Burns Supper

2024 Burns Supper Invitation.pdf

Invitation to 2024 Burns Supper

Print, complete the forms and mail them to the address on the form before January 17, 2024

Burns Supper 2023 - a five-minute video

Video by Anne Parsons

Photos were taken early evening Burns Supper 2023

Pictures by Linda Prowten


Robert Burns and his Highland Mary

The mist lay thick and heavy engulfing the harbour where Robert Burns waited for his love, Mary Campbell, his Highland Mary. They planned to sail to Jamaica in the West Indies as Burns had secured the post of bookkeeper to Charles Duncan's Springbank sugar plantation near Port Antonio in north-east Jamaica. They were bidding farewell to Scotland and looking ahead to a new future in a faraway land to seek the fortune and success that had always eluded Burns in his beloved Scotland. His father, William Burness has just died, he was struggling to get his work noticed, his farm was producing little crops, he was close to financial ruin (Burns once described himself as “a man who had little art in making money, and still less in keeping it”) and tired of living in poverty. It was time to take on a position that offered security and prosperity and escape the woes that threatened to overcome him if he stayed in Scotland.

"Will ye go to the Indies my Mary,

And leave auld Scotia's shore?

Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary,

Across th' Atlantic roar?"

“Will ye go to the Indies, My Mary”  Robert Burns 1786



Farewell the glen sae bushy O

Farewell the plain sae rashy O,

To other lands I now must go

To sing my Highland Lassie O!

My Highland Lassie O!   Robert Burns 1786


A cacophony of sounds blasted Burns’ ears;  lapping waves, seagulls cawing, men shouting as they hauled cargo into the ship’s hull, and people milling around saying their final goodbyes to their loved ones.  A Brigantine, ‘The Nancy’,  loaded with freight and passengers and ready to sail from Greenock to Savannah-la-Mar, Jamaica, calling at Antigua, waited in the harbour. Her master, Captain Andrew Smith, was ready to set sail in the early autumn of 1786, and it was on this ship that Robert Burns and Mary Campbell were planning to journey to Jamaica.


The ship’s horn, the sound muffled in the thick mist, sounded urgently as it was being boarded by the throngs of excited passengers waiting to start their new life in a new country.


But Mary Campbell, Burns’ beloved Highland Mary, was nowhere to be seen. 


How sweetly bloom'd the gay, green birk,

How rich the hawthorn's blossom;

As underneath their fragrant shade,

I clasp'd her to my bosom!

The golden Hours, on angel wings,

Flew o'er me and my Dearie;

For dear to me as light and life

Was my sweet Highland Mary.

“Highland Mary” by Robert Burns 1792

The betrothal of Robert Burns and Mary Campbell.

May 14, 1786 | River Ayr

Image courtesy of BurnsScotland.org and Dumfries & Galloway Museums Service


His Mary was to bring the bible Burns had given her; a symbol of their promise and troth to each other. But instead, gazing forlornly at the ship that was to carry them to their new life disappear into the mist, forever out of reach, Burns knew it was not to be. With bowed head, he turned, and as he walked away from Greenock harbour that day he knew in his heart that his Mary was gone, taken on the eve of their new life together, gone forever from this world they had planned to leave behind, never to meet again.


Wi' mony a vow, and lock'd embrace,

Our parting was fu' tender;

And pledging aft to meet again,

We tore oursels asunder:

But Oh, fell Death's untimely frost,

That nipt my Flower sae early!

Now green's the sod, and cauld's the clay,

That wraps my Highland Mary!

“Highland Mary”  Robert Burns 1792



LOVE DENIED….Burns and Mary had promised a future to each other whilst holding Burns’ bible, but their future was short-lived. Departing Ayrshire in readiness for the journey, Mary visited her family in Campbeltown for the last time before travelling to Greenock and took lodgings with relatives while waiting for Burns to arrive. However, soon after her arrival Mary fell ill with a malignant fever, possibly typhus, and tragically died shortly after at the age of 22.  Never to see Burns again. 


Jamaica was thus denied a bookkeeper, Burns was denied his Highland Mary, but Scotland was not denied their Bard, one that was to become Scotland’s most cherished and celebrated poet whose earthy realism was to raise the status of the Scots dialect and bring about new respect for rural life in Scotland. The first edition of his work “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” published by a reluctant John Wilson, in Kilmarnock that same year and dedicated to his friend Gavin Hamilton, was greeted with great acclaim because it demonstrated and captured the true essence of the Scots; their lives and loves, hopes and dreams, in the language of the people. Shortly after the success of his first edition, a second edition of 3,000 copies was commissioned and sold by the duplicitous and contentious publisher William Creech of Edinburgh, in 1787. 


Centuries later, Scots everywhere voted Robert Burns “The Greatest Scot Of All Time”. 

(Public vote during Year of Homecoming 2009, the 250th birthday anniversary of Robert Burns).

A lock of Mary Campbell’s hair, removed after her death and inserted into Robert Burns bible.

Image courtesy of BurnsScotland.org




O pale, pale now, those rosy lips,

I aft hae kiss'd sae fondly!

And clos'd for ay the sparkling glance,

That dwalt on me sae kindly!

And mouldering now in silent dust,

That heart that lo'ed me dearly!

But still within my bosom's core

Shall live my Highland Mary.

“Highland Mary”  Robert Burns 1792



On the third anniversary of Highland Mary’s death, Burns’ wife, Jean Armour, recalled that towards evening, on the night before Mary’s anniversary, Robert grew despondent, and wandered in solitary contemplation along the banks of the River Nith and about the farmyard in extreme agitation. Even although he was repeatedly asked to come into the house, he adamantly refused to do so until daybreak when he entered, sat down at his desk, and wrote the lyrics of this poignant piece…"To Mary in Heaven".



Still o'er these scenes my mem'ry wakes, 

And fondly broods with miser-care; 

Time but th' impression stronger makes, 

As streams their channels deeper wear, 

My Mary! dear departed shade! 

Where is thy blissful place of rest? 

See'st thou thy lover lowly laid? 

Hear'st thou the groans that rend his breast?

“To Mary in Heaven” “Thou Lingering Star” Poem / “My Mary, Dear Departed Shade” song. Robert Burns 1789


Although he never forgot his Highland Mary, Burns wrote four poems/songs to her memory.

Statue of Robert Burns and Mary Campbell | 1870’s.

Hamilton Patrick McCarthy (sculptor).

Image courtesy of BurnsScotland.org


Author’s Note: There is a great deal of speculation with regard to how Mary Campbell and Robert Burns actually parted. Was Burns left at Greenock harbour to wait in vain for Mary, or did he learn of her passing prior to The Nancy’s departure date? Or, more likely, upon hearing of Mary’s death and the success of his first edition, with all 612 copies sold at 3 shillings each, did Burns abandon his plan to go to Jamaica and instead go to Edinburgh to arrange a second edition of poems?  Perhaps we will never know for sure. Nevertheless, dear reader, it is perchance the romantic, or perhaps even the poet, in me, that the story shared with you today is how I have always imagined the parting of Scotland’s National Bard and his tragic love, Highland Mary. 


Written by Phyl Smith, Secretary of The Robert Burns Poetry Club, St Andrew Society of Sarasota, December 2021

The first 'Burns Supper' was held in July 1801 - on the fifth anniversary of Robert Burns' passing - when nine of his closest friends gathered to celebrate his life. It was such a success that they met on January 25 the following year - the date of his birth. Little did they know that their own tradition would become a global phenomenon!

Burns could hardly have imagined that his birthday would indeed be celebrated far beyond his homeland of Scotland.  Robert Burns night is commemorated all over the world from Tanzania, Delhi, St Petersburg, United States, Canada, Brazil, China and beyond. They come together, all over the world, to share food, speeches, poetry and song, in honour of the man now widely known as the National Bard of Scotland. He was voted in 2016 as the greatest Scot to have ever lived. Votes for him came from all over the world, showing that not only is he still 'weel kent' (well known) at home, but that he remains one of Scotland's best global ambassadors. This once obscure ploughman poet who died prematurely at the age of 37, penned 716 known works during his short life, 346 of which have been identified as songs.

At the age of 15 Robert composed his first song: 'Handsome Nell' for Nellie Kilpatrick, a young girl whom he formed a close bond with while working the harvest.  The song's message of unspoken love would feature prominently throughout Burns' career as he went on to write some of the most poignant poems and songs of the heart, all of which immortalized the many recipients of his affections.  He was to blame love and affection for turning him into a poet.  But Burns also wrote about nature, hardship, patriotism, and the brotherhood of man - a subject near and dear to his heart.

*Then let us pray, that come it may, As come it will for a' that, That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth, Shall bear the gree (agree), an a' that. For a' that, an' a' that, It's coming yet for a' that, Than Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall Brithers (brothers) be for a' that.

Burns could be hard-hitting; but he was also humourous and a master satirist, and, above all else, he held integrity and honesty in the highest regard...An Honest Man, tho e'er sae (though ever so) poor, Is King of Men for a' that. Robert Burns has become so popular that his poetry and songs have been translated into numerous languages and recited worldwide with Auld Lang Syne (Old Long Since; meaning days gone by) probably one of his most popular (rewritten) songs, mostly sung at the stroke of midnight at New Year.

Who among us has never sung those immortal words of Burns?

As the close of 2022 finally draws near and a New Year is now just days away, The Robert Burns Club of St Andrew Society of Sarasota wish all our Society members, Friends and Family, a happy, safe, and healthy 2023!

Phyl Smith

Secretary, The Robert Burns Poetry Club

St Andrew Society of Sarasota



775 830 9543

*Taken from Robert Burns' song written in 1795: "Is There For Honest Poverty", or, more commonly known as: "A Man's A Man For A' That" .

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