Monday, October 14, 2013

Robert Burns Centenary Celebrations - the Music Hall and the Corn Exchange, Belfast - 25 January 1859


At Belfast Music Hall a festival was held (and in other towns in Ireland too). Professor George Lillie Craik (who just 2 years later published 'History of English Literature and the English Language') of Queens College gave a rousing speech which included these remarks:

'... this is not Edinburgh or Glasgow, but Belfast. It is true that Burns belongs to Scotland, and not to Ireland; but besides that, many of us now present are Scotchmen by birth, and can only claim the honour of being Irish by adoption, or by sufferance; it might also be made a matter of question whether this Ulster of ours be not really more a part of Scotland than a part of Ireland ... we have come over and set up another Scotland here - an Irish or Little Scotland, as it may be called. We have made this Province of Ulster - this Black North - half Scotch, or more than half Scotch, in almost everything – in blood, in language, in religion, even in mind and character ...'

Hugh McCall of Lisburn said that '... not even in his own Ayrshire is the poetry of Burns held in higher estimation than it is in the counties of Down and Antrim ... Had the poet Burns, when on his deathbed in Dumfries, been able to look through the vista of years, and see that, at the end of a century from the date of his birth, the people of Belfast would have met in such glorious assembly as I see in this room, it would have given comfort and no doubt considerable happiness ...'

Burns' daughter and granddaughter were among the crowd that night. At the same time as the Music Hall banquet, a soiree was held at the Corn Exchange (pictured above) with about 400 in attendance 'composed principally of the more respectable of the working orders', with prominent figures such as Rev Dr M'Cosh, Rev Hugh Hanna, Rev George Cron, Rev Mackey and Mr John Ritchie all in attendance. The Oldpark Band were there and played a selection of Burns' airs throughout the night, and Ritchie sang a rendition of 'Rantin Rovin Robin'.

Detailed accounts of the events in both places are readily available.