Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Historic letters to Robert Burns club displayed

Letter from Sean Connery
Sean Connery is among the leading Scots who belong to the club

Hundreds of letters hand written by people such as Charles Dickens, Sean Connery and Winston Churchill will go on display this week in Ayrshire.

Some of the letters of acceptance of honorary membership of the Irvine Burns Club date back to 1828 and many have not been seen in public since.

The letters are being shown as part of Homecoming Scotland's Finale Weekend.

It celebrates the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, widely regarded Scotland's national poet.

The historic collection of letters can be seen in Irvine's Wellwood Museum, along with original Burns' manuscripts.

Bill Nolan, a past president of Irvine Burns Club and display organiser, said: "Shortly after the Irvine Burns Club was founded in 1826, it decided to recognise prominent individuals, national and international, by inviting them to become Honorary Members, asking simply that each should write their letter of acceptance in their own hand.

"That tradition has continued to the present day and the 'Dear Mister Burns ...' exhibition will display part of this unique collection of letters of acceptance."

Letter from Charles Dickens
The club began in 1826 and has amassed thousands of letters

Mr Nolan said the letters to be displayed will include those from "Churchill and Thatcher, sporting legends such as Roger Bannister and Jack Nicklaus, and many prominent Scots from different walks of life including John Galt, JM Barrie, Sir Alexander Fleming, Jackie Stewart, Jimmy Shand, Winnie Ewing and each of the Scottish Parliament's four first ministers".

He added the collection also includes letters from "19th Century literary giants such as Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, Thackeray, Longfellow, and Shaw, political figures from the same era including Disraeli, Garibaldi, and Balfour."

Mr Nolan said: "At any time, opening up such a unique collection of letters would be seen as a major event, and it is astonishing that it has never happened previously."

He added: "Dear Mister Burns has become a catalyst for a whole range of events, aimed at the local community and visitors alike, that have sprung from it, including music and drama, ceilidhs and concerts and, in particular, Burns-related events for children."

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