The First Orkney Burns Club Supper 1898

All around the world people will be celebrating the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet, over the next few days.

Burns Suppers are the ‘traditional’ way to commemorate the birth of the bard. In 1898 the newly formed Orkney Burns club held a supper in the Kirkwall Hotel.

As is the format in most Burns Suppers it opened with the Address to the Haggis, in this case given by W.B. Baikie. The attendance at the event is a ‘Who’s Who’ of Orkney at the end of the 19th Century. It was an all male affair – not unusual for Burns Suppers of that time.

The order of speeches and recitations at Burns Suppers takes on the issues of the time. What might be said today at one is not the same as occurred in either the 19th or 20th Centuries.

For instance, the Orkney Burns Supper of 1898 followed the Address to the Haggis with:

  1. Toast to the Queen (Victoria)
  2. Toast to the Navy, Army and Reserved Forces
  3. Replies by the Navy, the Army and the Volunteers

Next followed, which still remains the keystone of any Burns Supper – ‘The Immortal Memory’. At the first Supper of the Orkney Burns Club the honour for this was given to D.J. Robertson.

“A club of good fellows like those who are here

And a bottle like this are my glory and care”

Mr Robertson continued in his Immortal Memory – “I admit that Orkney has suffered many things at the hands of the ‘adjacent island’. She has groaned under Scottish tyrants and Scottish taxes, Scots lairds, Scots Law, Scots Lawyers – but all these wrongs we can forgive since with them we have gained a share in Robbie Burns.”

” You cannot even take Burns’ poetry and forget his life, for never was there a poet of whom it might be more truly said that the fibres of his life were woven into his song. Can you imagine what the loss of Burns love songs would be to us and the world? Yet he could not write a love song until he at first, in his own words, “battered himself into a warm affection”.

“Whatever you find in Burns nature, that you find in his poems, and to have altered that nature in any way would have been to alter it altogether, and so to have lost us the Burns we know and love.”

“And if he had written no other song ‘Scots Wha Hae’ alone would have made him immortal.”

This is in the Portrait Gallery of the Perry–Castañeda Library of the University of Texas at Austin.

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