During a lockdown, any excuse for a celebration will do, and so, last Monday, we decided to have a Burns’ night in Bishopbriggs. This simply meant that the four of us; Father Justinian; Father Gareth; Father Antony and myself, would all sit down to haggis, neeps and tatties. The last time we did this was on St. Andrew’s Day last year. On that occasion Father Gareth and Father Antony went to one of the local chippies and asked for four haggis suppers. They were looked upon in amazement until they explained that it was to celebrate St. Andrew, at which the proprietor decided he must be more aware of such occasions in the future. In anyways, four fresh haggis were put into the deep fat firer and they were delicious. Father Gareth enjoyed his so much that now, on a regular Friday night, when the rest of us are having fish and chips, he opts for a haggis supper. On this occasion, however, we decided to get haggis from the local supermarket and cook it ourselves. This proved easier said than done as the shelves of the nearest supermarket were empty of haggis and we had to search further afield. Thankfully we found some and, later that night, enjoyed our celebratory meal. In preparation I had put on Dougie McLean’s tribute album to Burns which has some beautiful interpretations of his songs, and later I listened to part of a concert that included the amazing Eddi Reader, and the wonderful Karen Mathieson, also singing beautiful versions of Burns songs.
On Radio Scotland that morning I had listened to a discussion on the merits, or demerits, of tinned haggis which, I must confess, I have never tasted. Of the four of us, Father Antony was the only one who had tasted it, during his younger days in the Connelly household, and quite often at that. He said it was very good. In the first log of this new year, I sparked of a bit of a debate on whether or not sausages should be included in a steak pie. The responses that came back to me were about two to one against sausages. So now I am inviting a debate on haggis – boiled, deep fried, tinned, or whatever? What is the best haggis you have tasted, and what do you wash it down with? Tradition seems to suggest it must be washed down with a nice single malt, which suits me, thanks to one or two very kind Christmas gifts. For the non- drinkers, a nice glass of Irn Bru may be the best tipple. What do you think?
My most memorable Burns night celebration, as I have mentioned before, was when I was studying in Rome, and on January 25th, 1983, while the new code of Canon Law was being promulgated at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the date chosen because it is also the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle; I was taking up an invitation to attend a traditional Burns night celebration at the Scots’ College, where I had come to know a lot of the students through attending the Gregorian University, where they were very distinct because of their purple cassocks. It was a great night of poetry and song that I will long remember.
However, I would have to say that the best haggis I ever tasted was when I was parish priest in Prestonpans, and I was invited to be the keynote speaker at a very prestigious St. Andrew’s night dinner at the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. It was one of those engagements which, at the time I was asked, seemed like a good idea, and I imagined I could speak about St. Andrew as well as anyone. The nearer it got, however, I was hitting my head against the wall, and wondering how I could have been so foolish, and perhaps so egotistic, to take this on. I spent many an hour with my forehead bleeding, staring at a blank page, before I eventually came up with a talk that would just have to be good enough. In the end, it seemed to go down quite well, and the agony was worth it because the whole meal, and especially the haggis, was absolutely beautiful. No doubt Father Gareth will be tucking into the deep-fried variety again this Friday night. As for me, I’ve a notion to try the tinned variety to see what it’s like.
As ever, protect yourselves, your loved ones, and others, and protect Christ in your lives.