In its almost 90 year history, with many memorable events to its credit, 2009 will undoubtedly stand out as a landmark and benchmark for the Mauchline Burns Club.
2009 was the year it all happened, but with all successful events, planning started much earlier, away back in 2007, when the Year of the Homecoming was first announced.
With the success of seven Holy Fairs behind us, we had a solid base and experience to build on. And build on it we did.
What could we mount? Certainly a bigger and better Holy Fair but what else?
We all agreed that with Mossgiel on our doorstep this unique location had to be the centre piece. There was the precedent of the Ploughing Match back in 1996 so that could be repeated in March. A Burns Supper at Mossgiel was tentatively proposed and agreed on. A marquee and caterers would have to be hired; but why only for one event?
And from there a whole weekend of events blossomed: two Suppers, one for locals with local performers, a corporate one with celebrities, a wreathe laying parade at the National Memorial with afternoon tea and finally a ceilidh possibly with Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. Dreams - possibly, ambitious - certainly.
Two important factors had to be solved and overcome- permission to use Mossgiel, and large scale funding.
A small delegation was sent to negotiate with Alec Wyllie, tenant of Mossgiel itself. It was quickly apparent that the venue would not be a problem. The few conditions could easily be met. So funding next.
Contact was made with East Ayrshire Council, the Minerals Trust and of course, Homecoming Scotland. Our plans had to be firmed up, costings worked out and endless forms filled in. But success was ours here also. We were ready to go.
Several Mossgiel fields were allocated to us; one for ploughing, one for the many and varied attractions, and two for car parking. The fine crisp sunny day served us well.
It was appreciated visitors would not stand for five hours watching the ploughing itself. We also had to cater for a wide range of ages and interests. And that we certainly did. Nostalgia was to the fore with twenty four vintage tractors and machinery all lined up. Beside them were stationed the land girls in appropriate clothes and a WW 11 field kitchen organised by our good friend Peter Scally. A huge display by the Meccano Society brought granddads and grand children together.
Elsewhere in the field, countryside skills of birds of prey and dry stane dyking proved equally popular while Stoats Porridge stall was busy all day offering a variety of flavours. All these activities were surrounded by over fifty stalls of every kind.
The main attraction was of course the horses themselves and from 11am until 2.30 pm they and their colourful masters moved diligently up and down Burns' own field. Mossgiel proved a great magnet to bring sixteen pairs of magnificent beasts to the event. They travelled from as far as Beamish, Rothesay, Montrose, Cookston Northern Ireland, as well as Dundonald and Tarbolton.
The overall winner was David Broll from Kirkcudbright with the pair Lewis and Harris. Mrs Wyllie presented the rose bowl donated by Hillhouse Quarry Company. Tom Currie of Tarbolton's input to the success of the day was invaluable.
The Homecoming was intended to attract visitors from abroad and we certainly did. Canada, Norway, France, and Zimbabwe were all represented, as well as every corner of the UK, all keen to be present at this unique day. BBC Scotland was not to be left out, as the Landward camera team with Euan Mc Ilwraith spent the day with us.
All in all a memorable occasion for the Club and the 4,000 visitors.
Various media representatives paid rightful homage during the year to Mauchline's importance to Burns. One entire half hour was devoted to the village in author Andrew O'Hagan's three part series. In January Reporting Scotland's visit was shown nationally three times in one day. Newspapers such as the Sunday Herald and Guardian gave equally large coverage. We also had visits from New York and Toronto reporters. Mauchline at last was being recognised.
How could we make our eighth Holy Fair special?
Bringing outstanding acts and attractions would be a great contribution, and so we had top line entertainment in the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and High School Musical and thrills galore on the Wall of Death.
But these were not enough, we had to excel ourselves. One of our members discovered a local organisation was in the Guinness Book of Records for cooking the largest haggis in the world at around six hundred pounds.
With some apprehension we took up the challenge in a venture into the unknown.
Innumerable questions occurred. What weight would we aim at? What would we cook it in? Could we persuade a company to provide the haggis? What about the skin? How would we lift it out the container? And – what if it burst! One problem did not exist in that Peter Scally with all his experience of army field kitchens behind him would undertake the cooking.
Our first stroke of luck came when a successful approach to donate the haggis and oversee its making was made to McKechnie Jess of Greenock. These traditional haggis makers entered into the project with great enthusiasm. It required 500lbs of offal, 250lbs of oatmeal, 150 lbs of suet plus onions spices and water. The firm worked for four days to get it ready. Previously, Peter had sewn together nine ox stomachs to contain the monster.
A special trough or bath cooking pot had been made locally, and in it the monster was weighed at a Greenock weighing station.
The same day it was transported down the motorway to Mauchline and Burns' bleaching green where the next stage of the operation was to take place.
By now we had learned the record had been broken by a New Zealand entry of 700lbs. Would their victory be short lived?
A fork lift truck moved the tank with the beached whale haggis from the lorry on to a wooden frame under which eight gas burners would burn for two days until the Holy Fair. A harness sling made by a sail maker lay around it. Peter Scally and a colleague were to sleep on site to keep an eye on the process.
Saturday afternoon came. It was cooked: so far it had not burst.
The crowds gathered. The fork lift truck raised the sail harness containing the 1234lb haggis out of the tank on to a platform. Then tradition took over; a piper piped the lowering; Secretary, Andrew Cooper performed the Address. The knife was a claymore taller than himself. Everything was filmed for verification purposes. Independent judges signed the certificate. The hungry crowd was served with tattles, neeps and haggis
Had we accomplished what we set out to do? The Ballochmyle Viaduct had already put Mauchline in the Guinness Book of Records. Would we and our haggis do the same?An eight week gap
In August our certificate arrived. Victory was ours. But not without a great deal of effort, imagination and unstinting help from others. By the way, the Holy Fair itself was again a great success.
Two events down ...
An eight week gap followed between the Holy Fair and the marquee events, but a lot had to be done. However, basic preparations had been in hand for some time. Members had visited Edinburgh and Moffat to view classic marquees in use and a booking had been made; similarly with a firm providing luxury toilet accommodation. The catering firm had also been arranged with tentative menus discussed. It was all now in the details.
Early in the week of the event the marquee was erected, complete with chandeliers and a hard floor. An avenue of flower tubs led to the entrance. The weather was kind to us, as it was to be for the rest of the week .There were to be no high heels stuck in glaur.
To our relief all the preparations came together without a hitch and by Friday afternoon everything was ready for the first Burns Supper and its 380 guests.
With President Bill Sharpe in the chair the traditional evening was a great success . Local talent provided the entire programme. The Immortal Memory was in the capable hands of Lord Weir who prides himself on being a direct descendant of “dear bought Bess “. Honorary President Ian Lyell proposed the toast to Bonnie Jean and the Lasses, while local lass Lesley Deschner replied.
Songs were provided by our own Castle folk and Janice Taylor of Borealis and poetry also by local well tried lads. Secretary Andrew Cooper addressed the haggis on both Friday and Saturday evenings. A right good night was had by all, with our caterers rising to the challenge of serving 385 meals in a field.
Saturday evening was the prestige event of the weekend and proved to be just that. As guests arrived they received Famous Grouse whisky cocktails provided by Eddringtons , the ladies also receiving an appropriate red rose Lord Galbraith chaired the evening with gusto. The principal speaker was Len Murray, a well known international Burns speaker. With two stars of the BBC “Still Game” Jane McCarry and Mark Cox doing the Toast to the Lasses and the reply the speeches were in safe hands. Karen Matheson thrilled the 200 strong audience with her wide selection of Burns' songs. Jim Malcolm on guitar and mouth organ offered a suitable contrast. Local MP Des Browne in his vote of thanks congratulated te Mauchline Burns Club members stating “We have the best Burns Club in the world.”.
We woke to a wet Sunday morning. Had our good luck weatherwise deserted us? No! Our parade was due to march off at 2.30 pm and by 2pm the sun was shining. In spite of the Johnnie Walker protest march occurring in Kilmarnock simultaneously, the turnout was impressive. Gathering outside the Burns House Museum were members of Masonic lodges, Boys Brigade, brownies Guides, Burns Clubs, visitors and locals.
Led by Muirkirk pipe band, we processed to the National Burns Memorial for the wreathe laying.
The short ceremony of address, prayer and pipe solo drew more spectators. The magnificent marquee then acted as host to all the participants with a splendid afternoon tea complete with cake stands. Local group Borealis entertained the guests with their own special arrangements of Burns' songs. A delightful way to spend the afternoon. But Sunday was not over.
A crowd of four hundred had eagerly booked places for this the final event of the weekend. The musical bill was particularly special. The dance sessions were accompanied by the local Ballochmyle Ceilidh Band. No encouragement was needed to get dancers on the floor for all the old favourites.
The highlight of course was the appearance of the stars of traditional Scottish music Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain as part of their national tour. They delighted everyone not only with their great range of music but also with their informal banter. As a final treat, bowls of stovies were served at the interval.
Around midnight, Mossgiel fields rang out to the singing of Auld Lang Syne for the third and final time on this spectacularly unique Homecoming weekend. On this occasion Burns was wrong-The best laid schemes do not always gang agley.
The members of the Mauchline Burns Club Organising Committee were;
Bob Baillie, Andrew Bell, Hugh Brown, Andrew Cooper, Jimmy Davidson, Donald Howe, Willie Jardine, Ian Lyell, Fergie McCartney, Maurice Mc Kendrick, Billy Sharpe, Tommy Scott, and John Sutherland with the help and support from many others.
Mossgiel Farm, Mauchline was home to Robert Burns, the Ploughman Poet, from 1782 -1784. There he wrote most of his best poetry, including 'To a Mouse'. A celebratory Ploughing Match organised by Mauchline Burns Club honoured the Homecoming year and, in particular, Burns' immortalisation of the Scottish countryside and the humble farm life of the time.
Competition Judges D Purdie of Ochiltree, Ayrshire and R Copeland of Ruthwell, Dumfries. Commentator W Davidson of Ayr all arranged by Mr Tom Currie, Altonburn Farm, Tarbolton, who was our main advisor.
Supreme Champion - David Broll, Kirkcudbright with Lewis and Harris
Reserve - George Robertson, Kilwinning with Bill and Ben.
1. Jimmy Wilson, Castle Douglas with Bob and Joe
1. David Broll, Kirkcudbright with Lewis and Harris.
2. David Nelson, Fife with Danny and Chick.
1. George Robertson, Kilwinning with Bill and Ben.
2. Neil MacPhail, Glenbarr with Jeannie and Lilly.
3. Derek Espie, Cookstown, Northern Ireland with Davy and Major.