Scottish poet toasted on Central Coast

Circumstances forced Scotland’s celebrated poet Robert Burns to earn his livelihood as a field laborer. It inspired his appreciation for the environment and its smallest creatures.

However, his first poem was about a lass, whereupon he continued to “spread his affections freely,” fathering eight illegitimate children with five women. He married one of them — Jean Armour — and died in 1796.

His 252nd birthday will be celebrated at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion on Jan. 29 with official ceremonies for the Burns Night Supper beginning at 5:45 p.m.

A “ploughman poet” for the common man, his first poetry was published in 1786. Without a patron, he never lived the poet’s life among the cultured. Fame was postmortem. Burns is celebrated worldwide for preserving Scotland’s culture and history in poetry and song. Each New Year’s, we sing one of his 400 lyrics, “Auld Lang Syne.”

“I think it is most endearing that a nation so steeped in war and violence dedicated their most celebrated day to a poet,” said Guy Wallace, past Chieftain of the Central Coast Scottish Society. “Our county produces one of the best Burns Nights anywhere.”

Wallace resides in Los Osos and earns his living with a software company, but he has family in Scotland and defines himself as a Scottish musician.

He’s currently taking bookings for the group Gillie Weasels on Facebook or by calling 710-3309.

“Our namesake is a young gang of Scottish gypsies around Fife in the 1700s,” he said.

His group will play Burns Night, but because Marie Lepper is now Chieftain, Wallace is there to enjoy himself.

“We immerse ourselves in our Scottishness,” he said describing the family-friendly evening of literary, musical and gastronomical entertainment.

Paul Dunn leads the Central Coast Pipes and Drums — up to 20 pipers in the traditional pomp and circumstance Parade of the Haggis.

Cayucan Chaplain Bill Huston offers the blessing. Poetry readings are highlighted by a “Toast to the Lassies,” then a “Toast to the Laddies.”

Local musicians offer up Scottish ballads. Youth groups perform traditional dancing. Finally, Jim Malcolm, a singer-songwriter from Scotland, will entertain — back by popular demand for a third visit.

Los Osans Marlene and Duncan McQueen joined the regional society of about 120 members after attending a Burns Night several years ago.

Duncan says Scottish dress is encouraged: “Men wear kilts, all trying to look like Sean Connery, and the women wear tartan sashes. Dinner is a value. Excellent catering includes wine for $50. Everyone can and should taste the haggis.”

Scottish by marriage, Marlene is always enchanted by the pageantry, “whether you’re Scottish or not.” Reservations need to be made by Friday. Call 489-9617 or e-mail stitchaholic@sbcglobal.net.

Reach Judy Salamacha at 801-1422 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.