Burns Surprising Facts

Listen to the story

Burns Suprising Facts:

Even with all we know of Robert Burns there may still be some surprising facts you haven’t heard before.

Shadows of the Past Illustrated Stories

Download a pdf booklet to view the illustrated stories and map locations of the Shadows of the Past trail.

Some facts you may not know about the infamous Rabbie Burns!

First of all, he never actually referred to himself as Rabbie, even though he is often called ‘Robbie Burns’ or ‘Rabbie Burns’ by others. He went by other variations of Robert including Rab, Rob, Robin and even ‘Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin’. In one letter he even used ‘Spunkie’ as a sort of signature and symbol to sign off the letter.  In fact, his second name wasn’t even Burns! It was actually Burnes, but he preferred the Ayrshire spelling without the ‘e’ and chose to shorten his last name at the age of 27.

As well as his name and his words, his likeness has also become infamous. After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure. More than 60 across the world, with 20 official memorials in Scotland. Monuments dedicated to the poet can be found in America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and France. He was even pictured on a bottle of Coca-Cola in 2009, becoming the first person to appear on a commemorative bottle of Coca-Cola.

Silhouette of Robert Burns holding a book.

Reaching far and wide, his words have also made it into space. In 2010 astronaut Nick Patrick took a miniature book of Burns’ poems with him on his 5.7-million-mile trip around the Earth, completing 217 orbits! Surely that must have broken some records, but ‘Auld Lang Syne’ certainly has. The song is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the top three most popular songs in the English Language, up there with ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow’. The song, whose title means ‘old long since’ or ‘a long time ago’, was not an original work by Robert Burns but a traditional song which Burns wrote down, adding new lyrics, in an effort to preserve the Scots oral tradition and culture. Burns himself described ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as ‘an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man’s singing.’

Five years after his death, in July 1801, a group of nine of his pals gathered in Alloway to remember him over a meal of haggis. They recited his works, and a tribute speech was given, which has now become known as “The Immortal Memory”. This is considered the first Burns Supper which was moved to his birthday and is now celebrated Annually all over the world in remembrance of the man, his works, and the wider Scots culture.

Another decade and more passed, and it was decided his body should be moved from its resting place in the far corner of St. Michael’s Churchyard in Dumfries. The simple burial was thought to be insulting to his memory by some, and he was moved to The Burns Mausoleum in the same cemetery where he was eventually joined by his widow Jean Armour in 1834. While they were moving his body, a plaster cast was taken of his skull for study, which found that it was larger than the average man’s.

As a love for his work lives on, even Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, expressed a fondness for his works, it is even believed that he was working on a Broadway musical based on Burns’ works, and began an unreleased album setting the Bard’s poems to music. It has also been suggested that Jacksons’ 1983 hit single ‘Thriller’ was inspired by Tam o’ Shanter.

Map location of silhouette

Credits

Written by: Toria Cassidy
Illustrations by: Toria Cassidy
Audio by: Gregor Campbell
Audio recording and mixing by: Scott Andrew