Today is the 259th birthday of the venerated Scottish poet Robert Burns, born in Ayrshire, in 1759.
I had vague knowledge about Burns the poet for most of my life. I knew he wrote “Auld Lang Syne,” and that he was a famous Scottish poet. Then I found a photo of the headstone of one of my Irish ancestors on Ancestry and messaged a distant cousin about it.
The headstone of my 3rd great-grandfather James Hughes lives in an old cemetery on Prince Edward Island near where he and his family settled. There are words carved on the base that are difficult to read from the photograph my cousin took back in 2009. I messaged him, hoping he knew what they were and that they would give some insight into where in County Armagh James was from. He told me they were the last four lines of a poem called “O Thou Dread Power” by Robert Burns:
“When, soon or late, they reach that coast,
O’er Life’s rough ocean driven,
May they rejoice, no wand’rer lost,
A family in Heaven!”
James and his wife Jane (Irving or Irwin) had already crossed the ocean from Ireland to Prince Edward Island, Canada. Less than a decade later, Jane would once again move to a new country, the U.S.A., to join some of her children in Boston. I suspect it was her, who was said to be of Scottish descent, who chose that verse.
For the full poem, go to O Thou Dread Power on the Burns Country website.