Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race! (Burns Night)

25 January 2009

25 January is Burns Night, the celebration of Scottish poet Rabbie Burns. The “king of sentimental doggerel” wrote such famous odes as A Red Red Rose, To A Mouse and Johnie Lad, Cock Up Your Beaver (which apparently is about Johnie wearing a hat). Arguably though he’s most well known for tonight’s Address to a Haggis.

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 o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

This year, 250th anniversary of Burns’s birth, the Scottish First Minister has instigated homecoming year, encouraging people to “come home, to the ‘birthplace of valour, the country of worth’“. I have an unexplored Scots heritage: my Grandmother, who died in 2007, was a Fraser. Maybe I’ll take up the challenge and go to Scotland for the first time since a short trip I took to Glasgow over ten years ago.

Tonight is a night for celebration of everything Scotch. Being a vegetarian, though, Haggis doesn’t have quite the same appeal (despite vegetarian immitations being available) as for those meat eaters.

For those who don’t know, the Haggis, of course, is a small four legged creature found in the Highlands of Scotland. The legs on one side of the creature are smaller than those on the other, which means they can only run one way around a hill. One species has longer left legs, the other longer right legs: so while one goes clockwise around hills the other goes anticlockwise around them. The two species coexist peacefully, but cannot interbreed. Over time, therefore, the leg-length differences have become more marked. Haggis are hunted in the wild, particularly during Haggis season, culminating in Burns Night tonight.

To all those who will celebrate Burns tonight, in whatever way, enjoy the Haggis, the Whisky and maybe I’ll see you in Scotland this year.

Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

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