Celebrating the life of Robert Burns at
the Alexandria Burns Club Annual Supper
Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 and since not long after his death on 21 July 1796, Burns enthusiasts around the world have been celebrating his life and his genius each year on or around his birth date with "Burns Suppers".
The popularity of these evenings means that the "Burns Circuit", as it is now called can stretch from early January until late February.
This is mainly because there are only a limited number of learned and entertaining speakers available and they cannot all be in the same place at one time.
Reports on our Recent Burns Suppers
Holy Willie's Prayer
Who Organises Burns Suppers?
Burns Suppers can be either very formal or light hearted affairs. This is dependent on who organises them. Suppers organised by "official" Burns clubs who are affiliated to the Robert Burns World Federation tend to be a bit more formal and to follow programs similar to that detailed below.
Other groups and organisations also organise Burns suppers. These may range from the very formal to less than serious affairs organised by other clubs or groups of individuals who like the works of the bard (or who are just looking for the opportunity to over indulge with John Barleycorn.)
One thing you can be sure of is that the artistes who are appearing will have to be knowledgeable and may have worked very hard to prepare their contribution to the evening's entertainment.
Many of Burns poems such as Tam o'Shanter are epics that take a lot of commitment and require an excellent memory. They are also written in the Scots dialect, much of which is no longer very familiar to people, even in Scotland.
Introduction of the Top Table
Guests must arrive on time and be seated for the arrival of those at the "top table". When all the guests are assembled they rise as the chairman leads in the artistes and speakers before welcoming everyone to the evening and introducing all those now seated at the top table.
The Selkirk Grace
The evening now gets under way with the Selkirk Grace, which is often attributed to Burns but apparently it was in use before he was born. Listen to the Selkirk Grace here
"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."
Address to the Haggis
This is possibly the best known part of the Burns Supper programme. Normally a piper will be employed to play some suitably stirring bagpipe music as the chef enters with the Haggis.
This is paraded ceremoniously through the assembled guests as they applaud its arrival with a "slow handclap".
Eventually it is placed in front of the the artiste who as been engaged to recite the address, "To a Haggis". This is done with much ceremony and when it gets to the verse ...
"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,
... the artiste plunges a large knife into the haggis, which normally spews forth its contents in the manner described by Burns. Drams (glasses of whisky) are then dispensed to the artiste, the chef and the piper. If they are men at all they will down these in one gulp! (Read about the life of a haggis.)
The Loyal Toast
In the more formal Burns suppers in the United Kingdom there is normally a toast to the monarch at this time. The audience are asked to be upstanding with the top table and toast the queen.
If things are really formal the gentlemen will have been required to keep their jackets on until this point. On these occasions the chairman will announce, "Gentleman, you may now remove your jackets."
At this point the meal is served and the assembled guests tuck in and get on with the socialising and catching up with what each other has been doing since the last event. Many guests travel some distance to their annual supper so it may have been a year since they last met. When the meal is done the guests often retire to another room (or bar!) while the tables are cleared in preparation for the more formal proceedings.
The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns
After the meal is finished the first item on the programme of a Robert Burns night is always the "Immortal Memory". This is a formal and personal tribute to Robert Burns from an invited speaker. This tribute is normally lengthy, should be original and it requires much study and preparation beforehand.
Whilst it is the most formal part of the proceedings it does allow the speaker to introduce some humour. This is often advisable to lighten up what can be a lengthy and serious speech. Typically an Immortal Memory speech will last about 20 to 25 minutes, sometimes more.
Singers are invited to perform songs by Burns during the evening. Musical interludes usually punctuate the readings and speeches that take place to provide a balanced program.
Toast to the Lassies
The Toast to the Lassies is normally a 15 minute speech, which is much less formal and more humorous than the Immortal Memory. It need not be based on Burns work but references to this always help to retain the focus of the evening. It is 100% about women and their influence and effect on men. For obvious reasons this toast is much easier at an all male event.
If women are present the men rise and toast them at the end of the speech and there is normally a reply by one of the ladies who are present. At all male events the toast is sometimes directed to any women who are staff at the venue and who may have been involved in the preparation and serving of the meal.
Readings of Burns Work
As part of the programme there will normally be about four readings of Burns's work. Some artistes make a speciality of particular poems. Tam o' Shanter is always popular, (if not a bit taxing on the memory for the person who has to deliver it). Readings are often accompanied with appropriate theatrics and those invited to deliver the readings are often very skilled at what they do. Some of them even dress in costume for the reading.
Vote of Thanks
At the end of the evening someone will propose a vote of thanks to the artistes and speakers. This is an onerous task as the person nominated must spend the evening making notes of what everyone has done and trying to write a witty, 10 minute script about this. For this person it often means that no serious drinking can be done as he has to stay alert and listen to all that is said.
The vote of thanks signals the end of the evenings formal proceedings but the celebrations can continue into the wee sma' hours of the morning.
The highlighted dates in the table below link to scanned images of the actual programs for our annual Alexandria Burns Club, Robert Burns Festival. There are some gaps and if anyone can let me have scanned or original copies of the years that are missing I will include these.
The images that I scanned are from my own collection of programs. These were gathered in conditions of extreme adversity during the actual Burns Suppers so please accept my apologies if any whisky or haggis stains are evident!
From 2005 we have been including short reports and some images from each of the suppers. Click the highlighted venue for this.
|25 Jan 2014||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Fergus McLellan Esq.||John McKenzie|
|26 Jan 2013||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Fergus McLellan Esq.||Andrew Lockhart|
|21 Jan 2012||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Fergus McLellan Esq.||Ian McLean|
|22 Jan 2011||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Harry Summers Esq.||Bryan D Weir|
|23 Jan 2010||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Harry Summers Esq.||James McNiven|
|24 Jan 2009||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins Esq.||Rev. Ian Miller|
|26 Jan 2008||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins Esq.||Eddie Gaughan|
|27 Jan 2007||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Harry Summers Esq.||John Young|
|28 Jan 2006||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Donald Campbell|
|22 Jan 2005||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||George Munro|
|24 Jan 2004||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Very Rev John Cairns|
|25 Jan 2003||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Willie Murray|
|26 Jan 2002||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Moir Nelson|
|27 Jan 2001||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||John Hardie|
|29 Jan 2000||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Harry Summers|
|1999||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Mike Taylor|
|24 Jan 1998||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Moir Nelson|
|25 Jan 1997||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Ian Collins, Esq.||Fergus McLellan|
|27 Jan 1996||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Peter McLaren, Esq.||Hugh Hunter|
|28 Jan 1995||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Peter McLaren, Esq.||Ian Collins|
|22 Jan 1994||Alexandria Masonic Temple||Peter McLaren, Esq.||John Dow|
|23 Jan 1993||Alexandria Hotel||Peter McLaren, Esq.||Louis McGougan|
|25 Jan 1992||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||Duncan McLean|
|26 Jan 1991||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||Dr Tom Barlow|
|27 Jan 1990||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||Joseph Keegan|
|28 Jan 1989||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||James McGill|
|23 Jan 1988||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||Bill Hendry|
|24 Jan 1987||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||Peter McLaren|
|25 Jan 1986||Alexandria Hotel||James Gallacher, Esq.||Tom Wilson|
|26 Jan 1985||Alexandria Hotel||John Wood, Esq.||Alex Green|
|21 Jan 1984||Alexandria Hotel||James Gallacher, Esq.||Lord Marnock
|22 Jan 1983||Riverside Inn, Balloch||James Gallacher, Esq.||Cuthbert Douse|
|23 Jan1982||Riverside Inn, Balloch||James Gallacher, Esq.||Tom Wilson|
|24 Jan 1981||Riverside Inn, Balloch||James Gallacher, Esq.||Col. L Robertson|
|26 Jan 1980||Loch Lomond Hotel||James Gallacher, Esq.||Tom Wilson|
|27 Jan 1979||Loch Lomond Hotel||Robert Armstrong, Esq.||Rev. Robert Paterson|
|28 Jan 1978||Riverside Inn, Balloch||Robert Armstrong. Esq.||James L. Hempstead|