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Robert Burns Lives!
A Unique Burns Supper By Chris Waddell


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

Supper was at my own Burns Club of Atlanta in the cottage built by its members in 1910. I have experienced a lot of “firsts” since becoming a member of that historic club quite a few years ago and find it hard to recall all the dinners at which I was honored to deliver the Immortal Memory. Clubs in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia have been the main areas where I enjoyed sharing the words of Burns. There is one additional Burns Dinner or Supper, however, where I can’t begin to imagine the magic felt by those in attendance, and that is a Burns night in the auld cleg biggin, as the poet himself described his Alloway birthplace. 

Yes, like many of you, I have strolled through the original birthplace of Robert Burns and tried to imagine what it was like to be born and reared there. I have also wondered how exciting it would be to attend a dinner there on January 25 of any year. Stop and think about it! Can you imagine? A dinner in the auld cleg biggin! That opportunity will probably never come my way, but I can still dream and wish for those who do attend only the best for an incredible night!

That event took place this past January 25 that event took place when a group gathered to do what I have always dreamed about - meet in the Burns old clay biggin to honor Burns on his night. Read and enjoy the following experience with thanks to David Hopes and Chris Waddell for sharing that special night with our readers. (FRS: 3-9-16)

A Unique Burns Supper
By Chris Waddell 
January 25, 2016


David Hopes (MC)

It is seldom indeed that any one of us gets to make history. On Monday the 25th January 2016, a group of people did exactly that at Burns Cottage in Alloway. This was not the first Burns supper to be held here. That happened in July 1801, and not only was it the first Burns supper to be held at the cottage, it was the first Burns supper to be held anywhere. Details of this event were published by the Rev. Hamilton Paul in 1819. The guests listed were as follows:

John Ballantine
William Crawford of Doonside
Patrick Douglas of Garrallan House
Primrose William Kennedy of Drumellan
Hew Ferguson, Barrack Master, Ayr
David Scott, Banker, Ayr
Thomas Jackson, Professor of Natural Philosophy, St Andrews University
Rev. Hamilton Paul 
Robert Aitken


Mr Ian Farrell, Dirk in haun addresses the haggis!

There were culinary elements of this first supper which we would easily recognise today, such as the ubiquitous (indeed obligatory) haggis. Another component was sheep’s heid (head!) which, one would imagine, is not a staple for most of us today! (Even in Scotland) Before breaking up, the company resolved that the anniversary of Burns should be regularly celebrated and that the next meeting should take place on 29th January, 1802 (in was erroneously believed that the 29th was the Bard’s birthday) Through the following 8 years, the supper at the cottage was an annual fixture, eventually moving in 1810 to the King’s Arms in Ayr. Therefore, this year’s supper represented the first such event in the cottage in 207 years.


Mr Alec Neil MSP

The 2016 supper was largely the idea of the Friends of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. They resolved that the anniversary of our Bard’s birth should once again be celebrated in the very place of his birth and that from 2016 onwards, this should be an annual event. Central to this was Mr Hugh Farrell, one of the friends and a true Burnsian in every sense. His guidance, wisdom and experience in such matters proved invaluable during the planning process awerkey to the success of the evening. It was decided that any and all proceeds from the supper should go to the Burns Monument Restoration Appeal.


A Bonnie lassie, with haggis, neeps and tatties

January 2016 was a busy time for the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (RBBM). After a hectic weekend of events, Monday the 25th arrived. The supper was to be held in the barn of Burns Cottage – beautifully dressed by Mrs. Claire Grant – Events and Functions Manager at the museum.


Mr Gavin Pettigrew, RBBM Technical Manager and Mr Christopher Waddell, RBBM Learning Manager and author of this piece.

The guests started to arrive at 7pm at the Red Room in Pavilion at Burns Cottage. Our Honoured Guest for the evening, Mr. Alex Neil MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) was present and the other guests were able to join him for a welcome drink. We were entertained musically by Mr. John Grant of the Borland Ceilidh Band (and husband of our own aforementioned Claire) and he provided a selection of fiddle tunes. By 7.30, all guests had arrived and we proceeded to the cottage, led in rousing style by Pipe Major David Clark (For a full guest list, please see Appendix 1)


Mr Bruce Kennedy sings ‘Scots Wha Hae’

After some words of introduction from RBBM director Mr. David Hopes, the haggis was piped in (again, by Major Clark) the beastie borne aloft by myself in the role of Henchman. This haggis, and indeed all of the fine catering, was provided by Laurie Hedley, chef at ‘Fanny by Gaslight’ of Kilmarnock. It was a fine beast, a fact I can attest having held it aloft through a selection of piped tunes! It was then addressed in traditional fashion by Mr. Ian Farrell, brother to the aforementioned Hugh and a formidable Burnsian in his own right. A finer address – I can honestly say – would be hard to find! Mr Hopes then offered up the Selkirk Grace and the chieftain was toasted in fine style by our Honoured Guest, Mr Neil. Dinner then followed (Please see appendix 2 for the full menu)


Mr Sean McGlashan, RBBM Curator

After the splendid meal, Mr. Hopes proceeded by offering up some warm words of welcome. He pointed out that exactly 257 years previously; our beloved bard had been born just a few yards away in the little cottage kitchen. He then mentioned that first Burns supper which had taken place in the same spot, some 215 years before, when the cottage functioned as a tavern. The very sign from that tavern, featuring a restored portrait of the poet, had been brought out of storage and mounted on an easel, providing a fascinating curio for our guests. Mr Hopes also highlighted the presence of Mr Edward Werner Cook, an American Gentleman who had travelled all the way from New England to attend this momentous supper! Weel done, Mr Werner Cook!


Pipe Major Clark

A song was then offered up by Mr Bruce Kennedy, a retired policeman and – in my opinion – one of the finest interpreters of Burns songs in Scotland. This was followed by a few words from our curator, Mr Sean McGlashan (another American, a Pittsburgh lad no less!) He produced something truly wonderful, a little portable writing set which he had taken from storage in order that our guests might pass it around and which had belonged to Burns.


Mr Rab Wilson, Poet, performs his new ode

The key note of any Burns supper should be the Immortal Memory and this was to be no exception. Mr Hugh Farrell delivered this and he rose spectacularly to the occasion. Hugh is the most knowledge Burnsian I know. A witty and wise man, generous with his knowledge and never patronising to those younger folks who wish his advice on all matters Burns. He is married with two daughters (both present) and two granddaughters. He is currently president of Peterhead Burns Club and a Past President of both Alloway and Stonehouse Burns Clubs.


The Twa Dugs!

He did not disappoint! I’ve heard numerous Immortal Memories down the years; Hugh’s passion and knowledge of the Bard made this one of the best. A palpable sense of emotion hung over those present in that little cottage barn, adding to the sense of history that this occasion demanded and confirming to all present that this, was a very special night indeed.


Mr Alastair McCulloch playing the Gregg Fiddle

Some music followed, ably provided by Mr Alastair McCulloch, one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players. The overarching sense of history attached to this occasion was further compounded at this point: Alastair was playing on the Gregg fiddle, an instrument owned and used by William Gregg, Burns’s dancing master in Tarbolton and a beautiful example of folk art in its own right. Alastair did it proud, but then, he is a former national fiddle champion and a one-time soloist with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra but now serves as a tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

 
Mr Edward Werner Cook

After a short interval, we were treated to another song by Bruce Kennedy (Bruce, I should mention sits on the Bachelors Club Committee, that steadfast group of gentleman who help us at the National Trust for Scotland in our management of the Bachelors Club in Tarbolton where Burns and his brother Gilbert set up their debating society)

Bruce’s singing was (as always) very warmly received. Mr Ian Farrell then offered us a lively and extremely entertaining recitation of Tam o’ Shanter, delivered as it should be, in broad Ayrshire Scots!

The original 1801 supper was organised by Reverend Hamilton Paul, described in the minutes as ‘chaplain and laureate’. He was charged with ‘exhibiting an annual poetical production in praise of the bard of Coila’. It was this creative element which gave rise to the immortal memory. Therefore, in the spirit of this venture, we commissioned a new piece by the renowned Scots Poet, Rab Wilson, which he very kindly performed for us. Rab is an Ayshireman, from New Cumnock and a former miner and psychiatric nurse. Now, he is a full time poet and writer, and one of Scotland’s most respected to boot. His ode ‘Anither Blast fir Burns’ was moving, magical and thought provoking (please see Appendix 3 for the Ode in its entirety)

There then followed a further selection of tunes from Alastair on the Gregg fiddle followed by more wonderful songs from Bruce and then, quite unrehearsed and not in the programme, a further song from Bruce accompanied by Alastair on the Gregg instrument! Do you ever feel you are being just a little bit spoiled?!

The Twa Farrell brothers then rose to provide an excellent rendition of The Twa Dogs, and a truly convincing (and comic!) Caesar and Luath they were too. It then fell to me, Chris Waddell, to offer up the vote of thanks before we guid friens linked hauns for the traditional closing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

I have worked at the Robert Burns Birthplace museum for three years now. In many ways, it’s a dream post to lifelong fan of Burns, my native Scots culture and my nation’s fascinating history. I’ve also attended many Burns Suppers. This occasion – Monday 25th January 2016 – represents a high point in my career. It was a truly remarkable occasion and I am immensely proud as an admirer of Burns, and as a Scot, to have taken part.

Roll on next January!

APPENDIX 1

Present

David Hopes Chairman
Alex Neil MSP Honoured Guest
Hugh C Farrell Immortal Memory
Ian Farrell Recitations
Bruce Kennedy Songs
Alistair McCulloch Fiddle
Rab Wilson Ode to Robert Burns
David C Clark Piper
Chris Waddell Speaker

Guests

Colin Barrie 
David Y Henderson
Stephen J F Henderson 
John Rattenbury
Dennis Rattenbury 
Kirsteen Campbell
David R Campbell 
Edward Werner Cook
Jean Swinley 
Sean McGlashan
John Grant 
Ian Lamb
Gavin Pettigrew 
Susan Colquhoun
Gillian Wallace 
Stephen Kettlewell
Robert McCroskie 
Colin McCormick
Gavin H Barrie

APPENDIX 2

Menu
Cock-A-Leekie Soup*

Haggis & Clapshot*

Collops of Prime Beef Steak*
Wi a richt guid gravy of snippet
greentails, cream and Jamaica pepper
Rumbledethumps and Skirlie Tomatoes

Clootie Dumpling
Wi a wee pot of cranachan

Heritage Cheeseboard
Dunlop cheddar, Arran Blue
Apple chutney, oatcakes
Black Bean Bree

Posies of chittering bites
(Tablet, shortbread, puff candy)

Vegetarian Alternatives
*Tattie & leek soup
*McSweens Vegetarian Haggis
*Filo Bundles of Chestnuts, Mushrooms and Cybies


FANNY BY GASLIGHT PROFFESSIONAL OUTSIDE CATERIN

APPENDIX 3
Anither Blast fir Burns
Twa hunner year an mair hae past,
Syne thon ill-fated Janwar blast,
That hansel’d in oor Robin,
Wha wid hae thocht, that stormy nicht,
A seer-lyk Bard wi saicent sicht,
Wid suin set lowe tae Scotland!
The hallowed wa’s o this auld biggin,
Whaur we sit bien an snug,
Wid still resound tae tunes an singin,
That hairtstrings pu an rug,
We canna, we maunna,
Hou’er the warld may turn,
Imagine, or fashion,
A Scotland wi’oot Burns.

Aince Daith’s cauld haund hud steikt yer een,
Auld Scotia tint its foremaist frien,
Wha’ll be oor poet nou?
The fowk aa asked, an gnashed their gooms,
Else humm’d an haw’d, an birlt their thoombs,
Nane e’er cuid replace you!
Ye’d be mair kent a hunner year syne,
Ye surely did predict,
While as we aa sit here tae dine,
Thair nae dout; ye wir richt!
Wi daffin, an lauchin,
We’ll gie yer nem a heize,
Wi wirds yet, that ring yet,
That set the warld ableeze.

We’ve boattles here, an honest friens,
An drouthy cronies we’ve a wheen,
That ye wid recognise,
We’ve e’en a chiel tae dae some fiddlin,
Whase supple elbuck syne be diddlin,
Wi airs tae mak ye sigh!
An famous craic wi poems an rhymes,
Frae fowk wi wit an lear,
Nae dout we’ll hear some daithless lines,
That aa Scots fowk haud dear,
Get torn in, an dig in,
We’ve mait an maut an ale
Mangst clinkin, an thinkin,
Oor speerits maun tak sail!
But whit o the laund ye left ahint,
Are things that ye held sacred tint,
An hae we loast oor way?
Gif true it wid be oor disgrace,
We Scots, a ‘disputatious race’,
Shuid hae the mense tae spae,
The ‘universal truths’ ye spak,
Are juist as true the day,
Aa doucely rhymed in hamely craic,
Still guide us oan oor way,
We see it, we prie it,
It’s in the verra air,
We boast it, we toast it,
Richt here this verra day!

The things that ye aince wrote aboot,
Still muive oor pens the day nae dout,
Lik providential storms!
Insteid o wuns nou muckle spates,
Cam fludin throu wir doors an yetts,
We chitter tae keep waarm!
Mind, nou we hae Wee Nicola,
Tae bail the puir fowk oot,
Nae ‘Lochlie’ writs fir tham ava,
Wid see thaim chippit oot!
Life’s cantrips, an mishaps,
Conspire tae trip us up,
But here’s aye, tae thaim aye,
Wha ne’er aince gie up!

Love’s still the stellar force an guide,
That dairts athort the heivins wide,
There’s hope yet fir us aa;
There’s Rupert Murdoch, eichty-four,
3rd time lucky, need ah say more!?
He’s heidin fir a fa’
Said Johnson, ‘T’was the triumph of Hope,
Ower experience!’
Tho mair the triumph o Samuel’s trope,
Ower puir Rupert’s sense!
Oh whit can, an auld man,
Dae wi a Texan Filly?
Their nae dout, his tea’s oot,
The man’s gane gyte an silly!

Aye, Love an Nature, twa great themes,
Tae heize up ony poet’s dreams,
An let us grasp the stars!
There’s satire, friendship, fun an lauchs,
There’s burly chiels, an shilpit nyaffs,
In your great repertoire;
Wizened beldams, bonnie lasses,
Puir brucken, ruined fairmers,
Noble Jacobite lost causes,
An bogles tae alairm us!
There’s life there, ye’ll get there,
Ye’ll fuin nae ither whaurs,
There’s sense yet, an mense yet,
Tae ding these hallowed wa’s!

Philosophy an poetry,
Rhymed wi sic dexterity,
It lowps straicht aff the page,
An evri line accessible,
Tae young or auld; get-at-able,
An’s nevir dimmed wi age!
It thrills me yet hou ye contrived,
Wi juist a quill an caundle,
Tae mak sic magic come alive,
That gars oor nerve-ends jangle,
It fires us, inspires us,
An touches us witha’
It soothes us, it muives us,
It maks the tear tae fa’

Whiles tyrant kings you aye despised,
An seen straicht throu their whids an lies,
Thon ‘independent mind’,
Wid ne’er let you ‘bend the knee’,
Tae siclike rank hypocrisy,
Tho ithers micht be blind,
You prie’d the warks o Thomas Paine,
An taen his words tae hairt,
An Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’ fain,
Wid see you tak the pairt,
O thaim wha, hud damn aa,
But you tae tell their woes,
An thon’s aye, the wey aye,
The poet’s story goes...

Wha’ll fecht fir sic injustice nou,
Wi Makars that micht mak ye grue,
Whase pens hae aa bin hobbled,
Wha dinnae seem tae hae the mettle,
Tae grasp the state’s vile stingin nettle,
Yet glaum at aa their baubles!
Tae tak a risk they are averse,
They’d no rise aff their arses!
But scrieve ye aye braw lyric verse,
Tae heize the glitt’rin prizes!
Sic Makars, wid waur us,
Their wirds aa fail tae ring,
They rieve us, an deave us,
Their poems dinnae sing...!

You taen ideas sae rich an dense,
An turned thaim intil common sense,
That ilk o us cuid grasp,
Be’t thorny knots o human fate,
Else rotten deeds o kirk an state;
Aye equal tae the task,
Fir truth wis aye your Haly Grail,
Whiles rogues ye aye wid ding!
An ne’er wir feart tae tirl the tails,
O commoners or kings!
Thair sooth there, an truth there,
Tae gie oor hairts a heize,
Thair wit there, an lear there
Tae rank wi Socrates.

Sae tak this shilpit paean, Robin,
Frae a modren sib an jobbin
Poet o nae renown.
Ye dee’d no kennin that yer nem,
Wid growe tae siclike faur-kent fame,
Ye’ve earned yer laurel crown!
Whiles weans in Ayr recite anent,
The timeless themes ye wrote,
Aa ower the warld yer wark is kent
Bi ‘diasporic’ Scots!
Yer braw rhymes, fir aa time,
Wull echo evri airt,
An shair’s aye, the sunrise,
They’ll stound in human hairts


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