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Robert Burns Lives!
Volume 1 Chapter 31


Burns Nicht Bits, Tidbits, and Fragments

This article is dedicated to those fine people at Mount Airy, NC who are members of The Scottish Heritage Society of the Blue Ridge and The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History for sponsoring Burns Nicht, especially to Linda Blue Stanfield, museum director, and Scotia Script editor, Tom Scott, who puts out a great newsletter for the society’s members. I particularly want to thank the many others who made possible the wonderful time those of us attending had in celebrating Burns Nicht at the Cross Creek Country Club on January 26, 2008. The theme for the evening was “A Celebration of the Life and Times of Robert Burns.

I look back on that occasion with great memories. A tip of the hat to the Reverend Dale Cline, our emcee, for his humor, particularly about pipers and their bagpipes.  Dale delivered an outstanding rendition of “Address to the Haggis”. Special thanks are also in order to the Triad Scottish Fiddlers & Friends who entertained during dinner with songs from Robert Burns, a very nice touch indeed! (Other Burns Clubs should take note!) I was notably thankful for the wonderful haggis. The chef was kind enough to serve me a second helping, as well as a wee bit to bring back to Atlanta. I must confess, though, it never made it any farther than my motel room!

Susan and I enjoyed the warm welcome of these gracious men and women who proudly spoke of their Scottish heritage and wore their tartans with an air of dignity! These Scottish Southerners did justice to the acclaimed hospitality that Scots and Southerners alike are known for around the world. It was an honor to be asked to deliver The Immortal Memory in the home town of famed television star, Andy Griffith. I only hope your Burns Nicht was as good as ours in Mount Airy – it ranked right up there with the best I have participated in over the years!

With that said, I was curious to know how Burns Nicht was celebrated here in the United States and in Scotland this year, so I fired off an email to several of my friends to inquire. What follows are illustrations on how hundreds honored the birthday of Robert Burns with their celebrations around the world.  Maybe this article will tempt you to look up more on the Internet.

Let me start with a Scottish cottage - though not in Scotland - that means a lot to Susan and me. I have it on good report that the Atlanta Burns Club, of which I am a member, had its usual full house. I missed celebrating with my fellow members due to the commitment to speak at Mount Airy. One thing is for sure, however, you can always count on an excellent program and wonderful food at the Burns Cottage. If you are ever planning a visit to Atlanta and want to see the Burns Cottage, plan ahead, and let me know of your arrival. I will do my best to arrange to have it opened for you. There is much Scottish history in this Burns Club, and their hospitality is just superb!

My own St. Andrew’s Society in Atlanta observed their Burns Nicht Dinner at the Druid Hills Golf Club two weeks later than originally planned. Mother Nature’s blanket of snow and ice intervened, and a make-up event was necessary. It was the first time in the club’s history that a dinner of any kind had been cancelled, but the streets were impassable and the chef thought it wise not to risk anyone being out in the elements. However, the cancellation did not dampen the spirits of those attending the later date as the club’s beautiful ballroom was packed with over 140 people. Some of those who could not attend the make-up date were replaced by some who could not attend on the original date. It was a great evening enjoyed by one and all. An outstanding Immortal Memory was delivered by friend Jim Montgomery. One suggestion:  I hope next year the Chef does a better job with the haggis – it’s not to be served like a slice of meatloaf. Perhaps a call to Chef Chris Wishart at the Cross Creek Country Club in Mount Airy for a few tips would be in order, or take a hint and try Caledonian haggis next time!

I heard from the Burns Club of London that they had 230 in attendance for their dinner.  Jim Henderson, the club’s honorary secretary, and I correspond from time to time. I can say from personal experience that these people know how to welcome guests from around the world. In 2005 they hosted a luncheon for Susan and me at the Caledonian Club in London, and the time with them will always be remembered as a very special one. If pressed, I would testify under oath that the best haggis I have ever eaten came from their club, in the heart of London, but then they have a fulltime Scottish chef who knows how to pamper the Scottish membership. Their hospitality ranks among the best in my Burns world!

From way up in Wester Ross, Scotland came this message from Ian McMillan, a very interesting and talented Burnsian: “Our Burns night was once more a great success. We squeezed well over 60 into our hotel and were again oversubscribed. Our club, The Wester Ross Burns Club, up to 20 strong, will now join the (Burns World) Federation.” Ian was a busy man this Burns season.  He gave the Immortal Memory at the Avoch Burns Club on the Black Isle and also spoke at the Rotary Burns night in Ullapool and the Strathpeffer Burns Club in Dingwall. Congratulations, Ian! You are truly a Burns ambassador.

Benny Gillies, friend and one of Scotland’s top antiquarian book dealers, told me he went to an “Evening with Burns” at the Coach and Horses Pub in Dumfries “just around the corner where Burns stayed in Banks St.” Benny’s niece from Ireland was visiting him, along with seven of her friends, for the weekend and “they fancied a bit of haggis and neeps”. He goes on to say that this was a fairly informal event and the “haggis was addressed in good fashion”. I have learned that many pubs in Scotland have a Burns Nicht and draw big crowds. If ever there was a Burns “honest man”, Benny is that man! Check out his web site at www.bennygillies.co.uk for his Secondhand and Antiquarian Scottish Books, Maps, and Prints located in Kirkpatrick Durham, Castle Douglas, not too far out of Dumfries. He’ll do you right!

Shirley Bell, Chief Executive of the Robert Burns World Federation in Kilmarnock, wrote that she attended several Burns Nicht functions “and perhaps two most memorable were the West Sound Burns Supper held in Glasgow and St. Michael’s Burns Club Supper held in Dumfries”. The West Sound Supper had 600 in attendance with the highlight of the evening being the School Children winners of the Federation Schools Festivals. Standing ovations were given to the flautist, singer, and choir. Karen Dunbar, a well known comedienne, recited Tam O’Shanter and this was certainly the best interpretation of the poem I have heard. She was wonderful.”

Shirley went on to say that a new club, St. Michael’s Burns Club formed by members of the church, had 77 attending. “Robert Burns is of course buried in the Church yard and the minister rightly claims that the club is nearest the Bard! David Shankland, MBE, delivered the Immortal Memory to a hushed audience and had everyone spellbound with his honest and thought provoking message.” Much has been written about Burns and religion over the years. When Susan and I visited St. Michael’s Church on our last visit to Scotland, I made sure to take a couple of pictures of the designated “Burns Pew”.  Yes, Burns attended church throughout his life!

A “SOLD OUT” Burns Nicht was held at the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York. Good friend Thomas Keith, one of the organizers, writes that 115 celebrated Burns Night to honor the poet and hear successful crime novelist Val McDermid speak and sing. Tom said she spoke about what Burns meant to her while growing up in Scotland. Her theme: “The universal qualities of Burns writing that anyone and everyone can relate to in regards to love, friendship, humor, responsibility and respect for our fellow humans,” and she would sing a Burns song when appropriate during the Immortal Memory. Entertainment was by “The Highland Shatners” and about two hours of Scottish dancing was led by Ann Hawkins and Jack Cole. Chief of this fine club is Ian R. Betts.

Clark McGinn, known and heralded as the “Burns Supper Specialist” and one of many outstanding members of the London Burns Club, writes that he was active during the Burns Nicht season. He literally traveled over 36,000 miles, speaking to over two thousand people around the world. He called it “360 degrees of Rabbie” with 18 Immortal Memories this year with the Sydney Opera House being the exciting one! That’s a lot of haggis, my friend!” For those of you wanting to put a wee bit of zing into your Burns Dinner/Supper, check out his current book, The Ultimate Burns Supper Book: A Practical (But Irreverent) Guide to Scotland’s Greatest Celebration. Clark goes on to say, “I am just finishing the draft of my new book which is a look at all the festivals of Scotland today…”

Ron Murray, Associate Director at the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Office of Continuing Medical Education, emailed that “the Kilmarnock and District Pipe Band’s Burns Nicht was a grand mix of music, dance and readings” on February 2nd. An extra touch this year to begin the program was a darkened hall with a spotlight on the Rampant Lion with Ron, out of sight of the audience, reading the poem, “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”. The lights came up on the rolls and the band made a stunning entrance. Located near Weems, Virginia, the pipe band observes Burns Night to raise money for their band. Other groups should take note of this great idea.

David Smith, my friend and contact at The Globe Inn’s Burns Howff Club in Dumfries, writes that their club observed its 119th anniversary dinner on January 25, 2008. The Immortal Memory speaker was Alex Fergusson, MSP and Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, who delivered a passionate speech. “The speaker believed that Burns did not enjoy farming but found great ability as a poet while at the plough and was able to paint pictures with words, the only tools at his fingertips.” As is their custom and tradition, the club presented Mr. Fergusson with an honorary membership. The Consul General of the Ukraine, Mr. Bohfdan Yaremenko, was a special guest of the club. The Consul General noted that “Robert Burns was very famous in the Ukraine and school children were taught of his life and work”.  A spirited version of “Auld Lang Syne” concluded the evening’s program. A 119-year-old-celebration deserves our heartiest congratulations.  That, my friends, is a lot of Burns and haggis over the years!

Word on the street is that the Heather and Thistle Club in Houston had over 700 in attendance this year. That is in part a large tribute to Jack Hume, one of the finest Burnsians I have ever known. He and his friends have built that club into one of the biggest in the world. I can’t imagine that much haggis in one place! Congratulations, Jack!

A few more programs were brought to my attention that you may find of interest. On the evening of our St. Andrew’s Burns Nicht in Atlanta, I was given a page downloaded from the Internet describing a Burns Supper held at the Rabbie Burns Scottish Club. This club/pub, owned by two ex-pats, opens daily at 6 p.m. and closes at 3 a.m.-ish! They proudly report they held their own Burns supper and “educated the unacquainted to Robert Burns.” The pub is located in  Calangute, Goa, India. Good for them!

Scotsman.com reports that Edinburgh’s Ukrainian community observed a Burns Supper during the latter part of February. They celebrated both the Ukranian poet Taras Shevchenko and Robert Burns with their traditional dish of red beetroot soup along with haggis, neeps and tatties. Over 80 Scots and Ukranians attended. Red beetroot soup? I would hope I would not shy away from it the way some do haggis, but I confess it might be hard not to!

You’ll be interested in knowing that 110 people gathered at the Hotel Melia to observe Burns Night in Hanoi, Vietnam. This Burns Dinner was organized by the Indo-China Usegebeathe Club and was replete with piper, haggis, toasts, dancing and The Immortal Memory. Can you imagine Robert Burns in Hanoi?!

For a little more international flavor, I wish to thank Thomas Keith for the following information. The Scotsman published their “Best International Burns Suppers” list and those making it were:

  1. The Highland Heritage Society of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  2. The Granite Club/Scottish Studies Foundation of Toronto, Ontario
  3. The Caledonian Bar in Budapest, Hungary
  4. The St. Andrew’s Society of Moscow
  5. The Jeddah Caledonian Society of Saudi Arabia

Such lists remind me of a wee story I heard years ago about a drunk and the thermos bottle. This fellow was trying to figure out how a thermos functions. You put in a hot item, and it remains hot for a while. You fill it with a cold item, and it remains cold for a while. He gave up trying to understand how the thermos works by simply asking in his inebriated condition, “How do it know?”

I like to poke fun at such lists because, like restaurant lists and movie reviews, they are highly subjective. I checked out the story and could not find that anyone from The Scotsman attended any of these Five Best International Burns Dinners. More importantly, the article was written on January 23, two days before any of these dinners were observed. So, I have just one question for the writer: “How do you know?”!

This has been just what it started out to be – bits, pieces, fragments, and tidbits about a  few of the Burns celebrations around the globe that have come across my desk. Burns Nicht, let me assure you, was celebrated from Russia to the United Kingdom and from America to the Middle East. Wherever Scots go, from the Alamo to the Artic, they take their Burns poetry and songs with them and celebrate both with gusto!  No other poet in the history of mankind, including Willie Shakespeare, is celebrated year in and year out like Burns. Remember, Robert Burns told his wife Jean just prior to his death that he would be more famous in a hundred years than while living. My, my, my...little did he know! This is why, years ago, I named my Burns web site Robert Burns Lives!

(FRS: 2.29.2008, or Leap Year Day!)


Pillar in St. Michael's Church, Dumfries.  The Burns pew adjoins the pillar.


Scots still celebrate Burns as evidenced by this poster in the
entryway to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.


Luncheon honoring Susan and Frank Shaw at the Caledonian Club
in London by members of the London Burns Club


Burns mausoleum at St. Michael's Church where the poet is buried


Globe Inn in Dumfries where Burns overnighted and had many a dram over the years


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