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6 Unusual Facts You Didn’t Know about Robert Burns

Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 15th January 2018, last updated: 9th November 2020

January 25th sees the annual celebration of the birth of ‘The Bard’ – Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Marked by the sharing of haggis, traditional music and Scots poetry, Burns Night is a renowned international festival.

Robert Burns

We often think we know Burns as well as the words to Auld Lang Syne, but how many lesser known facts about The Bard do you know? Dinnae ken? Read on!


1. Whit’s His Name?

Robert Burns was fondly known as Rabbie Burns, but Scotland’s Bard was not even born with either name. Rabbie was in fact Robert Burness until he chose to shorten his last name at the age of 27. He also never signed his name ‘Rabbie.’ The poet went by Rob, Rab, Robin – even Spunlie – but never once Rabbie.


2. Keep the Heid

Not only was Robert Burns remarkably talented, he was also known for boasting an unusually large head. It was measured when his body was exhumed in 1815, before being laid to rest in the new Dumfries mausoleum. During his life, his large heid was marked by a distinguishable ponytail, grown solely to annoy his da.


3. Robert Burns Dearly Lov’d the Lasses

Quite the ladies’ man, Rabbie started his romantic ways from an early age. At just 15 he wrote his first song, ‘O Once I Lov’d (A Bonnie Lass)’ to impress a girl called Nellie. Three years later he took dance classes to the same end. Rabbie fathered 12 children with four different women during his lifetime, including nine to his wife Jean.

Statue of Jean Armour” by James Denham is licensed under CC BY 2.0


4. The Best-Laid Schemes

In 2009 a hand-written poem by Rabbie Burns, The Battle of Sherramuir, was put on display in the National Library of Scotland alongside other key artefacts from Scottish history. Amongst the temporary collection was a 300-year-old document which ordered the infamous Massacre of Glencoe.


5. Whit’s Fur Ye’ll No Go past Ye

Despite his success, Rabbie’s net worth upon his death was a measly £1. Yet the value of his life and work today is immeasurable. In 2010 a book of his poetry travelled 5.7 million miles to space, making 217 orbits of Earth. Burns’ work has inspired the likes of Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Bob Dylan.


6. We’ll Take a Cup O’ Kindness

The first ‘Burns Supper’ was held in July 1802 – on the fifth anniversary of Rabbie’s death – when nine of his closest friends gathered to celebrate his life. It was such a success that they met on 25 January the following year – the date of his birth. Little did they know that their own tradition would become a global phenomenon.

When you sit down to your Burns supper this year (want to learn how to cook a haggis?) , keep in mind each of the facets that created this rich individual. Surprise your friends, family and guests with unknown tales of The Bard, and keep his memory alive. To celebrate Robert Burns in all his glory, learn how the Scots traditionally celebrate Burns Night.

Don’t forget to print out your Rabbie Burns factsheet for the evening. Simply click the image below, download and print!

About the author

Written by: Stewart Borland

Comments on this post

  • Rouillard Michèle
    21/01/18 - 09:53

    Merci Stewart d’avoir mis la lumière sur ce grand poète Ecossais et de nous le faire mieux connaître ainsi que les coutumes écossaises ; ce qui nous permet de découvrir un peu plus l’Ecosse à travers son histoire.
    Have a good Burns night. Amitiés. Michèle

  • Suzanne Blair -Williams
    22/01/18 - 01:57

    I belong to St. Andrews society in Michigan, and never knew these facts about our beloved Mr Burns. I think a family dinner with some great piping music would be wonderful and get your goodies from Ackrodes Scottish bakery in Redford mich.

    24/01/19 - 19:06

    I have read other places that say the first Burns Dinner was held in 1801 (you say 1802) which would make it 5 years after his death which was in 1796.

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