Scotland's Big Bard Year

Macduff Everton

To celebrate the 250th birthday of national poet Robert Burns, the country has organized a year of festivities—think whisky tastings, Highland Games, and events for ancestry aficionados.

Robert Burns's romantic classics, such as "My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose," are so beloved that his birthday (Jan. 25) inspires feasts called Burns Suppers, featuring plenty of haggis and recitations of his poetry. This year marks 250 years since his birth, and during the Anniversary Weekend kickoff (Jan. 24–25), you can book several hotel packages that include a Burns Supper (, from $499 for three nights). Two exhibits dedicated to the poet will also be on view in 2009: Zig Zag, The Paths of Robert Burns (through Jan. 31) opens at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, featuring his personal letters. And the Mitchell Library in Glasgow hosts Inspired (Apr. 4–Sept. 20), a show of artworks Burns's poetry influenced, such as photos by the singer Patti Smith.

It is estimated that as many as 40 million people worldwide have ancestors who hailed from Scotland. This vast diaspora is the focus of the International Genealogy Festival in Glasgow (July 21–24), including seminars by experts from the National Archives of Scotland. You may even reunite with some of your own kilt-clad brethren at The Gathering 2009 in Edinburgh (July 25–26), the largest get-together of clan members in the country's history. Avid ancestry seekers will also want to check out the new ScotlandsPeople Centre, which is offering visitors a free, two-hour session to research their family tree.

Burns loved whisky almost as much as the written word, so the Isle of Barra is throwing a Whisky Galore Festival (Sept. 18–20), with a golf tournament, live concerts, and tastings of single malts. The famed Malt Whisky Trail also figures into the celebrations: During Whisky Week, distilleries will sponsor a series of gala dinners, pairing their signature drinks with local dishes (Nov. 1–7).

A Scottish shindig wouldn't be complete without the Highland Games (July 25–26). Contestants compete in such classic events as launching logs long distances and hurling hammers.

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