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In Celebration of Burns Night

21st Jan 2019

On 25th January, we celebrate Burns’ Night. This usually consists of eating haggis, neeps and tatties, and consuming copious amounts of whisky (or Irn Bru for the kids). Often Burns’ poem To a Haggis, in which he describes the dish as the great chieftain o’ the puddin race, is recited:

"Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm."

Tourists often ask what exactly haggis is. I could give them a straight answer, but it’s much more fun to explain that it’s a small rodent-like creature, with shorter legs on one side so it can run around the hillsides in a clockwise direction. When hunting them, always approach from an anti-clockwise direction. They’ll try to turn around to run away, but of course, they’ll topple over and roll down the hill.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national poet. Anyone who spent their childhood in Scotland can recite at least two or three lines from a Burns poem. My favourite is probably Scots Wha Hae, a poetic adaptation of Robert the Bruce’s speech before the Battle of Bannockburn. Another is Such a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation, about the Treaty of Union in 1707. Others are less political, such as the lament To a Mouse and the love song My Love is like a Red, Red Rose. And of course, there’s the New Year favourite Auld Lang Syne.

Although Burns was born in Ayrshire, he spent a significant amount of time in Edinburgh. It’s fair to say he had a very good time when he was here. If you believe all the stories about his activities in the city, probably half of Edinburgh is descended from him. Many local pubs claim he once drank there. The joke is, of course, he did – he drank everywhere.

One of his most famous entanglements was with a married lady called Agnes McLehose. The two would write passionate letters to one another, using the pen-names “Sylvander” and “Clarinda”. Agnes is buried in the Canongate graveyard, which we visit on our Doomed Dead & Buried tour.

Although St Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s official national day, it happens on 30th November when folk are already starting to think about Christmas. And for a long time, saints’ days were not celebrated at all in Presbyterian Scotland. I think this is why Burns’ Night has assumed the position as Scotland’s unofficial national day. It gives us an excuse to have a celebration in the middle of an otherwise quite bleak January-February widwinter.

Happy Burns’ Night!

Graveyard of Agnes 'Nancy' McLehose a.k.a Clarinda
Robert Burns Signature

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