216 Years and Counting: Revelers Charge Their Glasses to Robbie Burns

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Flanked by Piper Glen Thompson and Narrator Jesse Chisholm, John Wortmann “presents” the haggis at the Balboa Bay Club’s annual Robert Burns Dinner. Photo by Aaron Trent

“Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; 

But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thank it.”

Robert Burns’ Selkirk Grace

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that 216 years from now, every year on your birthday, people around the world would be charging their glasses with fine Scotch whiskey and toasting your great wit, poetry and prose?

That’s exactly what a merry crowd did earlier this week at the Balboa Bay Club’s popular Robert Burns Dinner, which was made wholly complete with men in kilts (swords and all!), bagpipe and piano musicians, a Scottish storyteller, a spectacular presentation of the haggis and, of course, tastings of various fine whiskeys for which the Scots are so famous.

Burns suppers around the world range from informal gatherings of friends to huge formal dinners full of pomp and circumstance, and classically are all-male affairs. In this case, BBC&R’s version was a perfect combination of both, with lasses dressed to the nines included. But I must say, the men in full-kilted glory stole the show.

As guests settled down to begin the ceremony, renowned bagpiper Glen Thompson marched in to the dining room piping a resounding rendition of “Scotland the Brave,” followed by John Wortmann, BBC&R Chairman of the Board of Governors, who “bravely” presented the haggis to each applauding table.

There’s nothing like the sound of bagpipes, and I’m pretty sure the folks on Lido Isle could hear it clear across the harbor!

Mention haggis and many people might turn up their noses. The dish is typically made with a combination of minced sheep liver, lungs and heart, mixed with onion, spices and oatmeal and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. The name haggis alone isn’t very appealing, but we found Chef Josef’s creation, which was served with “neeps en’ tatties” (turnips and potatoes), absolutely delicious. So if you’ve never had haggis, I encourage you to keep an open mind and try it if you get the opportunity.

Throughout the evening, narrator Jessie Chisholm read from a wide swath of Burns’ poetry, accent and all, noting that Burns Suppers are an institution of Scottish life – a night that celebrates the life and works of their national bard.

The Robert Burns festivities have become a favorite annual tradition at the Bay Club and includes celebrating the “Hogmanay” or what we in the U.S. think of as New Year’s. Hence, the Hogmanay custom of singing Burns’ famous tune, “Auld Lang Syne,” has become a tradition in many countries as the New Year is rung in.

It’s been said that if you ask, Englishmen are hard pressed to quote Shakespeare, Americans might be able to quote Frost or Sandburg, but every Scot knows more than a few Burns poems by heart.

The event was such great fun I decided to memorize one of Burns’ poems in preparation for next year’s event. Perhaps the famous “Ode to a Haggis” ….

On second thought, I think I’ll stick to “A Red, Red Rose.”

Columnist Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Reach her via LynnSelich.blogspot.com. 

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