On Saturday night the Lothian Gaelic Choir’s Burns Supper took place in Edinburgh, and it almost certainly wasn’t the only one being held in the city, the country, or even the rest of the world, as this is a celebration of the world-famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, who was born on 25th January 1759. Celebrations of his birth 252 years ago will be found wherever there are Scots or Scots descendants – and it is true to say that the word Scotch was used at that time and well beyond, even by Scottish natives themselves to describe their nationality. We get a bit sniffy about the term nowadays, saying “Scotch comes in a bottle but the people are Scottish”! It wasn’t always so!
and eventually the proceedings began with May, president of the choir, welcoming everyone, and asking Catriona, our Gaelic tutor, to say the Selkirk Grace – in Gaelic – just a token gesture that it was a Gaelic choir “do”. The soup, generally Cockaleekie soup, on a chicken and leek basis, was then served and enjoyed by all. In fact, the whole meal was enjoyed by everyone. It was excellent food throughout.
When the soup plates have been cleared, suddenly the “skirl” of the bagpipes will be heard, and from the kitchen a piper appears, to lead the chef, carrying a platter of haggis, around the dining area, accompanied by clapping-in-time-to-the-music from the diners, to arrive at the top table. The platter is put down on the table and a dram of whisky poured for each. In our case the piper had to race off to another Supper, so no whisky for him!!!
Ranald, one of our basses, then recited the Address to the Haggis, and it was cut open with great ceremony, and we all drank a toast : “To the haggis!” Traditionally haggis is accompanied by mashed potatoes and neeps, i.e. turnip (Swedes to the non-Scot), and that was just what we ate. I’m not a great lover of neeps the way they are usually served up, but that night’s neeps were beautiful! Following the main course we finished off with Cranachan, a wonderful dessert of cream, toasted oatmeal, a drop of whisky and raspberries all mixed together. Delicious!
The meal ended and tables cleared, May called on Jackie, our choir conductor, to tell us about Burns in the part of the proceedings called The Immortal Memory. Jackie’s speech included 10 things we didn’t know about Burns. Now, I won’t remember them all, as actually I did know a few of them already, but one was that Burns never ever called himself Rabbie or even Robbie! He was Rab, Rob, Robert, Robt in signatures, in a poem Robin, but never Rabbie! So there we’ve been wrong all these years in calling him Rabbie Burns.
From The Immortal Memory we moved on to a Toast to the Lassies, by Martin, who did the usual thing of poking fun at the supposed faults of we lassies, but he redeemed himself later by saying how good it was to feel that we, the choir, were all his family and he had all these great sisters. It was up to me to reply to that toast, and that went well. I had an ancestor who was a friend of Burns, so I talked a bit about that! I got a few compliments afterwards too! How nice was that! Then before we finished, Jackie had us all singing some of Burns’ songs, and finally May’s husband gave a toast to Absent Friends. (Drawings of Robert Burns, courtesy of Emma and Jessica, two of the pupils at the school where Jackie teaches.) Auld Lang Syne, probably his best known song, would be sung later after the dancing.
The speeches over, the tables were pushed back, the band struck up and the dancing began. However it was time for me to go, so I left them to it! No doubt I’ll hear before long how that went. So what about the Whisky Galore reference in my heading? Have you read the book by Compton Mackenzie or seen the film? They were based on the true story of the wreck of a ship on a sand bank in 1941, its cargo thousands of crates of whisky! You can read the story here.
The Ealing Studio’s black and white film was hilarious, and as I discovered last night, the real thing was just as funny. I was sitting next to 90 year-old Catriona who comes from Eriskay, the island off which the ship floundered in 1941, and heard that she had actually been there, a young woman at the time, and had seen the antics of the locals in removing the whisky from its holds. She thought the film was rubbish, but the stories she told me about how they hid the bottles of whisky, and how the guagers were hoodwinked, were every bit as amusing as in the film. I’d love to hear more from her on that subject! It was a mighty moment for me when she told me she had been there! I just loved the film, and have often professed it to be my favourite! I’ll have to get talking with Catriona again on the subject,
So, all in all, a good night!
Talk again soon.