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Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns

It might have been composed more than 200 years ago but for me, Robert Burns’s “My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose” is the most beautiful of love songs: “And I will luve thee still, my Dear,/ Till a’ the seas gang dry./ Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear,/ And the rocks melt wi’ the sun…” Long sigh. Emotions go into meltdown. I especially like Eddy Reader’s version.

Last night Nigel and I went to our first Burns Supper in Lochranza Village Hall. Robert Burns was born, oldest son of a poor farmer, in 1759. He never visited Arran but must often have looked across to its soaring peaks from Ayrshire. However, he wasn’t a Wordsworth, finding his inspiration in the hills; it was from human society that Burns drew his creative power. He loved the lasses and they loved him back making him the father of about thirteen children in all, both to his wife and several other young women. And today there are few places in the world that do not know his song celebrating human bonds: “Auld Lang Syne”.

A Burns Supper involves a meal, speeches and recitals. There is a very specific order to the ongauns (procedures). The main addresses include: “The Toast to the Haggis”, “The Toast to the Lassies” and “The Immortal Memory”. I heard plenty of old Scots words I don’t know, but it’s not difficult to pick up the gist. The main speaker of the evening, Robbie Glen, ex- Glasgow prison officer, had the audience in stitches but also mused at one point how, in England, when Shakespeare’s birth and death day both fall on St.George’s Day i.e. April 23rd, the date can just be allowed to pass by without a party lasting weeks!

The meal began with cock-a-leekie soup then the haggis, bashed neeps and champit tatties (mashed turnip and potato) main course. This is actually very healthy eating, and very tasty too - though don’t ask about the parts of animals in the haggis if you’re squeamish. Wooley’s of Arran oatcakes, Arran cheeses and shortbread with Arran Distillery Robert Burns whisky rounded off a delicious and warming winter evening supper.

The new Burns Heritage Centre at Alloway near Ayr is one of the most lively, interactive museums I’ve ever been to. The centre’s director believes that had Robert Burns been alive to day he would have been a rock star! It’s well worth a visit and not far from the ferry to Arran.

Looking towards the Scottish Mainland coast from the cliffs above Laggan Cottage.

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