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Robert Burns

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Published: 17 Jan 2013      

Robert Burns is one ofScotland’s most famous and important writers and he is best known for his songs and poetry. Robert Burns was also an inspiring man of his era and he is known asScotland’s National Bard. 

He was better known as ‘Rabbie’ and he was born in Alloway,Ayr, on the 25th January 1759. Rabbie began his working life on the family farm and Rabbie’s father new the importance of an education and so hired a teacher for him.

As Rabbie grew older, so did his passion forScotland, and his vision played an important role in inspiring the founders of socialism and liberalism. Rabbie’s literary fame began when his first poems, which were mainly in Scottish Dialect and are also now known as the Kilmarnock Edition, were published in 1786.

Rabbie only lived to the age of 37, but he did enjoy a colourful life and he produced an vast amount of great works during his career.

He is also famous for his political views, revolutionary behaviour and his love for the ladies, all of which can be seen in his work. Rabbie was also inspired by the beauty ofScotland, especially  the wonderful scenery of Ayrshire (which I totally agree with, having lived there), his birthplace and the romantic setting of his later home in the region of Dumfries & Galloway.

Although it has been more than 200 years since his death, Rabbie Burns remains one of the most celebrated figures in Scottish history and culture, which is demonstrated by the annual Burns Night suppers held across Scotland on the 25th of January each year.

Here is a typical run through and description of what is involved in a Burns Supper:

Piping in the top table

At formal gatherings, it is traditional for the top table guests to be piped in. However, at a smaller and less formal gathering, you can play some Scottish music, traditional bagpipe music or your favourite contemporary Scottish band, and clap along to welcome your guests. 

Welcome

The selected Chairman or Speaker acts as Master of Ceremonies for the evening and welcomes the guests - the host of an informal evening usually takes this role. The Chairman introduces the top table and any other speakers and entertainers before reciting the Selkirk Grace:

‘Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some would eat that want it,

But we hae meat,

and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit’.

Piping in the haggis

The haggis is the crowning glory of a Burns Supper and, suitably, is piped in to an upstanding audience. Traditionally the chef carries the haggis in on a silver platter behind the piper and is followed by the person who will address the haggis.

The address to the haggis

The appointed speaker gives a dramatic rendition of Burns’ Address to a Haggis with a knife at the ready. After apologising for ‘killing’ the haggis, they then plunge the knife into the haggis and slice it open during the line ‘An' cut you up wi' ready slight'’ meaning 'and cut you up with skill’. The recital ends with the platter being raised above their head whilst saying the triumphant words ‘Gie her a Haggis!’ to rapturous applause. 

Toast to the haggis

The speaker then invites the guests to toast the haggis and everyone, including the chef, raises their glasses and shouts 'The Haggis' before enjoying a dram. The haggis is then piped back out to be prepared for dinner.

The meal

Spicy haggis, meat or vegetarian, is traditionally served with buttery mashed neeps and tatties and sometimes a whisky cream sauce.

First entertainer

The Chairman introduces the first entertainer who then performs one of Burns’ songs or poems such as A Red, Red Rose or Tam O’ Shanter.

The immortal memory

The main speaker is introduced and gives an enthralling account of Burns’ life. His literary prowess, politics, nationalistic pride inScotland, faults and humour should all be explored to give the audience an insight into Burns’ life and works in a witty, yet serious way. The speaker concludes with an invitation to join in a heart-felt toast: 'To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns’. 

Second entertainer

More celebration of Burns with singing or a recital.

Toast to the lassies

A humorous speech written for the evening that gently ridicules the (few) shortcomings of women that aims to amuse both sides of the audience - ‘observations’ therefore should not be too cutting! Despite the initial mockery, the speech ends on a positive note with the speaker asking the men to raise their glasses in a toast 'to the lassies'. 

Third entertainer

More songs, recitals and music.

Reply to the toast to the lassies

The chance for a female speaker to retort with some good-natured jokes of her own, beginning with a sarcastic thanks on behalf of the women present for the previous speaker's 'kind' words, before giving a lively response highlighting the foibles of the male race, using reference to Burns and the women in his life. Again, this speech finishes on a positive note. 

Final entertainer

The last entertainer bravely faces a merry crowd for some final songs and readings.

Vote of thanks

A vote of thanks is made to everyone who has made the evening such a roaring success, from the chef and speakers to the guests.

Auld Sang Syne

A Burns Supper traditionally ends with the singing of Burns’ famous song about parting, Auld Lang Syne. Everyone joins hands in a large circle and sings the words together and at the line 'And here's a hand', you cross each of your hands over to rejoin those standing on either side of you. 

Then those who still have the ability to stand, or even walk, stagger