A Rann na Feirste writer and broadcaster who grew up on stories of Robert Burns has published a new, 400-page biography of the beloved Scottish poet.
“Rabbie Burns: An Nasc le hÉirinn”, by Pádraig Ó Baoighill, will be launched locally at 8pm, Friday, March 11, at the Áislann Rann na Feirste.
Written in Irish, the book explores Burns’ life, works, songs and politics, with a particular focus on his links with Ireland.
Pádraig’s new work also discusses the 18th-century poet’s influence on the work of famed writers from the Donegal Gaeltacht, including Séamus Ó Grianna, and his links to the Scottish Gaelic language.
“It’s the first biography of Burns written in the Irish language and there is quite a good lot of material translated into [Scottish] Gaelic,” Pádraig said. Pádraig also featured in Dearcan Media’s 2013 television documentary about Robert Burns.
Pádraig remembered being introduced to Burns work when he was 9 or 10 and one of his uncles returned from Scotland, where he was a gardener on a farm outside Edinburgh. He brought with him three books, one of them about Burns.
At that point the young Pádraig wasn’t a good English reader, though he read every book in Irish. Still, they were happy to see the books from Scotland.
“We had nothing at home in Rann na Feirste, and would be glad to see the three books,” he said.
Later, in 1952, when Pádraig was working in Scotland, he bought a book on the poet, “There Was a Lad” by Hilton Brown, which inspired him to seek further information on the poet’s complex character.
“I think I read that book in one or two nights,” he said. And from then on, he said, “Any time I was in Scotland, if I saw a book, I bought it."
In the same way, people from Donegal working in Ayrshire would hear stories of Burns and bring them home, Pádraig said, adding, “And when they came home you would hear those stories in the céilí houses in Rann na Feirste.
“I used to visit relations and heard many songs and many stories about Burns,” he recalled.
The writer Séamus Ó Grianna told Pádraig how he had been introduced to Burns during his first trip to Scotland by a relation of his who lived there. The cousin asked Séamus, “Did you ever hear of Robert Burns?” and offered, “You can come out and stay with me tonight, and I’ll bring you all around Burns country.”
Pádraig said, “I think [Burns] definitely had an influence on Séamus”.
Niall Ó Dónaill, the Rosses-born lexicographer behind the standard 1977 Foclóir Gaeilge-Bearla, also had a great interest in Burns, Pádraig said. When Pádraig was a student at University College Dublin he would meet with Niall, who also had a lot of stories about Burns as did Seosamh Mac Grianna, brother of Séamus Ó Grianna.
“Seosamh thought a lot of Robert Burns,” Pádraig said, adding that one of Seosamh’s songs was as good as Burns’ own work.
He had decided to write a short work on the character of Burns but his publisher suggested he undertake a longer, academic biography. While Pádraig does not provide a critical study of Burns’ poetry, he does offer a detailed exploration of the poet’s character and colourful life.
Speaking at a launch of the book in Glasgow earlier this month, Pádraig said the work, “could be referred to as a travel book on the life of Scotland’s national poet, from his birth on a wild night in Alloa, to Mount Oliphant and the hard work as a young boy on his father’s farm, to Lochlea, Tarbalton and Maughlin.”
Speaking to the Democrat, Pádraig said, “I researched it inside and out and travelled all over Scotland.” He began the work about four years ago.
“Rabbie Burns: An Nasc le hÉirinn” is Pádraig’s 16th book; in all he has produced more than 20 publications.