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The Imagine Alba Podcast- Robert Burns Night

It's Burns Night on the Imagine Alba Podcast! In this episode, we explore the Scottish tradition of Burns Night, and we preview Glasgow's Celtic Connections, one of Europe's finest folk, roots and world music festivals.

You can listen to our Burns Night episode here by downloading from iTunes and subscribing:

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Burns Night

Scottish folks love tradition, they love poetry and they love a party. All of these come together in the uniquely Scottish custom of Burn’s Night on January 25. If you want to find out more about the man himself, read his works and find out how to hold your own Burns Supper, the website Robert Burns Country is a great resource.

Burns' first song:

Handsome Nell

Once I lov'd a bonie lass,

Ay, and I love her still;

And whilst that virtue warms my breast,

I'll love my handsome Nell.

As bonie lasses I hae seen,

And mony full as braw;

But, for a modest gracefu' mein,

The like I never saw.

A bonie lass, I will confess,

Is pleasant to the e'e;

But, without some better qualities,

She's no a lass for me.

But Nelly's looks are blythe and sweet,

And what is best of a',

Her reputation is complete,

And fair without a flaw.

She dresses aye sae clean and neat,

Both decent and genteel;

And then there's something in her gait

Gars ony dress look weel.

A gaudy dress and gentle air

May slightly touch the heart;

But it's innocence and modesty

That polishes the dart.

'Tis this in Nelly pleases me,

'Tis this enchants my soul;

For absolutely in my breast

She reigns without control.

Robert Burns sculpture by Sir John Steell (1804–1891), Central Park, New York City

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye worthy 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 slight,

Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like onie 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;

The 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 mak her spew

Wi perfect scunner,

Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view

On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,

As feckless as a 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 make 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

Recipe for traditional haggis with whisky gravy

Serves: 8

Ingredients

3 x 500g packs haggis

50g butter

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced

200ml whisky

2 x 500g beef stock

3 tbsp redcurrant jelly

Method

1. Cook the haggis according to package instructions.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the onion then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently until dark brown.

3. Increase the heat to high and add the whisky. Leave to bubble vigorously, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes until almost all has evaporated.

4. Add the stock and redcurrant jelly to the pan, bring to the boil, then leave to simmer vigorously for 30 minutes or until at least two-thirds its original volume, and the sauce is thick and glossy. Strain the gravy through a sieve. Serve the haggis at the table with the gravy alongside.

Ever wondered what happens at a real Burns Supper? Read on for our own experience!


Burns Night in the Glen


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 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.


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 whiskey. 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 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!”. Whiskey 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 whiskey 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 whiskey 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 at nutmeg. It was a great sponge with which to mop up the generous helping of aromatic whiskey 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 whiskey 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 the Chair, Charlie, dressed in a tartan bunnet and matching pants to humorous effect. With bawdy quotes from the Bard a shout out to the world’s better half, again glasses clinked and whiskey flowed down throats. His 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 whiskey 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.



 

Enjoy our podcast about Scotland? For the real life experience, get in touch about an Oban Walking Tour or self drive itinerary to make your holiday extra special. A walking tour is the best way to settle in Oban, by getting the lay of the land and suggestions for your stay.




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