Arts & Culture

Joan gifts rare Braille collection of Robert Burns works so others can study the Bard

By Ian Marland at

A woman has gifted a rare collection of Robert Burns poems and letters to the University of Glasgow.

Joan Muir has been blind since the age of three – and the seven mighty volumes are in Braille.

Braille Collection of Burns

Pictured: Joan Muir with her guide dog Elma, and Allen Paterson, president of The Irvine Burns Club at The University of Glasgow. Photo credit: Martin Shields

“I have gained so much from these works of Robert Burns and thoroughly enjoyed owning them for all these years,” said Joan, who lives in Kilwinning, Ayrshire.

“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.”

Joan had originally gifted the books to her local Irvine Burns Club.

But the club thought the university would be a more fitting home for the collection.

There, they will on permanent loan and available for use by scholars with sight impairment.

Braille Burns collection

Pictured: Joan Muir with members of The Irvine Burns Club and the University’s College of Arts. Photo credit: by Martin Shields

Joan said: “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.”

Joan 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.

The presentation comes during National Braille Week (9 to 15 October 2017).

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.

Professor Roibeard O’Maolalaigh, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Arts at the University, who accepted 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.”