Robert Burns Night

Burns Suppers - 25th January

Burns Suppers have been part of Scottish culture for about 200 years as a means of commemorating our best loved bard. And when Burns immortaliseBurns Suppers - 25th January

Burns Suppers have been part of Scottish culture for about 200 years as a means of commemorating our best loved bard. And when Burns immortalised haggis in verse he created a central link that is maintained to this day.

The ritual was started by close friends of Burns a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory. The basic format for the evening has remained unchanged since that time and begins when the chairman invites the company to receive the haggis.


Chairperson's opening address

A few welcoming words start the evening and the meal commences with the Selkirk Grace

The company are asked to stand to receive the haggis. A piper then leads the chef, carrying the haggis to the top table, while the guests accompany them with a slow handclap. The chairman or invited guest then recites Burns' famous poem To A Haggis, with great enthusiasm. When he reaches the line 'an cut you up wi' ready slight', he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife.

It is customary for the company to applaud the speaker then stand and toast the haggis with a glass of whisky.

The company will then dine. A typical Bill o' Fare would be:

  • Cock-a-leekie soup
  • Haggis warm reeking, rich wi' Champit Tatties,
  • Bashed Neeps
  • Tyspy Laird (sherry trifle)
  • or Oatcakes and Cheese
  • A Tassie o' Coffee

The Immortal Memory

One of the central features of the evening. An invited guest is asked to give a short speech on Burns. There are many different types of Immortal Memory speeches, from light-hearted to literary, but the aim is the same - to outline the greatness and relevance of the poet today.

Toast To The Lasses

The main speech is followed by a more light-hearted address to the women in the audience. Originally this was a thank you to the ladies for preparing the food and a time to toast the 'lasses' in Burns' life. The tone should be witty, but never offensive, and should always end on a concilliatory note.


The turn of the lasses to detail men's foibles. Again, should be humorous but not insulting.

Poem and Songs

Once the speeches are complete the evening continues with songs and poems. These should be a good variety to fully show the different moods of Burns muse. Favourites for recitations are Tam O' Shanter, Address to the Unco Guid, To A Mouse and Holy Willie's Prayer.

The evening will culminate with the company standing, linking hands and singing Auld Lang Syne to conclude the programme

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a master poet and song writer as well as a great collector of tunes and words. It is not such a well known fact that he had a great love of the fiddle and its melodies. It is understood that he himself played the instrument, in an amateur fashion. With the rise in the popularity of Burns Suppers, and with more and more demand on the services of fiddlers of all ages and stages to provide entertainment, it is highly appropriate that the fiddle should be part of the proceedings. The airs used by Burns for his poems were the popular instrumental melodies of the day, although he also drew from older melodies. He used fiddle airs and often turned to the compositions of such as Neil Gow.

Scots and many people all over the world celebrate the birth of Scotlands most famous bard, Robert Burns on 25th January. The tunes list below taken from the book FIDDLE DUETS arranged from the songs of Robert Burns would give a great selection of some of his most popular songs and melodies to play at any event celebrating his life or just for fun. The book gives musicians the opportunity to play solo, together with singers, and accompanied by guitar or piano. A Cd of the tunes in this book is available from the publishers.

Ae Fond Kiss, A Man’s a Man for a’ That, Auld Lang Syne, Ay Waukin O, Bannocks o’ Bear Meal, The Birks of Aberfeldie, Canst Thou Leave Me, Ca’ the Yowes, Comin’ Thro’ the Rye, The Deil’s Awa’ wi the Exciseman,Duncan Gray, The Gallant Weaver, Green Grow the Rashes O’, I Hae a Wife o’ My Ain, I’ll Gang Nae Mair Tae Yon Town, I’m a’ Doun for Lack o’ Johnnie, John Anderson my Jo, Kenmure’s Up and Awa, Leezie Lindsay, Mary Morison, My Hoggie, My Love is Like a Red Red Rose, My Love She’s But A Lassie Yet, My Nannie’s Awa’, Ruffian’s Rant, Scots Wha Hae, There’ll Never be Peace till Jamie Comes Hame, There Was a Lad, This is No My Ain Lassie, Willie Brewed a Peck o’ Maut, Ye Banks and Braes.

The life of Robert Burns 1759 -1796

Born on 25th January 1759 in Alloway near Ayr. He is the National Bard of Scotland.

His father was a farmer. His mother was a good singer and he was brought up listening to old stories and songs from Ayrshire.

His father had enough money to employ a teacher for the family and the children were well educated. The family farm did not do well however and the children had to help which was not good for Robert's health . He later moved to the town of Kirkoswald (Ayrshire) to learn the trade of surveying from "Souter Johnny" and other characters made famous later in his poems and he sampled town life for the first time. Later he went to Irvine (Ayrshire) and learnt flax dressing but the venture folded and he was left penniless. Meanwhile his father's farm was doing very badly and his father died almost bankrupt. The family kept what they could and moved to a rented farm in Mauchline (Ayrshire) and there he met his future wife Jean Armour. He wrote many poems and songs whilst here including "My love is like a Red Red Rose" for Jean. Her family would not let him marry Jean as he had no income and did not seem a good prospect.

He had difficulty getting his poems published but then decided to try for subscribers. This is a list of wealthy people who will pay in advance for the book and whose names appear in the book making them look important. Burns was successful and his "Kilmarnock " edition of 300 books was published and became very successful.

It did so well that he was invited to come to live in Edinburgh and make a second edition (second printing) . This he did in 1786 and the 3,000 were published of the "Edinburgh Edition" in 1787. In Edinburgh he kept very good company and enjoyed the life and poetry readings to wealthy people. Now he was quite a wealthy man and a celebrity so Jean Armour' s family were very happy to have him as a son in law now. Jean meanwhile had had two sets of twins by Burns but only one of the children had survived.

Jean and Robert moved to the Borders to run a small farm and Robert began to train in Customs and Excise. He wrote many peoms and songs whilst there and they were very happy even though the farm did not pay and it was very difficult running the farm and working in Customs and Excise. He eventually gave up the farm and all involvement with the land and moved to the town of Dumfries. Here he was also very productive as a poet.

Robert and Jean had a further 5 children apart from the two sets of twins but only 3 children survived to adulthood and there are no direct male descendants.

Unfortunately his childhood illness and rheumatism came back in Dumfries and he gradually declined and died in 1796. He was buried on the day his ninth child was born. There was a huge funeral of over 10,000 people. Dumfries and the other towns associated with Robert Burns have preserved many of the buildings and details of his life for you to go and visit if you are in Ayrshire or Edinburgh.

Robert Burns was a great collector of tunes and words and he has preserved a lot of material that would otherwise have been lost.

Suggestions for further browsing: