Burn’s Night in the Glen

Robert Burns, Scottish poet Robert Burns also known as Rabbie Burns

Scottish folks love tradition, they love poetry and they love a party. All of these come together in the uniquely Scottish custom of Robert Burn’s Night, which is a celebration of the national bard’s life and works entwined in a supper. I attended my first Burns Supper at our glen local, The Barn Bar and learned just how much Burns is a Scottish institution. Burns is well known as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement. But he has became something of a cult figure to the Scots and its diaspora for more than just his poetry. His politics influence liberal and socialist philosophies around the world up to today- in fact, now more than ever as pride in Scottish identity surges on the year of the Independence vote.

The first Burns Suppers were held by his friends after his death at the end of the 18th century- first in July, on the date of his death. Later the tradition continued and spread from his stomping grounds of Ayrshire, and date was changed to his birthday, January 25th.

These days, Burns Suppers can be a big formal affair conducted with pomp and circumstance, or, like ours, a more informal gathering that incorporates the major elements of a Burns Supper. As long as there is a running order, haggis, pipes, lots of whisky toasts and readings by Burns, it is a proper Burns Night! Everyone in Lerags Glen was there. The lads were in full kilt finery and the lassies were rocking sassy short billie kilts, traditional ankle length kilts and smart tartan scarves. I was decked out in a wool scarf to coordinate with Rab’s kilt in the Maclachlan tartan- Rab’s paternal grandmother’s Highland clan. Burns would not have worn a kilt- he was from the Lowlands, where kilts were not the fashion. But to Highlanders, the kilt is the dress uniform.


St. Andrew’s cross flags festooned the pub and every table was packed with eager guests enjoying a pint and catching up on the latest. The barman poured round after round of whisky. The clinking of a glass called the rabble to order and the din ceased. Our Burns Supper, which lasted six hours, proceeded thusly:


Our chairman Charlie, dressed in a tartan bunnet and matching pants to humorous effect, opened the proceedings with Chairman’s Welcome to the guests, followed by the Selkirk Grace, or Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright:

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.

For the Piping in the Haggis, our hostess Linda, proceeded by a young man playing the pipes, carried on a large platter a football sized savory pudding lump of sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt and stock. The platter was placed in front of our emcee, Liam, who, in his booming brogue, gave a fluent and engaging rendition of the prescribed Address to the Haggis:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!

Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm :

Weel are ye wordy o’a grace

As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,

Your hurdies like a distant hill,

Your pin wad help to mend a mill

In time o’need,

While thro’ your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,

An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,

Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like ony ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:

Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,

Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve

Are bent like drums;

Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,

Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout

Or olio that wad staw a sow,

Or fricassee wad make her spew

Wi’ perfect sconner,

Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view

On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,

As feckless as wither’d rash,

His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;

His nieve a nit;

Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,

O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread.

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,

He’ll mak it whissle;

An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,

Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill o’ fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies;

But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer

Gie her a haggis!


On cue, Liam sliced into the haggis with gusto and the steaming innards poured forth to a prodigious cheer from the crowd. And because you can’t brag about haggis too much, Liam gave the Toast to the Haggis: “Raise a glass and shout ‘The Haggis!”. Whisky flowed down throats.

Huge dishes made their way to the tables- salmon patѐ, hotch potch soup, haggis (and vegetarian haggis), smothered in white onion gravy or whisky cream sauce, venison in red wine and redcurrant gravy and chicken howtowdie with spinach and poached egg. I don’t care for haggis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to gut based dishes- but it has a tang to it I find, well, icky. So I tried the veggie haggis in whisky cream sauce. Made much the same way as a veggie burger, with oats, seeds and nuts, the spices were subtle, savoury with a sweet touch of spices such as nutmeg. It was a great sponge with which to mop up the generous helping of aromatic whisky sauce. All the dishes were accompanied by two Scottish staples- “neeps” mashed turnips and “tatties” mashed potatoes. No frills, no cream, just a bit of butter and veg mashed. Traditional colcannon finished off the veg trio- a mashed compote of cabbage and root vegetables. I used them to mop up the gobs of gravy as well! Dessert followed- oatmeal Caledonian Ice- a lovely, ultra creamy yet light-on-the-tongue pudding with a showy sugary deer horn shaped cookie on top- and a clootie dumpling, a rich pudding made with suet, dried sultanas, raisins and dates, and spices. Cider, lager and whisky flowed.


Now utterly stuffed, we all hushed to attention to the clinking of the glass. It was time for the Immortal Memory. A nervous Derek took the floor and waxed on Burn’s finer qualities- his literary genius, his politics and fierce nationalism- as well as his, er um, not so fine qualities, like drink and womanizing, all done with wit yet respect to the Bard. Derek concluded with a toast- “To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!”

Next was the Toast to the Lassies by Frank. With bawdy quotes from the Bard a shout out to the world’s better half, again glasses clinked and whisky flowed down throats. Charlie’s better half, Jules, followed with the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies. Her well delivered topic- How to Housetrain your Man! Her toast was the highlight of the evening for me- funny, spot on and excellently expressed.

Having toasted dozens of times, it was time for the musical entertainment. The Hollow Mountain Trio played lively (and sometimes rude!) Burns’ songs such as Sic a Wife as Willie Had:

Willie Wastle dwalt on Tweed,
The spot they call’d it Linkum-doddie.
Willie was a wabster guid,
Cou’d stown a clue wi’ onie bodie;
He had a wife was dour and din,
O Tinkler Madgie was her mither;
Sic a wife as Willie had,
I wad nae gie a button for her.

Or the more melodic and romantic songs such as Red Red Rose:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.


The crowd joined in the singing and occasionally someone would stand up and recite a poem. It was truly a community effort. Into the wee hours of the night the music and the whisky flowed. At the end everyone linked arms and sang Auld Lang Syne:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

Liam, the glen’s own Bard, wrote this poem the next day.

(with apologies to The Bard.)
For fa*s sake! ya bloated blowsy mug!
Reddened by the whisky jug,
Yer tartan bunnet fallen off its peg
It’s reported ye peed doon Jules’s leg.

But ye ca’d for freens from near and far
By boat and bike and motor car,
Brotherthood and Sisterhood ye sought,
So, Man and Wummin’ to the Barn Bar ye brought.

Strong drink and food ye plied,
Bagpipe and song and string by the Barn’s fireside,
Till late the hand roon’ the clock it crept,
Next day, “ my god! I’ve overslept!”

And so I’m late as my pen it flows,
Shaky steered by too much booze,
Sair Back! Sair Heid! Sair Shanks!
But Never Mind!! “Charlie!! Thanks!!!”

Liam Griffin, Lerags. 26th January 2014.
(On the occasion of Charles Hodge, AKA “The Bunnet”, chairing of the Barn Bar Burns Supper.)


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