Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Following the footsteps of the past

The upper room of the Bachelor Club (pic from the National Trust for Scotland)
The poet debated, danced and was initiated into freemasonry in the upper room of the Bachelors' Club more than 200 years ago

By Mona McAlinden
BBC Scotland news website

"There's something about that wee room - when we go in and shut the door, we sense his presence."

Retired railwayman Joe Kennedy describes a palpable sense of history when he and his group of Robert Burns enthusiasts enter the Bachelors' Club in the Ayrshire village of Tarbolton.

The group has been meeting in the small upper room of the thatched 17th Century cottage regularly for the past six years, following in the footsteps of the Scots bard, who started his own debating club there in 1780.

Joe, an "Ayrshireman born and bred", has Burns in his blood.

Like many in an area littered with the poet's haunts and houses, the 61-year-old listened to generations of his family sing and recite Burns' work at parties, and as an adult spent his time devouring the hundreds of poems, songs and letters Burns composed until his death at the age of 37.

Joe has spoken at Burns Suppers for the past 15 years, but became disillusioned with a scene in which the poet "tends to play second fiddle".

"It had become too commercialised, you only got the well-known poetry and the rest is left behind," he said.

The exterior of the Bachelors' Club in Tarbolton
The National Trust has preserved the building as it was in Burns' time

He felt the traditional purpose of the suppers had been lost in the formulaic events held by the "Tam o'Shanter brigade" in local golf and bowling clubs.

He said: "There are some suppers where, even before you lift the programme off the table, you know you'll get Tam o'Shanter and Holy Willie's Prayer.

"I started to get disillusioned by the whole scene. Although there was more focus on his life and works at Burns Club Suppers, at the meetings they didn't want to get into him very deeply.

"At one of them a lady was giving a talk about how to pack a picnic basket and another night a man was on about how to do the gardening. I thought then, I can walk away from this or I can try and change it myself.

"That's when I decided to set up our group."

Joe scoured the back rooms of pubs in search of a venue, but thought it would be special to hold the debates in the Bachelors' Club, preserved as it was in Burns' time.

'Same rules'

Luckily, the National Trust for Scotland, which owns the building, agreed.

"It's run under the same rules as the original Bachelors' Club, like no silly swearing or excessive drinking," he said.

"We have no agenda, it's all off the cuff, we just throw topics out there for debate - we talk about Burns the farmer, exciseman, husband and father - we all learn from each other.

"After each debate, we don't vote on who won, like Burns' group did, we just have a bit of music."

He admits that the setting also adds to the occasion.

"One of the guys said the first time he came to the meeting he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up because of the atmosphere in that room.

"I don't think our wee club would be as good if it was held anywhere else because the history of the place just captures us when we close the latch on the door."

Print Sponsor

In pictures: Burns Collection
19 Jan 09 |  In Pictures
Birth of Burns marked with stamps
19 Jan 09 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
How best to honour Rabbie Burns?
16 Jan 09 |  South of Scotland
Three-day Burns festival begins
15 Jan 09 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific