Robert Burns World Federation

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Robert Burns World Federation
PG 1063Burns Naysmithcrop.jpg
The portrait of Burns,
by Alexander Nasmyth, 1787 (detail)
Born(1759-01-25)25 January 1759
Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died21 July 1796(1796-07-21) (aged 37)
Dumfries, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship British
Literary movement Romanticism

The Robert Burns World Federation is a literary society based in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, aimed at educating the public about the life, poetry and works of the poet Robert Burns. [1] It is a Scottish Charity and a company limited by Guarantee. The Federation links existing Burns Clubs and similar groups, giving a unique number to affiliated Clubs, which is then used by them in their promotion and identification. Their ongoing intent is to provide a way for clubs to link together and enjoy the mutual benefit of association, communication and shared mission. It was founded in 1885



In 1884 a statue to Robert Burns was unveiled in London. [2] A group of those attending agreed to celebrate the forthcoming 1886 centenary of the printing of the "Kilmarnock Edition" by setting up a "Burns Federation". Societies in Burns' memory already existed, notably the Irvine Burns Club. Following an initial informal meeting in London early in 1885, the first formally minuted meeting was held in Kilmarnock, where the "Kilmarnock Edition" had been printed. [3]

The minutes of the meeting of 17 July 1885 show that seventeen 'Burnsians' were present: - Colin Rae Brown, President of London Burns Club; Peter Sturrock, Provost of Kilmarnock and President of Kilmarnock Burns Club; Rev. Wm Dunnett; James McKie, Publisher; A. J. Symington; David Sneddon, Ex. President of Kilmarnock Burns Club; John Law, President of Springburn Burns Club; George Dunlop; Andrew Calderwood; R. S. Ingram; Richard Armstrong; Andrew Turnbull, Ex President of Kilmarnock Burns Club; David Aird; James McAlister; Arthur Sturrock; Thomas McCulloch and David Mackay, Secretary of Kilmarnock Burns Club. [3]

At this 1886 meeting the proposal by the London representative that the London Burns Club should be allocated the prestigious Number 1 as the initial idea had been raised in London in 1885. [4] When the roll was first announced, the reader started with Kilmarnock Burns Club No. 0, London Burns Club No.1 and the situation has remained this way ever since. [3]


The Board of the Robert Burns World Federation (RBWF) is composed of the main Directors (as per the Articles of Assoc. inc. President, Snr Vice, Jnr Vice, Immediate Past President and the three overseas Directors i.e. USA, Canada and Pacific Rim). Additional Directors are Archivist, Conference, Heritage, Literature, Marketing and Schools, with two non-exec directors of Education and Membership. [1]


Provost Peter Sturrock of Kilmarnock was the first RBWF President, followed by Provost David Mackay of Kilmarnock. [5]

Burns Clubs

In 2013 the Robert Burns World Federation had over 250 member clubs worldwide. [1] The 1941 'Burns Chronicle and Club Directory' lists that 577 Burns Clubs had federated to that date. [6] The first four federated clubs were - 0. Kilmarnock (1885), 1. London (1885), 2. Alexandria (1885), 3. Tam O'Shanter (1885). [7]


The Dower House at Dean Castle was home to the Robert Burns World Federation until 2018. Dean Dower House.jpg
The Dower House at Dean Castle was home to the Robert Burns World Federation until 2018.

The federation holds a number of Robert Burns artefacts such as the Betty Burns portrait by John Hunter of Kilmarnock and holograph letters, etc. held on the federation's behalf at the 'Burns Room' in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. [8] [9] As a number of Burns Clubs have ceased to function and the RBWF holds a number of chains of office from said clubs, donated to them for safe keeping. [8]

Annual Conference

The RBWF holds an annual business and learning Conference every year and has done so since 1885, exceptions being 1914 and 1939. From 1885 to 1893 the conferences were held in Kilmarnock and after that date they were held at sites throughout the United kingdom and internationally. [5] In 2018 the conference was held in Irvine, Scotland and in 2019 it took place in Glasgow, Scotland. The Glynhill Hotel, Renfrew (near Glasgow Airport) is the venue for the Conference which will take place from 3 to 6 September 2020. The RBWF awards Honorary Life Memberships and certificates to recognise outstanding service and other contributions to the federation and to the furtherance of the memory of Robert Burns and his works. [8]

The Burns Chronicle

A 'Burns Chronicle' is issued every year and was first published by the Burns Federation in 1891. The Chronicle, contains current articles on Robert Burns and Scottish enlightenment and acts as a record of club activities with special editions issued for events such as the 2009 'Homecoming'. [10] [11] Duncan McNaught was the second editor and held the post for 32 years. A regular 'Newsletter' is produced giving details of Burns Clubs and their activities, conferences, important visitors, publications, etc. [12] The majority of these have now been digitised and are available online.


The memorial to Highland Mary at Failford. Robert Burns and Highland Mary Memorial - Failford.JPG
The memorial to Highland Mary at Failford.

The RBWF is represented on Facebook, Twitter and has its own dedicated website. [13] [8]


The federation has been actively involved with furthering knowledge of the Scottish Language Scots dialect, the memory of Robert Burns, his songs and poetry with primary, secondary and other school pupils since its inception. [14] A Schools Committee oversees and organises competitions and other events as do many individual Burns Clubs. [8]


The Robert Burns World Federation and local Burns Clubs help to maintain various Robert Burns linked sites such as the 'Trysting Tree' of Robert Burns's poem The Soldier's Return at Millmannoch and the Highland Mary and Robert Burns Memorial at Failford, both in Ayrshire. In 1933 John M. Hannah, owner of the Auchencruive Estate, gifted half an acre of the Leglen Wood to the federation which had erected a cairn as a memorial to Robert Burns and William Wallace. [8]


Since April 2014 the Federation has been involved in a campaign to have Prestwick Airport renamed "Robert Burns Airport". [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Tarbolton Human settlement in Scotland

Tarbolton is a village in South Ayrshire, Scotland. It is near Failford, Mauchline, Ayr, and Kilmarnock. The old Fail Monastery was nearby and Robert Burns connections are strong, including the Bachelors' Club museum.

<i>Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect</i>

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, commonly known as the Kilmarnock Edition, is a collection of poetry by Robert Burns, first printed and issued by John Wilson of Kilmarnock on 31 July 1786. It was the first published edition of Burns' work. It cost 3 shillings and 612 copies were printed. The volume was dedicated to Gavin Hamilton. The Kilmarnock volume contained, besides satire, a number of poems like "Halloween", "The Twa Dogs" and "The Cotter's Saturday Night", which are vividly descriptive of the Scots peasant life with which he was most familiar; and a group like "Puir Mailie" and "To a Mouse", which, in the tenderness of their treatment of animals, revealed one of the most attractive sides of Burns' personality.

Robert Burns and the Eglinton Estate

During the years 1781–1782, at the age of 23, Robert Burns (1759–1796) lived in Irvine, North Ayrshire for a period of around 9 months, whilst learning the craft of flax-dressing from Alexander Peacock, who may have been his mother's half-brother, working at the heckling shop in the Glasgow Vennel. Dr John Cumming of Milgarholm, a provost of Irvine, claimed that he had invited Burns to come to Irvine to learn flax dressing. During this time he made a number of acquaintances, befriended several locals and took regular walks into the Eglinton Woods via the old Irvine to Kilwinning toll road and the Drukken or Drucken (Drunken) Steps. Steps over the Red Burn and back via the site of Saint Brides or Bryde's Well at Stanecastle. Burns had several other connections with the Eglinton Estate and other branches of the Montgomerie family. He probably left in March 1782.

Irvine Burns Club

The Irvine Burns Club, based at the Wellwood Burns Centre & Museum, was founded on 2 June 1826 and is one of the world's longest continuously active Burns Clubs. At least five personal friends of Robert Burns were among the group of local gentleman, whose idea it was to form the club. Irvine in North Ayrshire is an old market town and port situated on the west coast of Scotland, approx 14 miles north of Ayr.

Gilbert Burns (farmer)

Gilbert Burns, the younger brother of Robert Burns the poet, was born at Alloway. He married Jean Breckenridge in 1791, had 6 sons and 5 daughters, died in 1827, aged 66, and was buried at Bolton, East Lothian, Scotland. Gilbert's writings have contributed greatly to the bank of knowledge that exists regarding the life of his famous brother.

Robert Burnes

Robert Burnes or Robert Burness was a paternal uncle of the poet Robert Burns. He left the family farm of Clochnahill or Clokenhill in Kincardineshire with his younger brother William Burnes, and found work at the Lochridge or Lochrig limestone quarries and lime kilns that lay near Byrehill Farm near Stewarton. He was a teacher, a gardener later in life and a land steward on the nearby Robertland Estate, possibly through the influence of his nephew. Robert Burns referred to his him as Poor Uncle Robert upon his death in 1789.

Burns Clubs

Burns Clubs exist throughout the world to encourage and cherish the memory of Robert Burns, to foster a love of his writings and generally to encourage an interest in the Scots Language and Literature. An emphasis on encouraging the young to take an interest in Burns is found in most clubs through poetry, singing and other competitions. Once mainly existing as 'male only' clubs in the mould of the Tarbolton 'Batchelor's Club' most now welcome women as fellow members. Ladies Burns Clubs also exist such as the 'Irvine Lasses' that was established in 1975; it has appointed several male 'Honorary Lasses'.

The Hermitage, Friars Carse

The Hermitage was a folly first built by Captain Robert Riddell of Friars Carse as part of his enthusiasm for antiquities. It is famous for its connection with the bard Robert Burns who through his friendship with Robert Riddell was permitted to use it to compose poetry in this secluded and tranquil sylvan spot. Burns also used his diamond point pen to engrave lines on the window pane at the Hermitage following the premature death of Robert Riddell. The original Hermitage fell into disrepair and was rebuilt in 1874. It was further restored to its former glory more recently (2009).

Fog House

Fog Houses are a special type of pleasure or summer house popular in Scotland and at one time commonly found on many country estates as a feature in the pleasure gardens. The name 'Fog' derives from the Scots word for the moss that was a major feature of the building, mainly used to line the walls and roof.

Adam Armour (1771–1823) was the younger brother of Jean Armour and therefore the brother-in-law of the poet Robert Burns. In addition, being married to Fanny (Frances) Burnes, he was also related to the poet through his father-in-law 'Poor Uncle Robert', who lived at Stewarton.

<i>Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh Edition)</i> 1787 collection of poems by Robert Burns

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect is commonly known as the first Edinburgh Edition and the partial second setting has become known as the Stinking Edition. It is a collection of poetry and songs by Robert Burns, first Printed for the Author by William Smellie in Edinburgh and published or Sold by William Creech of Edinburgh on the 17 April, an announcement being made in the Edinburgh Advertiser on that date, although the date 21 April 1786 is given by a few authors. The Kilmarnock Edition made Robert Burns Caledonia's Bard whilst the 'Edinburgh Edition' elevated him into a position amongst the world's greatest poets.

<i>Poems</i> by David Sillar

Poems is a collection of poetry and songs by David Sillar, a close friend of the poet Robert Burns who had been encouraged to go into print by the success of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Poems was printed by John Wilson of Kilmarnock in 1789. Sillar's interest in poetry predated his friendship with Burns, but was one of several reasons for it.

<i>Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (London Edition)</i> 1787 collection of poems by Robert Burns

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect is commonly known as the Third or London Edition and sometimes the Stinking Edition. It is a collection of poetry and songs by Robert Burns, printed for A. Strahan; T. Cadell in the Strand; and W. Creech, Edinburgh. MDCCLXXXVII The date of publication for the London Edition was in November 1787, however Strahan and Cadell had previously advertised for sale the 'Second' or 'Edinburgh Edition' using the 500 or so copies that William Creech still had that were unsold. The successful selling of these made a truly new 'London Edition' a commercially viable enterprise.

<i>Glenriddell Manuscripts</i> 1791 collection of poems and letters by Robert Burns

The Glenriddell Manuscripts is an extensive collection written in holograph by Robert Burns and an amanuensis of his letters, poems and a few songs in two volumes produced for his then friend Captain Robert Riddell, Laird of what is now Friars Carse in the Nith Valley, Dumfries and Galloway. The two volumes of the manuscript were handsomely bound in calf leather. The first volume of poems and songs was completed by April 1791 and was presented to Robert Riddell, however their friendship ceased due to the unfortunate 'The Rape of the Sabine Women' incident and Robert Riddell died shortly after before any reconciliation could take place. The first volume is partly in Burns's hand with one main amanuensis contributing much of the text in a far neater hand than the author himself and a possible third person contributing to the text. The second volume is entirely in Burns's hand.

Duncan McNaught Parochial school teacher in Scotland

Duncan McNaught LL.D., J.P., was born in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire in 1845. He was the parochial school teacher at Kilmaurs in East Ayrshire from 1867 and served at the school for over fifty years, having served as assistant from 1865. He founded the Kilmarnock Conservative Association, jointly founded the Robert Burns World Federation, acted as the editor of the "Burns Chronicle" and was the president of what became the Robert Burns World Federation.

<i>Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Second Edinburgh Edition)</i> 1793 collection of poems and songs by Robert Burns

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was issued during the poet's lifetime In Two Volumes. The Second Edition Considerably Enlarged. It is a collection of poetry and songs by the poet Robert Burns, printed for T. Cadell, London, and W. Creech, Edinburgh. M,DCC,XCIII The date of publication for this edition was 16 February 1793 as advertised in the Edinburgh Courant. The successful demand for the 1787 Edinburgh Edition seems to have encouraged Creech to publish this new edition as the 1787 volume had been sold out since around 1791.

The Holy Tulzie Holy Tulzie or The Twa Herds by Robert Burns

'The Holy Tulzie', 'The Twa Herds' or 'An Unco Mournfu' Tale was a poem written in 1784 by Robert Burns whilst living at Mossgiel, Mauchline, about a strong disagreement, not on doctrine, but on the parish boundaries, between two 'Auld Licht' ministers, John Russel and Alexander Moodie It was followed by "The Holy Fair", "The Ordination", "The Kirk's Alarm", "Holy Willie's Prayer", etc.

Gavin Hamilton (lawyer)

Gavin Hamilton was one of Robert Burns's closest friends and a patron. The first 'Kilmarnock Edition' of his poems were dedicated to Gavin Hamilton.

Edward Whigham

Edward Whigham (1750–1823) was the landlord of a coaching inn, a bailie, Provost of Sanquhar, bibliophile and one of Robert Burns's close friends during his Nithsdale and Dumfries days. Edward married Jane Osborne who died on 6 October 1846.

<i>Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Belfast Edition)</i> 1787 collection of poems by Robert Burns

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was a 'pirated' edition of Robert Burns's work, being published in Ireland without permission from or payment to the author or publisher. It is a so-called 'Stinking Edition', carrying the error 'Stinking' for the Scots word 'Skinking' (watery) in the poem "To a Haggis" because the type setters copied from a 1787 'Stinking Edition' of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect .


  1. 1 2 3 Robert Burns World Federation Retrieved : 2014-01-19
  2. Monuments and Memorials to Robert Burns - London Statue. Accessed 5 December 2014
  3. 1 2 3 The Grand Lodge of Scotland - Burns Federation
  4. Burns Club of London website. Accessed 5 December 2014
  5. 1 2 Burns Chronicle and Club Directory, Page 89
  6. Burns Chronicle and Club Directory, Page 129
  7. Burns Chronicle and Club Directory, Page 104
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 RBWF Annual Conference Minutes, 2012
  9. Burns in Scotland, page 45
  10. Westwood (2009)
  11. Burns Chronicle and Club Directory, Cover
  12. RBWF Newsletter.
  13. Robert Burns World Federation Accessed : 2015-01-04
  14. Burns Chronicle and Club Directory, Page 101.
  15. BBC News - "Plea to rename Prestwick Airport after poet Robert Burns", 1 April 2014. Accessed 5 December 2014