The first edition of the poems of Robert Burns, known as the Kilmarnock edition, was published in July 1786 and extracts from it appeared in the Belfast News-Letter just three months later on 31 October. The News-Letter was the first newspaper in Ireland and, so far as can be ascertained, the first in the British Isles to quote from that first edition. Thereafter Burns’ poetry appeared frequently in the pages of that newspaper. Indeed, it published many pieces by the ‘Ayrshire Ploughman’ before they appeared in any collected edition of his works.
So great was the impact of Burns in Ulster that the first edition of his poetry which was printed outside Scotland was printed in Belfast. The Edinburgh edition appeared in 1787 and James Magee of Bridge Street, Belfast, reprinted and republished it in the same year. He printed two hundred copies but these were sold within ten days and so Magee re-set the press and continued printing. However Magee was a rather unscrupulous man and Burns received nothing in royalties from him.
A few years later, in 1792, his son William Magee helped to finance the radical Belfast newspaper, the Northern Star, and Burns’ poetry was published from time to time in that newspaper.