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A Birl For Burns - BBC Programme

11 January 2018

BBC Northern Ireland celebrates the life and work of the Bard of Ayrshire with content across TV, radio and online

A Birl For Burns - Sunday 21 January - BBC Radio Ulster, 12.30pm

On the night of Thursday 25 January 2018, across Northern Ireland people will gather together for Burns Suppers to celebrate the life, poetry and music of Robert Burns.

For many of those, as Ulster-Scots, participating in Burns Night isn’t only a celebration of Burns, but also of their ancestral and cultural connections with Scotland.

In the first programme, A Birl for Burns, on Sunday 21 January on BBC Radio Ulster at 12.30pm, Neil Oliver explores the influence of Robert Burns on the work of Seamus Heaney. 


It is based on an interview Neil Oliver conducted with the late Seamus Heaney at his home in Dublin in August 2012, a year before his death, for the documentary, An Ode to Burns and Ulster.

Produced by DoubleBand Films and broadcast on BBCNI in January 2013, An Ode to Burns and Ulster explored the influence of Burns on contemporary Ulster poets.  Only a small part of the original interview with the late Seamus Heaney was included in the documentary.

This new programme features the extended interview, re-edited and re-imagined for radio, in which Seamus Heaney, in conversation with Neil Oliver, reveals his affection for Burns poetry and how it inspired him to write his poem, A Birl for Burns.

Heaney also recalls how he first encountered Burns at primary school in County Londonderry, through the poem To A Mouse, and discovered its affinity with the vernacular of his own townland and community in words such as “wee” and “sleekit. ”

The programme features Heaney reading from A Birl for Burns, and an extract from To A Mouse.

Jonathan Golden from DoubleBand Films said: “This is a great opportunity to hear the late Seamus Heaney talking so vividly about his obvious affection and respect for Robert Burns, and how Scots, the language of Burns, influenced the local vernacular in the area in which he grew up.”

The programme was produced by Stan Ferguson, and supported by the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund. It is a DoubleBand production for BBC Radio Ulster.


A Birl for Burns will be broadcast at BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday 21 January at 12.30pm and repeated on Thursday 25 January at 7.30pm.