Burns Night a Masonic Tradition

In Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Lodges all around the world
Freemasons celebrate Burns Night, on or around the birth date of Scotland’s
Famous son, who was born on 25th January 1759, 260 years ago.

Whilst a great number of Lodges in Scotland hold a Traditional Burns
supper at their regular meeting, on or around this date, In England we usually
celebrate in slightly more muted manner.

This usually consists of a piper accompanying the Chef and carefully
selected Scottish brother processing in the Haggis, which is then addressed in
the words of the Bard, before it being served up traditionally with neeps and
tatties (mashed turnip and potatoes) after the Traditional Selkirk grace is
given.

This may be followed by a short immortal memory, or retrospect of the
life of Scotland’s Famous son, carefully prepared by the speaker, and a medley
of pipe tunes, with many Lodges following that tried and tested format, very
successfully.

However, this is not about how to run a Burns Night, or even to suggest
a different way of running such an event, it’s an overview and personal observation
of what has in recent years become on the Wirral, one of the larger and more
successful Scottish Traditional Burns Night Events, and to consider perhaps its
relevance in our modern times, and the changing face of Freemasonry.

But first I note the background of how this event was first formulated,
and has grown, changed and continues to evolve with time and become in the
words of one of the Welsh contributors from another Lodge “Legendary”.

Like all good events and ideas, these come about usually not too far
away from a bar, and after a few refreshments had been consumed, (and this from
memory is no different) and occurred in the bar attached to the Lodge of
Dunblane, shortly after the installation meeting.

 WBro Ronnie McPhee was in
discussion with the author, a member of the James Thompson Lodge who enjoy a long-standing
relationship with that Lodge, one of the oldest in the Scottish Constitution,
and it was agreed that “if you organise it, we will come and run a traditional
Scottish Burns night for ye”.

A suitable evening having been agreed (5th Friday in the
month or January) at Clifton Road, the Lodge of Dunblane sent a delegation down
headed by WBro Ronnie, including Brethren who would recite poems by Robbie
Burns, provide their own immortal memory. and musicians who in conjunction to
volunteer Pipers, and Pianist sourced locally, and a traditional Scottish Menu,
the First Event was organised between the James Thompson lodge and Lodge of
Dunblane with some 80 or so present.

However, some things invariably work better in Scotland than perhaps
with a predominantly English audience, and a few minor tweaks occurred to fuse
the Scottish Traditions to suit the local cultural requirements, accordingly.

The Brethren of Stanlow Lodge attended and supported the first, and indeed second Burns Night, and when it became apparent that the regular venue wouldn’t be available a few years ago, they stepped in and working with the three Lodges the event moved to Whitby for a few years and continues to attract similar numbers with some 78 attending on the 18th of January 2019, with, as usual the proceeds being split equally between the three Lodges for their Charitable causes.

This Burns Night was essentially a white table event, ie a Festive board
with none Masons able to attend, with a slightly different and shortened toast
list to adhere too, and started with the Members of Stanlow, James Thompson
Lodge standing to welcome the three master’s Present, and the Representatives
of the Lodge of Dunblane.  The Guests
included some 14 none Masons, and attracted masons from as far afield as Wallasey,
Frodsham, and Tarporley, most of whom were regular visitors.

The Selkirk Grace was given by WBro Archie Peat (Broadsmith Lodge)
before the haggis was Piped in by WBro John Mahoney of James Thompson Lodge,
supported by a further two Pipers and a Drummer from the Wirral Pipe Band

WBro Paul Allan then addressed the Haggis with the traditional ode,
before toasting the Chef, and the Pipers played a medley of Traditional
Scottish Music, whilst the soup course (traditional Scotch Broth) was served
before the Haggis Neeps and tatties, and as is the tradition, the Palates of
the diners were cleansed with “Scottish wine”, which was served in
commemorative Whiskey Glasses which were purchased including raffle tickets
shortly after the dinner was started.

Once the Meal was completed and thanks were returned and the toasts
given, WBro Archie Peat then rose and delivered his Immortal Memory, his own
carefully researched thoughts on an aspect of Rabbie Burns Life, before and
quite unexpectedly delivering a  moving and
indeed aminated poem  by Robert William
Service a tribute of Burns work, a First World war story of a planned Burns
Night in the Trenches, called “ the Haggis of a Private McPhee”, which has to
be heard properly delivered to be appreciatted fully, which of course it was.

At this stage of the evening, all present where getting into the spirit
of the evening, invariably helped by Scottish wine and more regular liquid refreshments,
producing a warm convivial atmosphere, but all were silent, giving attention to
WBro Archie, and his part in the Celebrations, which was warmly received and applauded.

After a short break, to allow further refreshments to be purchased,
before  WBro McPhee accompanied by our
Regular Pianist WBro Nick Wootton (Zetland Lodge) performed  “The Braes O’ Killiecrankie” a Traditional
Scottish Folk Song .

The song commemorating the battle of Killiecrankie in the first Jacobite
Rebellion and the “miraculous” escape of an English Soldier, who being pursued
by victorious Scottish Heroes (their words, not ours) whilst fleeing , made a
seemingly impossible leap across a ravine of some 20 or so feet, and escaping a
certain death, the chorus of which was enthusiastically  joined in with by the Mainly English audience
present.

Oh, how little do they know!

WBro McPhee
then sang the traditional Scottish folksong, “Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie
Doon,” which was also written by Burns.

Having had their first chances of singing, the guests where then
Introduced to WBro Gareth Butler, of Claremount lodge who was delivering the
Poem / story of Tam O’Shanter.

One or two, who were new to the Burns Night were heard to note that the
first name “Gareth” (clearly Welsh in Origin) and yet who talked with a clearly
English accent though suitably attired in Kilt etc, was to deliver a Scottish
tale in a Scottish accent, was potentially slightly odd, but any doubts were
very quickly allayed.

 WBro Gareth, who had only learnt
the full Poem a year earlier delivered his tale of warning to the pitfalls of excessive
social drinking on market day , womanising, and chasing the “cutty sark” ,
ending up with our hero being chased by “Witches, Warlock’s and even Olde Nick Hisself”
barely escaping, but with his faithful horse losing his tail in the process.

The story of Tam O’Shanters is quite a long tale, which is best delivered
in an aminated and  theatrical manner, and
 like “the Braes Killiecrankie” is
delivered in a thick Scottish 17th century Scottish accent, so at
times you are not quite sure what is being recited, but can still follow the
story,  and the way in which WBro Gareth held
the quiet and full attention of the audience was a delight to behold, with
appreciation being shown by all present, and quiet but obvious pride evident on
his father, WBro Roberts face.

A short break in proceedings was called for, with the raffle being
drawn, which raised over  £ 700.00 , for
charitable causes, but more on that a bit later.

With regular raffle out of the way, it was the turn of the raffle for
the Giant TLC Bear, who was the subject of a “Chorley Raffle” where numbers are
sold for a pound each (in blocks of 5), and a number randomly selected with the
winner being the Lodges Senior warden Tony Kellett, and 320 numbers sold ~a
great return for one of our favourite charities.

With the draws out of the way, the programme resumed, with WBro McPhee
delivering Holy Wullies Prayer, in Darkness with just a candle light again well
received by the audience, who at this stage were further refreshed and clearly
enjoying themselves.

Time for another traditional Scottish sing song, with WBros McPhee and
Allan , accompanied by WBro Nick Wootton and what can loosely be described as
“the Stanlow Lodge operatic society” singing “the Star o’ Rabbie Burns”, which
traditionally in the first chorus entails one foot on the chair, second chorus
one foot on the table, third chorus, both feet on the table, for those so
inclined.

A large bang was heard, and many of us turned around to see a suitably happy
Octogenarian, in full Scottish attire dancing on the table whilst banging his
walking stick and singing along.

A rush of Brethren quickly surrounded and carefully encouraging him to
step down, which was safely accomplished!

With the traditional circling of the room for Auld Lang Syne completed,
the evening was concluded in harmonious fashion, but with the bar remaining open
awhile longer, whilst carriages arrived.

But what was the evening really all about?

Firstly, it was deemed an enjoyable and successful event, based on a
Scottish Traditional running order, which had evolved to suit its target
audience, but without losing its appeal, charm and character, but being
relevant to the modern Society in which we live. Something perhaps we should
all look to do in our Lodges, keeping our core principles and traditions, but
embracing small changes to make it more relevant to the next generations of
Freemasonry.

Secondly, it involved the close working and cooperation of three core
Lodges, and the help of Brethren from many more, coming together to take part
and support in a great night, with further support from Brethren from lodges local,
and as far afield as Tarporley, and Frodsham etc, making, forging and
sustaining friendships outside the confines of own immediate circle.

Thirdly, it represented charitable fundraising in an enjoyable format,
and introduced the 14 or so

None -Masons present to what we stand for, some of our traditions and
allowing them to experience first hand the fraternal enjoyment that can be had
in our Institution.

Fourthly, it presented an opportunity to Lodges who don’t have many
social events the chance to bring Interested but currently None- Mason guests
along and accompany and  introduce them
to a suitable social event, in a relaxed atmosphere, and gain a better
perspective of what we stand for in today’s society, with WBro Tony Carss, the
Provincial membership Officer bringing some three guests, all of whom are keen
to join his Lodge in Frodsham

And finally, Charity. The evening raised just over £1000.00 for charity (including £320 for the TLC Appeal), which will shortly be passed on accordingly, and will benefit causes held dear to the three Lodges.

In short, the Burns Night event in many ways reflected what is great
about our Masonic Institution, with Camaraderie, Charity, Mutual Support and
Enjoyment being at the heart of the event, and its also notable that the two
local lodges who both have a more socially orientated outlook continue to naturally
attract members and grow in Strength.

In many ways the evening might be deemed a great success, and our thanks must go to the organisers, and participants and especially the Artistes, without whom the introduction of potentially 8 new members (at the last count), to our Lodges, and whilst enjoying themselves, and raising both the profile of Freemasonry, but also money for Charity.

We hope to hold the event again next year, with a similar format, and
outlook at the heart of what we do.

A Legendary Event as quoted? ~perhaps not.  

 A pattern for imitation and improvement?
~ see you next year!

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