THE University of Glasgow announced yesterday that it will be carrying out a two-year research project into the phenomenon that is the Burns Supper.

The History of the Burns Supper project will be run by the university’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies (CRBS) in the College of Arts which recently received a donation of $225,000 from the Shaw family of Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA.

Directed by Professor Gerard Carruthers, the project will build on the pioneering work of Dr Clark McGinn, an advisor on the project who did his PhD with the CRBS.

According to the University, the plan is “to pull together a worldwide map of contemporary Burns Supper activity.”

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The researchers will create a digital map of Burns Supper activity, past and present, with detailed information on format, food and drink products used, speeches, toasts, all elements of the performance by men, women and children over all the many and diverse communities involved.

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IT is estimated that some 9.5 million people take part in a Burns Supper across the globe each year. It is a uniquely Scottish phenomenon that has been successfully exported worldwide.

Burns alone gets the supper treatment – there are no worldwide Dickens Dinners or Shakespeare Lunches, and the nature of the Burns Supper is such that really does educate people about Burns.

Especially with the Immortal Memory which is supposed to be the serious part of the evening, the Supper is a super way of maintaining the memory of our national bard.


CARRUTHERS explained: “On July 21, 1801, close friends of Burns held the first Burns supper to mark the fifth anniversary of the bard’s death. They would never have guessed nearly 220 years on that this would have grown into such a worldwide phenomenon.”

The date of Burns Night soon switched to his birthday, January 25, though it is not uncommon to hear of Suppers held from early January to late February.

McGinn said: “Within a few years of the first dinner, Burns Suppers were being held across Scotland, but in England, India, America, and Jamaica too; with Canada, Australia and New Zealand following. This spontaneous, global growth was because the Burns Supper was the kind of party Burns himself would have enjoyed, so what better way to showcase and celebrate his life, poems and songs?”


THEY are on a roll with research into the Burns the Supperstar phenomenon.

A recent Scottish Government-commissioned report by the University’s Professor Murray Pittock shows that Robert Burns is worth over £200 million a year to the Scottish economy and the poet’s brand is worth nearly £140 million annually. The study also found that in Scotland alone, Burns Suppers are worth £11 million annually with an estimated 9.5 million people worldwide attending Burns Suppers every year.

The latest research will collate details of the first Suppers, such as the Grace, the Immortal Memory and other kinds of poems, songs and speeches performed to understand the patterns of growth over the last 200 years.

Burns Suppers will be detailed through the nineteenth century, across the British Empire, by missionaries, soldiers, reformers & others, across America, Asia, Australia and Europe and right up to the present day.

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BILL Nolan, Secretary of the Irvine Burns Club, one of the oldest continually existing Burns Clubs in the world, who is also Immediate Past President of the World Burns Federation, said: “It’s a myth that there’s any formal protocol that has to be followed other than the basic one that every Burns Supper has to be fun and that’s easily assessed by asking one question ‘Would Robert Burns have enjoyed this event?’

“To which the answer should always be a resounding ‘Yes – and he’s coming back next year’.”


THE National’s exclusive guide to a Burns Supper has the following tried and tested running order:

Everyone stands to welcome the top table if there is one. The Guid Man or Woman o’ the chair says a few introductory words and the Selkirk Grace is said.

If there’s a starter – usually cock a’ leekie soup – it is taken before the haggis is piped in. The Address to a Haggis is recited, complete with dirk into haggis, the chef, piper and reciter get a dram, and everyone toasts the haggis.

The main meal of haggis, neeps and tatties is served – we recommend neat malt as a haggis sauce – followed by dessert, with Cranachan our fave.

After the meal is the entertainment, usually starting with a Burns song or poem or two.

Then comes the Immortal Memory which should always be semi-serious ending with the toast “to the immortal memory of Robert Burns”.

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The Toast to the Lassies is given, followed by the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, before as many more Burns poems and songs as people can stand.

At the end, the Guid Man or Woman thanks all the entertainers and people behind the scenes, before everyone stands and sings Auld Lang Syne. Remember to cross your arms and join hands only when you get to the line “And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere, and gie’s a hand o thine”.

Above all have fun.