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Saturday, April 20, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: NOTL Scots and wannabe Scots devour haggis at Robbie Burns Night
President of the St. Andrews Historical Society Alan Dickson presents haggis to guests at Navy Hall Saturday night. Ross Robinson

Often, haggis is a hard sell, but not last Friday evening in our town. 

The stars must have aligned, because many of us, fans of Robbie Burns, asked for seconds and thirds of this traditional Scottish prandial pleasure.

In fact, in the 10 weeks leading up to this year’s celebration, Opies Meats in Hamilton sold 3.5 tons (7,000 pounds!) of haggis.

Cooked in a sheep stomach lining, haggis is a mixture of chopped pork hearts, livers and tongues. Appropriate spices create a wonderful meal.

Yum Yum, eh? Or does it sound offal?

‘Twas a dark and stormy Friday night when the St. Andrews Society of Niagara-on-the-Lake gathered at Navy Hall down by the Niagara River on Jan. 27. 

Society president Alan Dickson and his enthusiastic committee had put together a first-class evening to honour Scotland’s much-loved bard and Alan sternly instructed us to respect “Best of Order” as various speakers spoke and dancers danced.

Guests braved the windy and bitterly cold evening, arriving in warm overcoats and the odd full-length fur coat.

A good number of men wore kilts and thankfully the freezing temperature precluded any of us from arriving at Navy Hall by parachute. The ladies were beautiful in various tartan garments and Scottish accessories. 

The evening’s printed program was a four-page, full-colour masterpiece prepared by Anne Dickson of Executive Catering Niagara, a division of PigOut Catering. 

After Cock-a-Leekie Soup, the menu offered three choices of entrée. Wanting to be adventurously daring, I chose Bashed Neeps and Tatties. Hey, with my Orkney Island ancestry, it was time to revert to my roots. 

A tasty and sweet low-cal Sherry Trifle capped the meal and I was fortunate to be given a second and third dessert by a January-dieting table companion.

The speakers enthusiastically rolled their “R’s” and the excellent sound system allowed everyone to enjoy the songs, poems and traditional Scottish allegories.

A professional audio system had been installed for the evening, and my dinner companions and I could hear every word from every speaker. That being said, the rolling of R’s prevented us from understanding many of the words, but that only added to the evening’s authenticity and enjoyment.

Piper Morgan Stanford loudly indicated our Scottish evening was under way and Parliament Oak Public School graduate Abbie Gowans played a delightful solo on her fiddle.

One of the absolute highlights of a Robbie Burns Night is the Address to the Haggis. This year, our effervescent lassie Lorna Penman did the honours, with clarity, enthusiasm and decorum. Attendees raised their glasses and downed a relatively smooth single malt shot.                                                                                                                                                         

Ale house keeper/wench Trish Spagnol outdid even herself, actively making certain no one stepped out of line and deftly moved the evening’s program along.

Handsomely dressed in full regalia, as ever, was Derrick Penman, with his authentic fur sporran. For the uninitiated, a sporran is an essential component of a Scottish Highland costume, a large pouch for men, commonly of fur, worn suspended from a belt, in front of the kilt. 

This year, he delivered a toast and the Selkirk Grace. He eloquently rolled more R’s than a Glasgow pub bouncer at closing time. 

There were very few dry eyes after youthful St. Andrews Society member Andrew Dickson recited the Immortal Memory, and then multi-talented Diana Carroll delighted the assemblage with an inspired version of Willie Wastle. Was that presentation a wee bit naughty?

This was certainly not a bunch of elderly NOTLers enjoying a winter’s evening at liberty. 

Next on the program was a vibrant, energetic and talented troupe from the Audrey Watkins School of Highland Dance. 

Our late pal Geoff Martin initiated an annual financial stipend to support this group in their  efforts to continue Scottish traditions. This year, some 20 costumed dancers were truly fabulous.

As our 2023 Robbie Burns Night continued to a spectacular and authentic finale, David Lee presented his Toast to the Lassies. This annual and traditional Scottish speech delights the gentlemen and teases the lassies. 

Nervously, we gentlemen await the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, delivered with confidence, flair and irreverence this year by Barbara Lee.  

My main takeaway from this lovely Lassie’s Reply was that her horse Malone is very talented and has a long and appreciated attention span.

In loud and good voices, we sang “Auld Lang Syne” twice during the evening. The words were printed on the back of the program, which allowed us to really let loose with the harmonies and the chorus.

At the bottom of this year’s Burns Night program were the words, “For the love of Robert Burns.”  So well enunciated …

The NOTL St. Andrew’s Society is a spirited group of fun and history lovers. New members are most welcome and with COVID-19 in our r-rear-r view mirr-r-rors, please consider joining our active clan.

No passport necessary. Just the proper attitude and the desire to celebrate all things Scottish.

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