Newnan-Coweta Magazine / Jan.Feb. 2020

Written by Emily Kimbell

On January 25, people around the world celebrate the life, work and impact of Scotland lyricist and unofficial national poet, Robert Burns.

Roberts Burns Day, also known as Robbie or Rabbie Burns Day, marks the birthdate of the 18th-century poet famous for writing “Auld Lang Syne,” “To a Mouse” and “A Red, Red Rose.” Though

Burns died more than two centuries ago, his influence remains prevalent and growing and he is celebrated with either Robert Burns Night or Robert Burns Day.

In Coweta County, the celebration extends for an entire weekend. The Newnan Robert Burns Scottish Heritage Weekend is held the last weekend in January with events celebrating community, heritage and the Arts. This year, the fifth annual event is set for Jan. 30-Feb. 2.

Burns was born in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1759 to a farming family and received most of his education from his father at home. Burns wrote his first poem at the age of 15 and published his first collection of poetry in 1786 at the age of 27. His collection acquired countrywide acclaim due, in part, to the poetry’s relatable content.

The poet frequently wrote about life on the farm and his experiences in love, which were quite substantial as he fathered 12 children by four women. After his initial writing success, he became involved in social politics and published more poems and songs. His career was ultimately short-lived when he died on July 21, 1796, at age 37 of uncertain causes.

For longtime Newnan resident and bagpipe player Michael Scott, the Scottish poet was a figure worthy of celebrating in Coweta County. In 2015, Scott brought the celebration to Newnan on a small scale.

The Newnan Burns Weekend celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2020.

For Scott, the motivation for bringing an annual Burns Festival to Newnan was an easy decision.

“Rabbie Burns was the most romantic poet who ever lived,” says Scott. “Newnan fosters romance. You can’t walk the streets without falling in love with the place, the history and the people. Newnan and Robert Burns match perfectly.”

Coweta County’s sister city connection with Ayer, Scotland – the homeplace of Robert Burns – creates even more of a reason for Newnan to honor the Scottish figure.

Sister cities are formed through legal or social agreements between two distinct geographical locations in an effort to promote cultural and commercial ties. In 1998, the City of Newnan and Coweta County established a sister city pact with Ayer, Scotland to promote education, culture, tourism, business and economic development.

Scott’s wife, Larisa Mitchell Scott, serves as events director for Newnan Burns Weekend and says that while the event celebrates Scottish heritage, it is ultimately for everyone to enjoy.

“We can all appreciate the poems of Robert Burns, the Scottish music, bagpipes and all the elements that make the events uniquely Scottish,” says Larisa. “It’s a fun weekend that anybody can celebrate.”

Support from local nonprofits and art associations helps make Newnan Burns Weekend successful, according to Larisa.

“We really like the fact that it pulls in lots of different arts organizations and that lots of people pitch in,” she says.

Sponsors of this year’s celebration are the Newnan Cultural Arts Commission, Order of the Tartan of the Chattahoochee Valley, Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation and Newnan-Coweta Historical Society.

Each year, the weekend lineup grows and has included original plays, runway shows, dance classes and concerts. Events vary annually.

The 2020 Newnan Burns Weekend features a Saturday night celebration with a fashion show and Celtic concert performed by the Piper Jones Band, a Scottish trio with a piper, guitarist and percussionist. The trio will perform on Sunday at Newnan Presbyterian Church as past of a Kirkin’ service, a celebration of Scotland and Scottish heritage that’s become a Scottish-American custom.

“Also, we plan concerts open to school groups and senior citizen groups on Friday,” says Larisa.

For Michael and Larisa, the Newnan Burns Weekend is more than honoring one particular heritage: It’s about bringing together the community.

“This weekend is a special thing for Newnan that is cultural, enriching, educational and entertaining,” says Larisa. “It’s a time for people to loosen up and think about wearing kilts, dancing to bagpipes, and eating haggis. It’s about trying new things and just enjoying yourself.”

The 2020 Newnan Robert Burns Scottish Heritage Weekend is set for Thursday, Jan. 30 through Sunday, Feb. 2. For a schedule of events or to obtain tickets, visit newnanburnsweekend.com.

The Piper Jones Band performs at Newnan Presbyterian Church at last year’s event. (Photo by Larisa Scott)

From left, Emily Westergreen, Bette Hickman and Lisa Miles wear Scottish plaid to celebrate the occasion. (Aaron Heidman photographer)

• E. J. Jones, of the Piper Jones Band, performs. (Photo by Josh Smith)

• Ann Short prepares to serve up haggis at a Newnan Burns Supper. (Aaron Heidman photo)

• Scottish Poet Robert Burns is remembered and celebrated at his birthday each January by those enamored with his poetry and song lyrics and/or those desiring to recall their own Scottish heritage.

• Burns Weekend attendees sing Robert Burns-penned “Auld Lang Syne” at the Coweta County Courthouse. (Aaron Heidman photographer)

• The January Trio, a local group, plays at a recent Burns Weekend. Performing are, from left, Payton Scott, Sara Grace Carmical and Chris Scott. (Aaron Heidman photograph)

A group of Burns Weekend celebrants marches from one event to the next during a recent celebration. (Aaron Heidman photograph)