Since I will be hosting a Burns night supper next Monday I thought I should do a bit of research on the great poet. Of course, I’d read his poetry but didn’t really know that much about him (apart from the fact that he dedicated a poem to a Haggis, liked whisky and carousing with the lassies!!)
So after a bit of google searching this is what I discovered. Robbie Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire. A small village and suburb of Ayr on the Doonpoor village, to William Burness, a poor tenant farmer, and Agnes Broun. He was the eldest of seven children and he spent much of his youth working his father’s farm. His father had plans for him though and despite the families poverty he employed a tutor to teach both Robbie and his younger brother Gilbert. The boys were consequently very well read, another thing Robbie’s father encouraged.
At the age of 15 Robert was still the principal worker on the family farm and around this time he started to write in an attempt to find “some kind of counterpoise for his circumstances.” It was then that he penned his first poem, “My Handsome Nell”, an ode to some of the other pastimes which he enjoyed, namely scotch and women. When Robert’s father died in 1784, he and his brother took over the farm. Robert however was far more ethereal, interested predominantly in the romantic nature of poetry and conducting numerous dalliances with women, rather than hard graft on the farm. The latter resulted in several illegitimate children, including twins to the woman who would become his wife, Jean Armour. He also planned to escape to the safer, sunnier climes of the West Indies.
As he broke with farming he saw his first collection of poems “Poems- Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect – Kilmarnock Edition” based on a broken love affair, published to wide acclaim. It was this and his pride at being a parent which eventually kept him in Scotland. He moved around the country a bit but eventually settled in Edinburgh, where he mixed with other artists and writers who were in awe of the man they called the “Ploughman Poet.” He swiftly gained celebrity status and was lauded by the literati. As his status rose Jean Armour’s father finally allowed her to marry him. Despite his celebrity he did not reap financial rewards so he took a job as an exciseman to supplement his income. As he worked at collecting taxes he continued to write, contributing songs to James Johnston’s “Scot’s Musical Museum” and George Thomson’s “Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs.” More than 400 of Burns’ songs are still in existence. In the latter years of his life Robbie Burns wrote what are considered his greatest poetic masterpieces, such as The Lea Rig, Tam O’Shanter and a Red, Red Rose.
At 37 he died of heart disease which had been exacerbated by the hard manual work he undertook when he was young. He died on the same day his wife Jean gave birth to his last son, Maxwell. On the day he was buried more than 10,000 people came to watch and pay their respects. He would undoubtedly be immensely proud of his popularity now and the fact that Scots everywhere celebrate the anniversary of his birth with a Burns night supper which has become a quintessential part of Scottish life. It is a night where his life and great works are celebrated. Now I’m not a Scot so would probably not get invited to Burns night suppers on a normal day, but I love Burns poetry so it is a great opportunity for me to enjoy such an event in my home!
There is already a buzz of excitement among supper guests who have booked in. Several of my friends got in there quick and have been emailing and popping round to read me their poems all week. I was surprised how many wanted to perform. Entertainment is usually in the form of a Burns song or a rousing rendition of a Burns poem. This is usually followed by an oration on the life and work of Burns and is followed by a toast to his immortal memory. Thence follows the second entertainment and a toast to the lassies, a reply from the lassies and lastly a thank you and rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
I intend to keep to that format as much as possible. At some point it might all go ‘tits up’ but we will, as usual, be the masters of winging it! The food will be less ‘gourmet’ and more about traditional, well-cooked, hearty Scottish fare. It will be organic as much as possible and from local sources and suppliers. The Haggis is an exception (it’s coming from Scotland) and raspberries obviously are not in season, but a Scottish meal wouldn’t be complete without some raspberries thrown in!
The menu for the night will include
Locally Smoked salmon (from the Llandudno smokery www.thesmokery.co.uk/home.php?/home ) home-made brown bread and Scotch whisky on arrival
Cullen Skink (an Arbroath Smokie based soup, again Smokies are from the Llandudno Smokery)
Haggis (coming from Glasgow http://www.shop.scottishhaggis.co.uk/Category/53-haggis.aspx ) with bashit neeps an’ champit tatties (veggie Haggis will also be available)
Leeks in cheese sauce
Cheese with bannocks, tea and coffee and more whisky
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!
Remember and sing with us on the 25th