Robert Burns


From Scotland on Sunday 26 December 2004

Makar Makes Burns Plea


SCOTLAND'S greatest living poet has demanded that the Scottish Executive funds a project to save the birthplace of Robert Burns.

Scots Makar Edwin Morgan, the Scottish equivalent of the Poet Laureate, insists ministers must ensure the Burns Cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire, and attached museum, can undergo their promised revamp. His comments come as Patricia Ferguson, minister for tourism, culture and sport, admitted the problems facing the cottage were a "threat" to the Executive's plans for the 'Year of Homecoming' in 2009 - the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth.

Scotland on Sunday last week revealed the ambitious £7m project to restore the cottage and build a state-of-the-art visitor centre had collapsed.

Bids to secure funding for the scheme from Europe and the Lottery Heritage Fund failed after the board that runs the Burns National Heritage Park, which includes the cottage, altered its original application.

Officials are trying to find a way of preserving the Bard's thatched cottage and the exhibits inside the neglected museum. It is believed the Executive is pushing for a downsized version of the project and has asked the National Trust for Scotland to look at running the site.

But ministers have stopped short of committing themselves to giving any financial aid to the park.

Morgan has called on the Executive to support its intention to make the cottage the centrepiece of its Year of Homecoming by funding the project.

The poet said: "These anniversaries often help to loosen the purse strings. Cash-strapped councils are already under enough pressure to allocate their resources, so the responsibility falls on those who have power, like the Executive.

"Of course each case should be looked at on how important it is, to ensure the money is allocated correctly. Burns is by no means a peripheral figure who has little significance.

"He is known all over the world. This alone presents a very good case for making an appeal to ensure the longevity of places which remind us of his contribution."

Plans to build a new home for the exhibits of the Burns Cottage Museum were drawn up when several invaluable manuscripts were damaged in the rundown building.

Initially the park's board floated a modest £2m project, but just over a year ago it unveiled a much grander scheme with the help of a £50,000 development grant.

Sources close to the park claim urgent meetings have been taking place behind the scenes about how the desperately needed upgrade can be carried out.

East Ayrshire council which is also represented on the park's board, has been heavily criticised for failing to look after its rich heritage from Burns.

The Burns Monument in Kilmarnock was devastated by fire last month after falling into disrepair.

But a spokeswoman for the council insisted it was committed to preserving the considerable contribution the poet had made to the area. Burns brings more than £100m to the Scottish economy in tourism alone.

Responding to criticism from Adam Ingram, Nationalist MSP for the South of Scotland, Ferguson insisted discussions to save the park were "moving in the right direction".

She said: "It is not right to say the Executive has been loath to intervene. The continuing problems with the Burns National Heritage Park are obviously a threat to the plans for the Year of the Homecoming.

"There are two main issues which need to be addressed. The first is to secure the long-term future of the park and the second is to preserve the collection so that they form a central part of the 2009 initiative.

"The National Trust for Scotland may be interested in becoming involved in the ownership of the park and subsequent new lottery bid for the museum."

Laurie Black, interim director of the Burns National Heritage Park, said: "The Scottish Executive has given a strong intention that the cottage and museum be preserved.

"It will be up to the new trustees to decide what size the project will be."

FOOTNOTE: Edwin Morgan, the then Makar died in August 2010. He has been ably succeeded by our new Scot's Makar, Liz Lochhead in January 2011.

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