others who have come to cherish the words of Robbie Burns and take a cup of kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne.

Over the years, Mr. Turner and I have shared many events together but the one event that he cherished among any other was to celebrate the immortal memory of Robbie Burns. Mr. Turner always believed that Robbie Burns gave meaning and hope to common people and whose words were so eloquently simple and still have relevance over lo these hundreds of years. 

Charge your glasses lassies and laddies and drink to the immortal memory of the great bard, Robbie Burns who gave us his canon of poems about love and enduring friendship – forever!!

Marc Kealey is the principal of K&A Inc., one of Canada’s premiere public policy and management consulting firms. He and John Turner (Canada’s 17th Prime Minister) hosted Robbie Burns Night at the RCMI in Toronto for over three decades.