Strathpeffer Burns Club
Friday 21st January 2000 was the night that the members of Strathpeffer Burns Club had been looking forward to for many months – the 70th Annual Celebrations of the Bard to be held by the Club. To mark both the Millennium and the 70th Anniversary, a record attendance for recent years – ninety members and guests – assembled in Strathpeffer Hotel.
The night got off to a stirring start with Donald MacKillop piping the President, Jock Watt and the principal guest, Ian Morrison, to the top table and returning shortly after to pipe the Haggis, which was borne aloft in the customary manner by James Matheson, to the top table. The tempo was maintained by the President who addressed the Haggis in his own inimitable style much to the delight of his audience.
After a sumptuous meal purveyed by Sean Kennedy and his staff, the President gave his welcoming address during which he had made special mention of the fact the celebration was being photographed by Dr Kerr Yule for the benefit of the Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society’s Millennium project. He also thanked member George Thomson for the gift to the Club of a beautiful table lectern which had belonged to his late wife, the Rev Morag Thomson. In concluding his remarks, President Jock Watt alluded to the fact that since 1958, member Leon Radin had served in every office, had proposed all the various toasts, had sung at many celebrations and finally, had, for many years, served the Club as President. In recognition of his faithful service, dedication and commitment to the Club, Leon was presented with Honorary Life Membership of the Club.
The “Nicht’s Ongauns” got off to an excellent start when Ian Morrison, a senior partner in MacLeod and MacCallum, the Inverness based solicitors, delivered the Immortal Memory. His dry sense of humour, impeccable delivery and knowledge of his subject resulted in one of the best Immortal Memories ever heard in the Club. Ian skilfully drew comparison between Burns and some of the more modern Scottish poets, many of whom scorned the idea of Burns Suppers. He acknowledged the fact that many of us could be deemed to be “fair weather supporters of Burns” – only acknowledging his genius once a year – but, that said, he posed the question – what other nation holds an annual feast to celebrate its own native bard? We may mock sentimentality but it is good to remember the works of Robert Burns still speak as clearly for Scots today as they did over 200 years ago when penned. Ian went on to illustrate how Robert Burns saw himself, citing many examples of his own prophetic verse to prove the point. Likewise he quoted more examples of incidents and events all of which had shaped Burns life. In summary, Ian left the members with the thought that Robert Burns was, and is, all things to all people – a man who always had something for everyone.
In thanking Ian for his Immortal Memory, President Jock Watt paid compliment to the high standard of his rendition, to which remark, the company responded accordingly.
The Toast to Our Native Land was proposed by a new member of the Club, Alastair MacInnes from Fortrose. Alastair opened by suggesting that, to Robert Burns, it was not the land that mattered but the people of the land. He quoted many famous Scots and the reason for their fame but indicated that he wished to concentrate on one particular Scottish trait that the natives of no other country save possibility the Irish were blessed with – that of native wit. He went on to evidence many examples of native wit much to the enjoyment and amusement of all present.
To set the scene for his recitation of “Holy Willie’s Prayer” Dr Stewart MacPherson had the lights dimmed and the candles lit before launching into a moving rendition of one of Burns best loved satires. His facial expression and general mimicry of that forlorn elder of the kirk held the audience spellbound and earned him rousing and well earned applause.
That well known journalist and broadcaster, Bill MacAllister was then called upon to Toast the Lassies. A speech, full of the native wit alluded to by Alastair MacInnes earlier in the evening, had the audience in tears of laughter before moving to a more serious examination of Burns’s love of women quoting appropriately from many of his love poems. Bill concluded with his own ode to the women folk, reaping a standing ovation to his endeavour.
Responding to Bill MacAllister’s excellent Toast, Fiona Larg, Group Business Manager with Cap Gemini, very capably equalled Bill’s humour putting the men folk firmly in place. She questioned whether today’s men possessed the same charm that Robert Burns obviously possessed – again illustrating her theory with much wit. Fiona concluded by making the observation that if the three wise men had been women, they would have got there on time, helped with the birth, cooked a casserole and would have taken sensible presents. Again, a standing ovation was the order of the day as the audience expressed their delight at Fiona’s response to the Toast of the Lassies.
Hugh Aberach MacKay, one of the north’s foremost Burns orators himself, very eloquently proposed the Toast to Our Club and Artistes. He reminded members that while the Club only met twice a year, it was important that all members retained the values of the many and varied messages, portrayed by Robert Burns, throughout the year and that the relevance of those values in modern times should not be forgotten. In toasting the Artistes he paid homage to the manner in which all of them had enhanced the business of the night. During the evening the company had been well entertained by the beautiful singing of Kirsteen Menzies accompanied by her father, Hamish Menzies, the haunting airs and melodies so gracefully played by flautist Catherine O’Rourke accompanied by Bob Wilkie, the foot tapping tunes of Hamish Polson on accordion and the inspiring piping of Duncan MacGillivary had all contributed greatly to the success of the evening.
Rounding off what could only be described as a memorable and enjoyable evening, President Jock Watt thanked the speakers before inviting all present to bring the evening to a fitting close with Auld Lang Syne and the National Anthem.