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Robert Burns Lives!
Volume 1 Chapter 10


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

Last summer, my wife Susan and I toured Burns country. We will relive that trip in our memories for years to come. It was an experience we will tap into in the years ahead as we find ourselves returning to that beloved corner of Scotland. One of the more enjoyable things we did while in Dumfries was to visit The Globe Inn where Burns often visited and knocked back a few in his day. It was not hard to imagine “Rabbie” sitting at a table, telling stories and swapping some merry muses with his drinking buddies. We went upstairs to visit what are now the Dumfries Burns Howff Club and the bedroom Burns is reputed to have slept in from time to time, and not alone, from what we were told. This is a most charming and unusual meeting place for a Burns Club.

When you visit Dumfries, I know you will see the statue in town centre, the Burns house where the poet lived his last years, and the beautiful tomb where he is buried. Do yourself a favor - don’t forget to drop in at The Globe Inn for a visit and a wee dram. You’ll feel welcome at the bar and, if you are lucky enough, you’ll be invited upstairs to visit the club. If you are unfamiliar with the word “Howff,” read on as our guest columnist explains. It is difficult to describe what the eyes saw, the mind registered, and the heart felt. Suffice it to say, all three joined together in a greater appreciation of the Bard. I wish I were there now!

David SmithWe are honored to have one of the Howff Club members as our guest columnist, David Smith, Past President and now Hon. Secretary.

(Notice of Correction: I wish to point out that there is a life-size bronze statue of Jean Armour at Mauchline Cross, made possible by members of the Mauchline Burns Club. It was unveiled on November 30, 2002. My thanks to Shirley Bell and Peter Westwood for correcting the record via email. Furthermore, another statue to Jean Armour is to be raised by the Dumfries Burns Howff Club in the near future. More on this later.)

 

DUMFRIES BURNS HOWFF CLUB

No. 112 on the Roll of the Robert Burns World Federation

By David C. Smith
Past President and Honorary Secretary
Dumfries Burns Howff Club

The Globe Inn in Dumfries in South West Scotland was built in the year 1610 and is located up a close off the High Street in the town centre.

The Inn was visited regularly by Robert Burns between 1788 and 1791 when he farmed Ellisland, some eight miles north of Dumfries and during his time as an Excise Officer when his duties brought him to town.  Burns and his family moved to Dumfries in 1791 and he referred to the Globe as his “favourite Howff”, an old Scottish term for watering hole or place of resort, in a letter to his friend George Thomson, in January 1796. The original letter is in the Pierpont Morgan Museum in New York, USA. Whilst at Ellisland, the poet on occasion would stay overnight at the Globe and the bedroom he used is now preserved as the Burns Bedroom with mementoes of his time. There is evidence that the landlords’ niece, Anna Park, “Anna of the golden locks,” and Burns had many a “merry squeeze.” The room on the ground floor where he would meet friends and discuss the news of the day is also preserved as a museum, and there are several windowpanes with lines of poetry and inscriptions in his hand.

There is a history of Burns’ anniversary suppers being held in the Globe in the 1860s onward when, according to the “Dumfries & Galloway Standard”, admirers of the poet gathered in his Howff on 25th January to celebrate his memory with a meal of haggis and neeps and an appreciation of his works was given by a prominent townsman. Songs and recitations followed.  However, in January 1889, a group of regular gentlemen patrons of the Globe and Burns enthusiasts decided to form a Burns Club and the first Anniversary dinner, or Burns Supper, was held in Burns Room that year. The club went from strength to strength and from small beginnings, originally some 20 members, the roll of membership exceeded 100. The club affiliated with the Burns Federation, itself instituted in 1885, in 1899.

In addition to the annual dinner in January, club gatherings soon increased to include celebrations on St. Andrew’s Night and at Hallowe’en.  The early minute books record “Song and story evenings” and a programme of lectures during the winter months, a tradition which continues to this day. Until the Second World War, St. Patrick’s Night Dinners were also held in the Globe, when a speaker with an Irish connection would address the members. Other early activities included “Tatties and Herring” suppers and from the 1920s a Ladies night with a dinner and dance held in a local hotel.

Sporting events were an early feature of the club. In the 1900s, a Summer Ice Competition was held annually. Summer Ice was an indoor game played on a board similar to a snooker table.  Members competed for the “Draffan Cup”. Although the Summer Ice competition was discontinued at the outbreak of World War II, the “Draffan Cup” survives and is the winner’s trophy for the club bowling evening. There is also an annual bowling match with Dumbarton Burns Club and although on occasion there is little bowling skill displayed, there is much enjoyable fellowship and conviviality. Another annual event is the coach outing, usually to a place with Burns connections such as Ayrshire or Edinburgh but occasionally to historic or cultural centers. 

In 2003, a coach party of 50 members and friends visited the Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle where a great time was had by all. An important part of the club calendar is meeting parties from other Burns Clubs who visit Dumfries when members act as guides to the places of Burns interest in Dumfries and district. The club plays a prominent part in the promotion of competitions for local schools, based on the life and works of Burns and presents prizes annually for the winners. The club library in the Globe Inn boasts of a wide range of volumes on Burns and Scottish heritage that is regularly used for research. The stock now includes audio and video material.

Over the years, members have acquired a proud reputation for supporting local and national good causes. The club responded with enthusiasm to the appeal in 1980 for funds to create a commemorative window to Burns in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and members provide a Burns Supper annually for the residents of the Old Folks Home near to the Globe.

In 2003, the membership was 120 with a waiting list of approximately five years. Members played a leading role in the bi-centenary year of 1996 when a programme of commemorative events was held in Dumfries to mark the 200 years since the death of Burns. The programme included a Torchlight procession, lectures, a schools concert, an orchestral concert, a dinner and a Great Parade involving Burns clubs worldwide, culminating in a wreath-laying ceremony at Burns Mausoleum at St. Michael’s Kirk.  That was a year to remember!

The club has been fortunate over the years to attract distinguished authorities on the poet to propose the toast to the “Immortal Memory” at the Anniversary Dinner, held annually on 25th January. One of the most memorable in recent years was the visit in 1998 of Tom Sutherland, the former Beirut hostage who told members that it was his love of Burns’ works that kept him alive during his long years of captivity. Mr. Sutherland, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, was a generous donor to the club’s Jean Armour Statue Appeal. Currently, the major project is fund-raising for the erection in Dumfries of a statue to Jean Armour. All going well, the statue will be unveiled in July 2004.

The Burns Howff Club of Dumfries carries on today the traditions of the past - good company, lively conversation, scintillating speeches and excellent harmony, just as one absent and honoured guest would have wished. Fortunately, this attitude of fellowship currently prevails in the club, and as long as humanity aspires to hopes of idealism and equality, Robert Burns’ memory will shine with undimming splendour in Dumfries and, in particular, in the Globe, his Howff, which once echoed to that voice that sang and still sings in every Scotsman’s ear. (3-8-2004)


Return to April/May 2004 Index Page | See Robert Burns Lives!

 


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