scottish bard home
Catalan independence has made headlines in recent times thanks to a call by the political party Esquerra Republicana for a 2014 referendum on the subject. And in a mirror-image move, the leader of the Scottish government, Alex Salmon, declared last November that Scotland would be independent of England by 2017. Such parallels are often drawn between Catalunya and Scotland, and the connection between the two will be reinforced this month with the launch of the Barcelona Burns Club.
The Club’s inauguration takes place on Burns Night, January 25th, the birth-date of 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, and the day he is annually commemorated with a ‘Burns Supper’. Burns is often described as being to Scotland what Shakespeare is to England, but he is much more than a national bard. During his short life (he died at 37), he explored many of the key socio-political topics of the day, including the power of the church, human rights, the rights of women and the class system. Writing in vernacular Scottish and using themes specific to his home country, Burns has long been an icon for the Scottish nationalist movement.
Such was Burns’s impact on his contemporaries that in 1801, five years after his death, friends gathered on the anniversary of his passing to celebrate and remember his work. This became the first Burns Night, at which the first Burns Supper was eaten. Although the date for the custom changed to his birthday, the first attendees would still recognise a Burns Supper today. A speech about Burns called ‘The Immortal Memory’ is given, his poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ is read and haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) are consumed. Of course, new elements have been introduced in the past 200 years: women are now invited, rather than expected to serve, and get their own homage, with the address to ‘The Lassies’.
Mike Thom, president of the Barcelona Burns Club, explained how the group came into being. “About eight years ago, a group of friends and I decided to get together and have a Burns Supper and it grew from there.”
The informal group of 15 to 20 people called themselves the Sarrià Burns Society, meeting regularly and holding annual Burns Suppers. What provided the impetus to create a more formal group was the 2007 Burns Night. It took place in the Montseny town of Viladrau, and Thom described it as “spectacular”. There were over 50 people and it was held in a taverna with a roaring fire and music provided by the City of Barcelona Pipe Band. “It was minus six outside and the pipe band played down the street afterwards,” recalled Thom.
The project is clearly important to him and all involved. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” said Mike Thom. “It’s obviously a big, big thing in Scotland. It’s not just about the haggis and the whisky; it’s based on Burns’s life and his works.”
Other members include vice-president, Fergus Muirhead, a renowned musician who regularly visits Barcelona from his Glasgow home to train the City of Barcelona Pipe Band. He believes the Club can achieve three key objectives including finding a new audience for Burns and cement relations between Catalunya and Scotland. And the decision was recently taken to dedicate the Club to the memory of Jackie Thomson, one of the original founders along with her husband Dick Thomson, former British Consul-General here. As well as the Burns Suppers, the Club aims to promote Burns in other events, as well as contemporary Scottish literature; plans are already underway to have a presence at this year’s Sant Jordi.
The Barcelona Burns Club is starting with a bang, holding two Suppers on consecutive nights: January 25th in Viladrau and then here in Barcelona on 26th. Thom explained that the latter would be more formal. “It will definitely be open to any friend of Scotland or Burns,” said Thom, who admitted he had no idea how many Scots live here. “The Scots have this independent streak and discreetness. When I first came here it was difficult to meet other Scots; there isn’t a single Scottish group.”
But that is set to change when the Barcelona Burns Club launches to the sound of bagpipes and the immortal words of Robert Burns.
For details about the Burns Suppers and other events, visit www.barcelonaburnsclub.com