Ayrshire gets Robert Burns Museum in hugely ambitious National Trust for Scotland project

By Richard Moss | 01 December 2010
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a photo of a new building with a stone wall in front of it.
© Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
He has given his name to a yearly night of vigorous haggis eating and merriment adhered to worldwide and is one of Scotland’s most celebrated sons. Now the Bard, Robert Burns, has his own dedicated museum, promising to properly celebrate the lifetime achievements and legacy of the famous Scottish poet. 

The National Trust for Scotland opened the new 1,600 metre-square, £21 million Robert Burns Birthplace Museum yesterday (December 1 2010) in Ayrshire, on the site of poet’s birthplace and former home. All of the Alloway sites with a connection to Burns are now effectively united by the new museum.  

Visitors are able to access the Burns Monument, Alloway Auld Kirk, Burns Cottage, an education pavilion and Auld Brig O’Doon. A new footbridge has been created to link key sites to the new museum to make accessibility as easy as possible for visitors.

The culmination of years of planning and fundraising, the new museum aims to highlight every aspect of Burn’s life by following themes of  Identity, Inspiration, Fame and Creative Works, providing a suitably flexible space for a collection of more than 5,000 historical artefacts, original manuscripts and pieces of memorabilia.

With a remit to satisfy both ardent Burns devotees and newcomers to his life and art, the new museum blends interactives with pivotal objects and locations.

“Our aim is to provide a modern and relevant interpretation of Burns that will intrigue visitors of all ages, whether they are lifelong Burns enthusiasts or completely new to his work,” promised the museum’s director, Nat Edwards.

“Here you will not just be able to read the manuscript of Tam o’ Shanter, you can see the fireplace round which Burns first heard the stories that he turned into that poem, and you can look out the window and see that landscape, places like the Kirk Alloway and Brig O'Doon where the poem takes place. It gives you every facet of the man and his work.”

The museum is the most ambitious project the National Trust for Scotland has ever undertaken and has been supported by the Scottish Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Enterprise and South Ayrshire Council together with an army of donors who have generously contributed to its creation.

a photo of two children using a museum interactive
interactives are an important element in the new museum © Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
Upon entering the exhibition area, visitors see a timeline of important dates in Burns’ life and events taking place in Scotland that would have affected his work; but according to museums bosses, that’s where the traditional museum experience ends.

A theatrically-lit corridor serves as the entrance to the main exhibition area and sets the scene as voices of gossips talking about Burns quietly echo through the hall. Words such as "exciseman", "lover", "poet", "ploughman" and "icon", inscribed on the floor, open visitors' minds to the idea of Burns as a man through the different stages of his life.

Interactive features and audio visual presentations are also used to introduce museum goers to a range of contributors ranging from Bill Paterson to Eddie Reader who have recorded vocals for the audio visual accompaniments.

The Fame section, which looks at the cult of Burns and how the fascination with him grew after he died, includes an interactive Burns Supper, which encourages museum visitors to engage with each other as they learn about the way in which the Bard’s birthday is celebrated around the world on January 25.

Part of the museum space has been set aside for a series of temporary exhibitions, beginning with a showcase of 15 new portraits of Burns by Scottish artist Peter Howson.

Kate Mavor, the chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, hailed the new centre as a “world class visitor destination” that will “draw Burns enthusiasts from around the globe”.

“We are looking forward to welcoming our first visitors and hope that they will take away an enriched learning of Burns and his work,” she added.

For more information on the project to build the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum visit www.nts.org.uk/burns
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