Essential ingredients of Burns Supper

The 25th of January is a special day for every Scot! It is the anniversary of Robert Burns’, probably the most famous Scottish poet, birth! Rabbie Burns, The Bard of Ayrshire, Robden of Solway Firth or simply Scotland’s favourite son – is undoubtedly a national hero to many, and one of the most important figures in Scottish history.

Robert_Burns_1Burns Suppers are a tradition with many possible aspects – they might be extremely formal and elegant celebrations of literature, but may also take the form of wild parties with whisky flowing! Whichever seems more appealing or appalling, the supper has some highlights that can’t be omitted – and that includes both poems and victuals. The first event of this kind was established after the poet’s death and was celebrated by his friends in Ayrshire. Originally the commemoration date was 21st July – the anniversary of Burns’ death. A few years later, when the first Burns Club (once a men-only club formed to cherish the poet’s memory and Scottish culture in general, nowadays women are also welcomed in most of them) came into being, its members decided to organise a festive supper on the day of Scotland’s favourite son’s birthday. The first few birthday suppers took place on the 29th of January, but after the discovery of documents in Burns’ hometown parish the correct date turned out to be January 25th, and that’s the date Burns Suppers have been held ever since.

So, what are the essential ingredients? The most important one is probably you and your friends, but you’ll also need a piper (or some recordings of Scottish music), haggis, Scottish whisky, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and – of course – some Rabbie Burns poems! There is a certain schedule that this event traditionally follows, and several very interesting traditions that are kept. The Burns Supper should have an official opening, with a speech from a host, and the guests will say Grace before eating, usually The Selkirk Grace in the Scots language. When the main course is ready to be served there will be The Piping of the Haggis, which is the ceremonial presentation of a haggis to the table accompanied by bagpipe music and a recitation of Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis. During the recitation of specific verses the host sharpens the knife, and cuts the haggis open from one side to another. This is the most important moment of the evening, although the whole ceremony is still far from its end. After the meal, while guests sip coffee (or, more likely, Scotch whisky!), the next speaker gives a talk about the life and
poetry of Burns (for even though newcomers might have the impression that it’s all about the haggis, this is not the case and the poet is still in the spotlight!). There will be a round of toasts made, and a discussion afterwards. The first toast is made to Burns himself, and followed by a Toast to the Lassies, made by one of the male guests. This toast was originally intended to thank the women who had prepared the supper but were not permitted to attend it, but now, as women also take part in the suppers (and do not necessarily prepare the meal), the speech has become an entertaining summary of the speaker’s views on women. It is usually followed by a Response to the Laddies, which is made by a female guest in the same spirit as the Toast to the Lassies. Afterwards, the guests are invited to perform Scottish songs as solo performances or in groups. Popular choices include Tam O’Shanter, and others – especially if the words are written in the Scots language. Later, when the supper comes to an end, there is a closing ceremony which includes a thank-you speech made to the host and a rendition of Burn’s national classic Auld Lang Syne with all the attendees dancing and embracing one another.

HaggisWhen it comes to the dishes besides haggis, neeps, and tatties – what else should you serve? Haggis is of course essential, but it can take some getting used to for modern palates and you might wish to only have small taster plates of this dish as a starter for your first Burns Supper. When looking for inspiration for traditional alternatives, you can’t go wrong in considering a warming Scottish soup. Cock-a-leekie soup or Scotch broth are two of the most popular choices and are very easy to learn to make. The choice of the main course is up to you, but we recommend something with a Scottish twist to avoid a lack of cohesion in the menu. We personally advise a roasted turkey (also known as a Roastit Bubbly-Jock) using a traditional Scottish stuffing recipe, or a recipe using Scottish haddock or langoustines such as Cullen Skink. For dessert, again this will depend on what you anticipate as the needs of your guests. For a light and creamy sweet consider Raspberry Cranachan with it’s delicious toasted porridge oats and tart raspberries setting off the whipped cream to perfection. Or if you think they’ll need something more substantial to soak up all the whisky, you may find your answer in a dense and rich Clootie Dumpling, packed with dried fruit and served with thick homemade custard!

The above is the most traditional schedule, which of course is loosely adapted by the Scots all over the country and overseas. Nowadays it has become quite popular to dine out in restaurants – not everyone has the time or skills to prepare such a special meal on their own. If you prefer a less formal atmosphere and Scottish music with a modern twist – there are plenty of concerts and events commemorating Robert Burns in a relaxed atmosphere. The biggest celebrations are held in Dumfries, which was the hometown of the poet, in Edinburgh and, surprisingly, in London. Whichever option you may choose – we raise a glass of Scotch with you to celebrate the memory of Rabbie Burns and we wish you a wonderful night!

Tartan Tuesday – Buchanan

Buchanan Ancient Tartan Swatch

The Buchanan name is taken from the lands the clan inhabited in Stirlingshire. Originally, the clan was named MacAuslan and the first of the chiefs to style their name as Buchanan was Gillebrid who was seneschal (or a steward of the household) to the Earl of Lennox.

Contrary to the actions of most chiefs of the time, Maurice Buchanan refused to sign the Ragman Rolls and pledge allegiance to Edward I of England. The chief believed in the freedom of Scotland and supported the efforts of Robert the Bruce even welcoming the king into Buchanan lands after defeating at Dalrigh in 1306.

Not much is known of the clan between the years of the First War of Independence and 1421 but it is assumed the clan fought at Bannockburn against the English.

Sir Alexander Buchanan led a force of his clansmen in support of France at the Battle of Baugé (1421). This group was part of a larger force of 7,000 men sent in service of the Auld Alliance. After a resounding victory at Baugé, Buchanan lost his life at the Battle of Verneuil (1424) along with thousands of other Scottish and French soldiers.

The 15th chief of clan Buchanan gained more lands by the way of a laird of the clan Menzies. This laird was growing older and had no heirs to inherit his lands at Arnpryor. A neighbour of the laird, Forrester of Cardin, had threatened to take the lands by force if they were not signed over to him. The laird Menzies went to Buchanan for protection and in return offered the lands to his heirs. Buchanan accepted the offer and when the time came the lands passed to his second son John, creating the cadet line Buchanan of Arnpryor.

Stirling Castle - By DeFacto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Stirling Castle –
By DeFacto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
An amusing story about a laird of the Buchanans of Arnpryor caught the attention of famed writer Sir Walter Scott. The story goes that King James V was hosting a feast at Stirling Castle and had sent for more venison. The deer were caught and taken past the gates of Arnpryor where the laird Buchanan insisted he should have them for his own feast which was also in progress. The forester explained that the deer was for the king, to which Buchanan replied that if James was the King of Scotland when he was the King of Kippen (the district where his lands lay). To those who knew him, King James sometimes went by the name of the Guidman of Ballingeich and upon hearing the news of his venison, he rode to Arnpryor. He asked the guard to tell Buchanan that the Guidman of Ballingeich had come to feast with the King of Kippen. Buchanan apologised profusely for what he had said, yet the king only laughed and joined the laird’s feast enjoying the venison he had sent for. From this point forward, Buchanan would be known as the King of Kippen.

One of the most notable members of the clan is George Buchanan. Raised along with 7 siblings by his mother Agnes Heriot, George would be sent to the University of Paris by his uncle who was also named George (founder of George Heriot’s school in Edinburgh). Buchanan would leave Paris due to illness and later continued his studies at St.Andrews where he graduated in 1525. He continued to have success in academia tutoring members of the royal family and lecturing in Paris, Bordeaux and later Coimbra, Portugal. One of his most famous students in Bordeaux was Michel de Montaigne the celebrated writer and Buchanan himself would come to be known as the greatest Latin scholar of his time.

In 1682, the last chief of the clan, John Buchanan, passed. Upon his death, the Buchanan lands were sold off to the 3rd Marquess of Montrose. To this day no new chief has been recognised by the Court of Lord Lyon despite various claims throughout the years.

Buchanan Auld House Abcdef123456 at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Buchanan Auld House
Abcdef123456 at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The former clan seat, the Buchanan Auld House, is now a ruin found in the grounds of Buchanan Castle Golf Club. It forms part of a courtyard attached to the clubhouse and is a shadow of its former self.


Tartan Tuesday – Gordon

Early Gordons

Gordon Clan Ancient

The Gordons are descendants of the Normans who possibly arrived in Scotland during the reign of Malcolm Canmore. Their original lands were around the borders although the name spread around the country in later years. In 1320, on behalf of Robert the Bruce, Sir Adam de Gordon went to Avignon to deliver the Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope. This letter written by the Scottish barons looked to simultaneously promote Scotland as an independent country and repair the King’s relationship with the papacy (he had been excommunicated for the murder of John Comyn). For this service, he was awarded the lands of Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire.

Scottish Independence

Huntly Castle By pathlost (Flickr: Huntly Castle) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Three consecutive Gordon clan chiefs, including the aforementioned Adam de Gordon, lost their lives in battles fighting for Scottish independence. Also during this time the Gordon chiefs would become known as Lord of Huntly. The line of male heirs ended and with the grandson of the original Adam de Gordon whose daughter Elizabeth would marry into the Seton clan who were also of Norman stock. Elizabeth’s son Alexander assumed the name and arms of Gordon and was created Earl of Huntly upon his marriage.

16th and 17th Centuries

Coat of Arms of the Marquess of Huntly

In the 16th century the Gordons were one of the most powerful clans in the north and were seen as one of the main proponents of the Catholic faith in Scotland. In 1594 the 6th Earl of Huntly was one clan chief accused of conspiring with the King of Spain to restore Roman Catholicism to Scotland. He was later cleared and had favours placed upon him by the king after marrying a daughter of the Duke of Lennox. He would become the first Marquess of Huntly and his son and heir would become a supporter of Charles I.

The 2nd Marquess, in his support of Charles I, refused to sign the National Covenant in 1638 and fought on behalf of the Royalists. He was captured and beheaded by covenanters in 1649. His grandson George would later inherit the titles and become the 4th Marquess of Huntly. George fought under the French at Strasbourg and then the Prince of Orange. For his service, he was created the first Duke of Gordon in 1684.


Many Scottish clans played a large part in the Jacobite Rising and the Gordons were no different. Gordons fought on both sides of the conflict with the 2nd Duke (Alexander) supporting the Jacobite cause in 1715. He was pardoned for his part in the rising and was able to retain his Dukedom. Alexander was a man with considerable power and influence and counted the King of Prussia and Cosmo di Medici as friends, the latter of whom he named his first son after.

George Gordon, 5th Duke of Gordon

Cosmo was the clan chief come the rising of 1745 but he played no direct part in the struggle. His younger brother Lewis lead a large number of Gordon clansmen in the fight that would ultimately end in defeat at Culloden.
The Dukedom of Gordon would end with the fifth Duke, George Gordon. The title of Marquess of Huntly passed on to a distant cousin who was then Earl of Aboyne.

Gordons Today

The name Gordon would spring up all over Scotland with a strong contingent remaining in their original lands in the borders. The Gordon’s, although commonly referred to as a clan, can also be described as the House of Gordon due to their Norman heritage but both terms are acceptable. The current chief is The Most Hon. Granville Charles Gordon the 13th Marquess of Huntly and the clan seat is at Aboyne Castle in Aberdeenshire which has been held by the family since the early 15th century.

Tartan Tuesday – Bruce

The clan descends from Robert de Brus, 1st Lord of Annandale, who arrived in England from Normandy in 1106. De Brus would ride north with Prince David to reclaim the Scottish throne and make David the King of Scotland from 1124 to 1153. 

Bruce Ancient Tartan

The ties to the throne continued through the generations with the 4th Lord of Annandale marrying Isobel of Huntingdon niece of William the Lion of Scotland. This marriage provided the family with lands and wealth and their son, Robert Bruce 5th Lord of Annandale, would stake his claim to the Scottish throne. Although his bid ultimately proved unsuccessful, his grandson Robert the Bruce would later become king.

Bruce’s main competitor, upon the death of Alexander III, was John Balliol. Alexander’s 7-year-old granddaughter was named heir but she wouldn’t survive the trip from Norway to Scotland. This series of events led the Guardians of Scotland to ask for the help of Edward I of England so as to avoid a civil war. They asked Edward to arbitrate the claims to the throne but underestimated his desire to rule over the country for himself.

The English King placed Balliol, who had pledged allegiance to him, on the throne. Balliol rebelled and forfeited the crown after defeat at Dunbar in 1296. Robert the Bruce would also swear allegiance to Edward only to join the Scottish revolt in 1297.

Another rival of Bruce’s at the time was John Comyn who he met at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries in 1306. Bruce stabbed Comyn through the heart and was excommunicated by the church. At this time he crowned himself the King of Scotland and openly opposed the English King.

By Christian Bickel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Robert the Bruce’s finest hour came in the year of 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn where he defeated an English army three times the size of his own. He would go on to establish Scotland as an independent country and rule until his death in 1329.

Bruce’s successor would be his son David who was crowned at the age of five. A line of Guardians was elected until the young King would return from exile in France in 1341. At this time he assumed rule of the country and would go on to fight against the English under the terms of the Auld Alliance with France. David invaded England in 1346 and was captured after a defeat in battle. The young King would spend 11 years imprisoned in England before his return to his homeland. David would spend the remainder of his years ruling the country until his unexpected death in 1371 at Edinburgh Castle.

Later Bruces would remain prominent figures in Scotland. Thomas Bruce was made the first Earl of Elgin in 1633 and his title would later transfer to Sir George Bruce who was already Earl of Kindcardine. Since 1747 the Earldoms of Kincardine and Elgin remained united with the present Bruce clan chief being The Rt. Hon. Andrew Douglas Bruce, 11th Earl of Elgin, 15th Earl of Kincardine. The seat of the clan is now at Broomhall House, a baronial mansion, near the village of Limekilns in Fife.

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Tartan Tuesday – Campbell

The Campbell name has been one long associated with Argyll, a Western county of Scotland. As with all of the historical writings of this time, it is unclear as to when the first Campbells arrived in the area but there are some records that give us clues as to the clan’s history. The first record there is of a Campbell in Argyll is that of Sir Cailein Mor who was killed at the battle of Red Ford (also known as the Stringe of Lorne) in 1296. It is believed that the name Campbell came from the Gaelic term “cam beul” meaning curved mouth, a nickname given to Cailein Mor’s grandfather.  

Campbell Ancient

The Campbells were supporters of King Robert the Bruce and their influence in Scotland grew, as did their access to titles, lands and marriages. Sir Neil Campbell (Niall mac Caile in Gaelic) married Bruce’s sister Mary further strengthening their ties. The clan fought against the English at Bannockburn, a famous Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence.

In 1457 Colin Campbell became the 1st Earl of Argyll and the Campbells remained heavily involved with the politics and royalty of Scotland through the 15th and 16th centuries. The 2nd Earl of Argyll was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 alongside King James IV and many of the Campbell clan. Later, the 5th Earl led a force fighting for Mary Queen of Scots at the Battle of Langside.

The Campbells, led by Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll, later sided with the Parliament in the Scottish Civil War against the Royalists. During this time, Inveraray Castle was torched and Campbell forces suffered heavy losses.

The 10th Earl of Argyll was granted the Dukedom of Argyll in 1701 shortly before the Act of Union of the English and Scottish Parliaments in 1707. The Campbells would mostly side with Parliament during the Jacobite Rising with forces being led by the clan chief John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll. The Jacobites were defeated in this first uprising and a second wave spurred the creation of the Black Watch. The Black Watch consisted of six Independent Highland Companies, half of which were raised from the Campbell clan.

By StaraBlazkova (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By StaraBlazkova (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The current seat of the Campbell clan chiefs is Inveraray Castle the first incarnation of which was built in 1450.  This was the first to be placed on this site but is not the one that stands today. The foundation stone for the current castle was laid in 1746 only to be completed over 40 years later in 1789.

Tartan Tuesday – Black Watch

The Black Watch tartan, associated with the British infantry regiment of the same name, has a long and interesting history. Alternatively known as Grant Hunting or Government tartan, Black Watch tartan was worn first by the six “watch” companies that once patrolled the Highlands. General George Wade, with authorisation from George I, formed these six companies in 1725 following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The Black Watch, as they would come to be known, were employed to rid the Highlands of criminals, rebels and to deter fighting between rival clans.

Black Watch Tartan Swatch
Black Watch Tartan

The original six companies consisted of three from Clan Campbell and one from each of Clan Munro, Clan Fraser of Lovat and Clan Grant. The tartan itself was produced by over 60 weavers in the Strathspey area which was home to Clan Grant. The dark blue, black and green plaid that we know today as Black Watch is believed to have been a tartan of Clan Grant originally, hence the alternative name Grant Hunting. Given that half of the six original companies were Campbells though, the origin of the plaid may belong to this Clan.

The companies of the Black Watch were later expanded to ten and then merged into a single regiment. The uniform at that time consisted of a 12 yard plaid of tartan, a scarlet jacket and waistcoat with buff facings and a blue bonnet. The plaid was a garment fastened at the waist and draped

Black Watch Soldier
By Anonymous; colour realization by Helena Zakrazewska-Rucinska (John Prebble, Mutiny, 1984 edition (photographed)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
over the shoulder which doubled as a blanket and also sheltered the soldiers from the rain. Even as the 43rd regiment, they were known colloquially as the Black Watch, a name that’s origins are in dispute. One of the most popular theories is that they were named because of the dark tartan of their uniform, the Black Watch tartan we know today.

The regiment would see many changes throughout the years but their iconic tartan remained. The Black Watch would be on the front line beginning with the French Wars in 1745 and would feature heavily in both World Wars as would their kilts. The kilt was officially banned as combat dress in the first year of WWII as it was deemed impractical for modern warfare. It is believed that it was last widely worn during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May of 1940.

In 2006 all six army regiments that existed in Scotland were merged to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland. This new regiment was given the Government tartan as their own, meaning that for at least 270 years this iconic tartan has been worn by Scottish soldiers serving all over the world.

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