Jan 2014

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

We remember Burns for many reasons, but we remember him most of all because he asked us simply and poignantly in poem and song to remember and celebrate our common humanity.

The enduring relevance of Burns work

That the inaugural Robert Burns Memorial Lecture in New York should be given by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, at a time of such global disquiet; and that Mr Annan should choose the line A Mans a Man for a that as the touchstone for his remarks only serves to highlight the enduring relevance of Burns work. The Secretary-Generals eloquent plea for active tolerance in the face of persistent and corrosive prejudice would have wrung applause from the Bard himself. In his letter to Agnes McLehose dated 12 January 1788 Burns expresses an all-embracing tolerance for different faiths:

. . . mine is the Religion of the bosom. I hate the very idea of controversial divinity; as I firmly believe, that every honest, upright man, of whatever sect, will be accepted of the Deity.

And in his letter to Peter Hill dated 2 March 1790 he sums up his belief in Mankind whilst, at the same time, exposing the universal dilemma that accounts for so much injustice:

I am out of all patience with this vile world . . . Mankind are by nature benevolent creatures; except in a few scoundrelly instances, I do not think that avarice of the good things we chance to have is born with us; but we are placed here amid so much Nakedness, & Hunger, & Poverty, & Want, that we are under a damning necessity of studying Selfishness in order that we may Exist!

Burns was no idealist

Burns was no idealist. He understood the passions that drove people as well as the ironic forces at play that divert the best-laid schemes o mice an men. But his belief in equality, liberty and brotherhood was rock solid. And this allowed him to dream and harangue and lobby: which continues to inspire the world to hold the belief, as Kofi Annan so patently does, that something can and must be done to further universal brotherhood and tolerance. to read his speech. After which we hope that you will explore what else we offer in this years Burns in a Box: a look at some of Burns love poems and a look at some of the women, and the inevitably complicated relationships, that inspired them. Poems that continue to speak to lovers from generation to generation.

Burns not only appealed to the mind and the heart: he also appealed to the stomach and a good thirst. His ode, To A Haggis, and his several poems celebrating whisky pave the way for how the Bard is himself celebrated on his birthday by a hearty supper, accompanied by verse, song and music plus a dram or two. We provide the itinerary for a traditional Burns Supper with links to suggestions for an alternative supper with a modern twist.

But however you celebrate Burns this year, celebrate this, in spite of a that.

The Traditional Supper

Robert Burns was born in Alloway in the parish of Ayr in the south west of Scotland on 25th January 1759.

His birth is traditionally celebrated around the world with a Burns Night Supper on or as near as possible to the 25th January. Its an event quite unlike any other in its full form comprising pipes, prayers, poetry, songs, speeches and the ritual slicing of a steaming haggis. And sometimes kilts are worn too.

Here is the usual running order of a Burns Supper with brief explanatory notes. Please follow the links below for further information.

Once all the guests are gathered the supper usually starts with the host reciting Burns .

The first course is then served: traditionally or Cock-a-Leekie soup.

When the first course is finished and cleared away the main course, the or pudden is ceremoniously brought to the table preceded by a piper playing Brose and Butter or some other light Scots tune. The haggis on its groaning trencher is laid before the host.

A previously designated guest (ideally one possessing verve) then recites Burns famous poem at the haggis. This humorous, earthy poem is, of course, the raison dtre for the haggis taking pride of place on the menu.

The poem ends with the reader enthusiastically slicing open the haggis with a knife (or, if in possession of one, a ceremonial dirk).

The main course is then served, traditionally with (turnips/swede and mashed potatoes) and accompanied by wine, beer or whisky.

The traditional dessert is (sherry trifle), followed by coffee.

Before the speeches, and whilst the meal is being cleared away, is a good opportunity to have a rendition of a Burns song or two.

The Immortal Memory address, given either by the host, an invited speaker or a learned guest is the serious part of the evening. The address should be a speech addressing some aspect of Burns life, work or lasting influence. It can be academic or personal but it should aspire to touch the hearts and minds of the gathering.

Its traditional at this point for a male guest (one of the laddies) to deliver a light-hearted, teasing toast to the lassies which usually involves a tongue-in-cheek list of the shortcomings of the fairer sex. The men should be wary, however, as a spokeswoman for the lassies then gets the opportunity to reply with (an equally tongue-in-cheek) list of the shortcomings of the baser sex!

To round off the speeches its customary for a guest with a gift for storytelling and a good memory to recite one of Burns great narrative poems, or Holy Willies Prayer. The first is an atmospheric account of a drunken mans encounter with some witches (imagined or otherwise) and the second is the overheard highly amusing (decidedly unchristian) prayer of a bad loser and none-too-blameless church elder.

The evening traditionally finishes with a ceilidh Scottish Country Dancing, songs and poems (Burns or otherwise). When its time to go, everyone gathers in a circle, holds hands and sings Burns immortal hymn to friendship (first and last verses with two choruses).

Charlie MacLean's Whisky recommendations


  • Highland Park
  • Talisker 10 YO


  • Oban 15 YO


  • Dalwhinnie
  • Aberlour

This is a man's menu; a red-wine menu. Great opportunity for the big malts.

Venison carpaccio

  • Balvenie Double-wood
  • Cragganmore

Collops of beef

  • Talisker
  • Macallan 18 YO
  • Glenfarclas
  • Glengoyne


  • Lagavulin 16 YO
  • Ardbeg 17 YO

Burns Supper recipes

The poetry of Robert Burns