Rare Robert Burns Braille books presented to University of Glasgow

Published: 11 October 2017

A rare Braille collection of the complete works of Robert Burns was today (Wednesday 11 October 2017) be presented to the University of Glasgow by Joan Muir, from Kilwinning in Ayrshire, who had gifted them earlier to the local Irvine Burns Club.

A rare Braille collection of the complete works of Robert Burns will today (Wednesday 11 October 2017) be presented to the University of Glasgow by Joan Muir, from Kilwinning in Ayrshire, who had gifted them earlier to the local Irvine Burns Club. 

The Club, which owns and manages the Wellwood Burns Centre in Irvine, believed that passing the books to the University of Glasgow, where they will be on permanent loan, was more in keeping with the owner’s wishes that they would not only be preserved but also used.

Mrs Muir, who has been blind since the age of three, was accompanied by Allen Paterson, President of the Irvine Burns Club, in presenting the works to the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University during National Braille Week (9 to 15 October 2017).

She said: “I have gained so much from these works of Robert Burns and thoroughly enjoyed owning them for all these years. Although the books are almost 50 years old, the braille dots are still sharp and are easily read by a blind person. It contains all of Burns’ poetry as well as many of his letters.

“I don’t know how many folks still have copies of the Burns’ Braille books from that era but I imagine that, like me, they will not be that young. I have felt for some time that I didn’t want such a wonderful collection to be lost which is why I contacted Irvine Burns Club looking for a safe place for it to be kept.

“I am delighted that it will now be looked after in perpetuity by the University which will allow others to study and read these Burns poems and letters which are part of our Scottish literary heritage.”

The seven volumes were purchased to order in the early 1970s from the Edinburgh-based Scottish Braille Press. Mrs Muir bought her Burns’ collection when the original steel plates and hydraulic press from the early 20th century would still have been in use. This means that the Braille printing is very sharp and clear.

But with technological advances, this old printing system is no longer used. Mrs Muir explained that her Braille books are very rare today due to both the fact they were printed to order and were printed using the steel sheets system from 1913. The book came to the University through its friendship with the Irvine Burns Club.

Bill Nolan, Irvine Burns Club secretary, who accepted Mrs Muir’s gift originally, said: “We were very touched by Joan’s special and almost unique gift. However, when we considered it, we felt that, rather than storing it in our own library at the Wellwood Burns Centre in Irvine, the collection should be offered in perpetuity to the University’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies. We saw that as a perfect fit in linking conservation with the spread of knowledge.

“We hope that this will ensure that other Braille users will have the opportunity to enjoy these complete works of Scotland’s national bard and we would like to thank Joan for her generosity and support.”

Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Arts at the University, who will accept the collection on behalf of the University of Glasgow, said: “The books are a wonderful piece of Braille history which helped to introduce Burns to a new audience.

“It is remarkable to think that this collection would have allowed the blind or partially sighted to read the wonderful words of Burns for themselves for the first time.

“We would like to thank Joan and Irvine Burns Club for this generous gift and we will ensure it is kept safe for further generations to study, read and enjoy.”

The Centre for Robert Burns Studies was established in July 2007. Its mission is the development of research, scholarship and teaching in the area of Robert Burns, his cultural period and related literature.

Irvine Burns Club was founded in 1826 by several friends of the poet and is one of the oldest Burns Clubs in the world. Unusually for any Burns Club, Irvine has had its own premises since 1962 and its Wellwood Burns Museum was created in 1967. Within Wellwood, the autograph manuscripts of the first six poems in Burns’ “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect”, first published in July 1786 as “The Kilmarnock Edition”, are preserved and displayed. Irvine Burns Club also has a Kilmarnock Edition and an Edinburgh Edition in its collection which is recognised as being part of Scotland’s National Burns Collection.

First published: 11 October 2017

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