University of St Andrews

Burns Supper, School of Geography & Geoscience

Friday 17 February 2012

A gathering of school staff and postgraduate students, kindly organised by the students (and cooking the neeps, tatties and haggis) – so thanks to them!

Our evening began with Hamish Ballantyne (Colin’s son) heralding the guests and piping in the haggis – a talented piper indeed. Colin Ballantyne addressed the haggis, and duly stabbed it with his wee dagger. Later, after the main course, Colin delivered a truly entrancing rendition of the complete Tam O’Shanter by candlelight. The desserts and whisky followed, and our evening culminated in ‘entertainments’ led by Richard Batchelor: medleys of Scottish folk tunes, solo pieces, and Mike Musgrave on the banjo. All-in-all, something fun and a bit different for a mid-week winter night.

Some of the participants are pictured below.

Misc photos of Burn Supper Evening 

The background to a Burns Supper: On 25 January, Scots around the world celebrate the birth of their national poet, Robert Burns, with a ritualised dinner or Burns Supper. These events range from small gatherings of family and friends to formal institutional celebrations attended by hundreds of tartan-clad guests. A full-fig Burns supper involves a strict sequence of events. A piper heralds the arrival of guests. The Selkirk Grace and first course (often cockaleekie soup) is followed by the piping in of the haggis, which is placed on the High Table. The haggis then 'addressed' through recitation of Burns' Address to a haggis, in the course of which it is ritually dismembered and at the end of which it is toasted by the guests. The guests are then served a main course (invariably haggis, neeps (turnip) and champit tatties (mashed potatoes) and dessert (often trifle). Over coffee, shortbread and postprandial drinks there is a series of speeches. The first is The Immortal Memory, a tribute to the bard, his poetry, his womanising, his humanity and sometimes his socialist credentials (thus the amazing popularity of Burns in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia), laced with appropriate extracts from his poems. There follow two light-hearted speeches, The Address to the Lassies, celebrating women, and The reply from the lassies, which (as always) gives them the last word. Then there may be further speeches: local Burns Suppers include a celebration of St Andrews, or Follow the Plough, a celebration of farming through Burns' poetry (at one time he worked as a ploughman). 

There follows 'entertainments': recital of Burns' poems, recital of some of his songs, perhaps some fiddle music, often culminating in recital of Burn's great epic poem Tam O'Shanter. At some suppers the tables are then cleared away and there is a ceilaidh involving Scottish country dancing, music and song. Throughout the proceedings copious quantities of wine and whisky are consumed.