EDITOR’S NOTE: With January 25 being “Robert Burns Day” named after the famed Scottish poet, the following article was written by George Purvis of Gore Bay.
GORE BAY—The Ainslie family of Elizabeth Bay immigrated from Lilliesleaf, Scotland to Owen Sound in 1871 and later to Elizabeth Bay, landing on the sand beach near the present day creek to be met by Ned Saunders, the hermit.
The setting for this story is about Scotland border country, Lilliesleaf just south of Selkirk and to the west of JedBurgh and Ancum.
The Ainslies lived on the “Curling Farm” tending to the horses. The adjoining farm called “West Riddell” was the home of the Riddell family and Robert Burns living here with his parents starting about 1770.
The Riddell farm was gifted to Walter de Ridale in 1150 AD from David I, King of Scotland in return for the services of one knight in time of war. At that time this farm was about 1,100 acres, but is now over 1,750 acres. These farms still exist to the present day.
My mother, Margaret Ainslie Purvis, visited these two farms in 1973 to see the original house on the “Curling Farm” where her grandparents had lived.
Robert Burns and Robert Ainslie (1766-1838) lived side by side on these two farms and as young boys became fast friends. In May of 1787, Ainslie made an excursion with Burns to Berwichshire. Robert Ainslie’s sister was the subject of Burn’s poem, “Fairest Maid on Devin Banks,” as well as an edigram to “Miss Ainslie in Church.” There are also four poems that mention Maria, Walter and Robert Riddall.
Robert Ainslie’s association with Robert Burns and his genial manner, as well as his own writing, helped him to receive a cordial welcome in the literary circles of Scotland. Robert Ainslie was also nicknamed “Honest Ainslie” in Robert Burns collection of 14 letters to his friend.
The Robert Burns collection also includes the ballad “Robin Shure in Hairst,” which refers to Robert Ainslie.
Burns later moved to a farm of his own called Ellisland, but never found of farming sold it and moved to Dumfries. While at Ellisland Robert Burns wrote one of his best known pieces “Tam O’Shanter.”
Burns started out as a poor tenant farmer and “Tam” was a slightly veiled autobiographical piece on a poor tenant farmer (himself); and the piece is now considered a masterpiece of narrative poetry. Robert Ainslie delivered the manuscript copy of “Tam O’Shanter” to Sir Walter Scott for his friend Robbie Burns. This poem has recently won Burns the name of the greatest Scot of all time-even beating out William Wallace.
The celebration of Robbie Burns is held each year on January 25, his birthday. This meal consists of haggis with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) as well as a wee dram. They usually pipe in the Haggis, say the Selkirk blessing, “Some Hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we have meat, and can eat, Sae let the lord be thank it.”
The party usually ends with the singing of Auld Lang Syne. Burns did not write this song as an original piece but adapted it from a much older Scottish song.
Robert Burns died in Dumfries on July 21, 1796 at the age of 37 from a suspected rheumatic heart failure and in temperance with 11 children, the last born on the day of his funeral.
If you are out on January 25, you will likely see me out there in the Ainslie kilt helping to celebrate our friend Robbie Burn’s life.