Did you know? Little known facts about Robert Burns


It’s Burns night soon but there may still be a few things that you don’t know about our famous Bard. Here are just a few!

  • It’s well documented that he had 13 children (by 5 women it is guessed!), but he wrote poems that were actually deemed too risque for publication. His collection The Merry Muses of Caledonia was actually banned from publication in the UK until 1965. America was a bit more liberal, they lifted the ban a year earlier in 1964.
  • The first Burns supper was held on 21 July 1801 in Burns Cottage. Led by the Reverend Hamilton Paul, nine friends met to honour Burns who had died 5 years earlier. Haggis and sheep’s head were on the menu, and as well as reading some of his poetry they recited ‘Address to a Haggis’ and sang some of the Burns’ songs.
  • The most famous of Burns’ known descendants is Tommy Hilfiger. He told Vogue in 2012 that “It was never discussed in my house, because it was said that Robert Burns was a womaniser and a boozer. They were embarrassed he was related, so we weren’t told until we were in our teens or maybe twenties.”
  • Bob Dylan, when asked for the source of his greatest creative inspiration, said that Burns’s lyrics in “A Red, Red Rose” had the biggest effect on his life.
  • Burns was appointed as an excise officer in 1789, but resigned in 1791 after a year.
  • Robert Burns’ favourite whisky is said to have been Ferintosh made by the Forbes family on the Black Isle – a whisky that has been claimed to be the first great Scotch brand.
  • In 1965 World Heavyweight Champion boxer Muhammad Ali visited Burns Country in Ayrshire and said, “they told me his work was very, very neat, so I replied: But who did he ever beat?”


  • Burns was convinced the only way he could rise out of poverty was to emigrate to Jamaica. The voyage was called off when his first collection of poems, published in 1786, became an unexpected success selling all 612 copies in the first month.
  • People have speculated that Burns died of alcohol excess and possibly a sexual disease, but that was probably just the view of his biographer Dr James Currie, who frowned upon Burns’ louche lifestyle and seemed to surmise that this was the cause of his death. It is more likely that he died from chronic rheumatic heart disease, stemming from when he had rheumatic fever as a child.
  • When Burns’ face appeared on a million commemorative bottles of Cola Cola in 2009, it was the first time a person had ever been on them. The limited edition bottles were created to support the Scottish Executive’s Homecoming initiative, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth.
  • The title for the 1937 John Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Men, was taken from a line in ‘To a Mouse’: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”
  • We may be more familiar with Auld Lang Syne, but in China, where the song is huge, it is known as You Yi Di Jiu Tian Chang or Friendship Forever and Ever.
  • Few people are aware that Robert Burns was actually a Freemason and remained so all of his adult life. He was Senior Warden of Lodge St Andrew in Dumfries when he died.
Category: Features, News
Tags: Burns Night, Robert Burns