Rabbie Burns and a first Burns Supper

Robert Burns

Robert Burns by Alexander Naysmith

Having lived in The Scottish Highlands now for four years, I thought it was time to celebrate Burns Night in traditional style. A Burns Supper, no less.

Now, I know I am not the first one to write about Burns on this blog. Scotswoman  Joanna  gave the lowdown on Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) and his comic poem Tam O’Shanter in an earlier post, which you can read here. She also gave us her own modern take on it, in a short story.

The first “supper”

This was in fact a memorial dinner. It was held on 21st July 1801 at Burns Cottage (built by Burns’ father and where the bard was born) in Alloway, South Ayrshire. The idea obviously caught on. A Burns Club was formed in Greenock and held a Burns Supper in 1802, and in 1810 London held its very own Burns Supper. Rabbie was doing well!

the first Burns Supper

So, when our local pub, the Badachro Inn, decided to hold a Burns Supper, we had to sign up for it!

For starters, what to wear?

In honour of the occasion the Other Half decided it was time to gird his loins. Literally. That meant a trip to Inverness to buy a “proper Highland dress.” He opted for the Black Watch tartan, one of the universal tartans that anyone can wear. Since it matches my own outfit, we looked a fine pair, don’t you think?

Black Watch tartan for Burns Supper

We arrived early

a Burns Supper welcomeIt was a full house!

The inn’s eating area was decked out in readiness, with place names, tartan napkins and even a wee dram from the neighbouring Badachro Distillery for each of us! However we weren’t allowed to the tables until the appointed time, when local piper Fraser Wotherspoon arrived to pipe us in.

Once everyone was seated and our host had welcomed us with a few words, one of our resident clergy said the Selkirk Grace:

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.

Let the feast begin

After a first course of soup, Fraser Bagpipes, piper at Burns Supperpiped in the Haggis.

I have been told that, in the past, Burns Suppers were all male events and could be pretty rowdy affairs, more like a stag party.  Not so on this occasion.

Ladies were not only invited, they played a major role! Beginning with the Address to the Haggis. This was delivered with great verve and assurance by Ruthie.
(I was particularly impressed by the way she wielded the knife to stab the beastie!) Now, the bard might have written in Light Scots, but it can be hard going. So here’s a link to the whole poem AND a translation. (Very useful for some of us!)

After raising our whisky glasses in a toast to the haggis, we all settled down to enjoy our meal.

Then came the speeches

Glasses recharged, we listened to the keynote “Immortal Memory” address. This is a rather more serious consideration of the art and life of Robert Burns, which ended with everyone rising for a toast to the immortal memory of the Bard of Ayr. Another of our lassies then gave a spirited rendition of Tam O’Shanter. (Quite a feat of memory, it’s a very long poem!)

Even more hilarity followed with the Toast to the Lassies and a Reply from the Lassie, before the evening wound up with a few closing remarks and – of course – a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Farewell with Auld Lang Syne

Carriages were called and everyone began to wend their way home. We were weary, but very happy.

Reflections on my first Burns Supper?

Larger and more formal suppers took place around Scotland that week (and indeed the world) I am sure. Our small Highland community celebrated in the best Scottish tradition of friendship and hospitality. The Bard’s life was celebrated with music, song, laughter and consideration.

I think we did him proud.


The Duke's Family for Christmas Sarah Mallory

6 thoughts on “Rabbie Burns and a first Burns Supper

  1. Sophie

    Supper with friends, you can’t beat it!

    Years ago my late friend John Matheson (a Scot from Skye) charged me with replying for the Lassies at a Burns supper he was organising. His brief was: dignified, personal and funny but with a serious message. Can’t tell you how long it took to try to comply with that one! I reckon I did 55%. Ish.

    1. Sarah Post author

      I have no doubt you did really well, Sophie, I would have loved to hear that. I was in awe of the reply given by our own “lassie” and so pleased I wasn’t asked to do it!

    1. Sarah Post author

      Thanks, Liz, he said it was surprisingly comfortable, once he got used to it. We had a really good time, too. We learned a lot, laughed a lot and drank a…well, enough 🙂

  2. Joanna

    Although I’m a Scot, it’s a long time since I’ve been at a Burns Supper. Yours sounds to have been great, Sarah. You both looked wonderful in your tartan, too. Shall look forward to seeing himself in the kilt, in the flesh, so to speak.

    1. Sarah Post author

      Thanks, Joanna, tartan was definitely the right choice for the occasion. We really did have a wonderful time amongst a great crowd of people, most of whom we knew, which I think always helps. We shall definitely attend more suppers, if we get the chance.

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