Burns’ heart is in the Highlands … but his supper was in Quebec City

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Photo: Mary McCown

Andrew Caddell delivered Burns’ famous “Address to the Haggis,” which involves stabbing it with the dirk (sgian dubh) that any self-respecting Scot carries tucked into the top of one of his knee-high socks.

Bonnie lasses, Celtic music and, of course, haggis graced the Robbie Burns festivities at Château Laurier Québec. The 78th Fraser Highlanders, Fort St. Andrew’s Garrison, have been organizing Burns Suppers in Quebec City since 2002. On Jan. 26, they once again pulled off an amazing celebration.

MC Guy Morisset opened the event by inviting Rev. Katherine Burgess of St. Andrew’s Church to say the Selkirk Grace. A majestic haggis was then piped into the dining room by the Fraser Highlanders’ colour guard. Let the “Lord be thankit” for Andrew Caddell and his eloquent rendition of Burns’s “Address to the Haggis.” With a fevered flourish only the Scots can claim, he brandished his dirk and cut into the haggis. “O, what a glorious sight!”

Patrice MacLeod gave a history lesson about the haggis, a half-sheep, half-pig creature, with the legs on the left side of its body shorter than those on the right. As a result, the poor haggis spends its life running around a mountain in a counter-clockwise direction . . . or so the story goes.

A good Celtic celebration should evoke emotion, laughter and tears. Philip John accomplished all this with his “Immortal Memory,” a reflection of the life of Robbie Burns. John quoted beautiful Burns poetry from memory, and referred to Burns as a “kindred spirit of all races and people.” He also pointed out that “hypocrisy, greed, brutality and tyranny still remain in our age.” John applauded Burns for his attempt to make the world a better place, as he “began by promoting the brotherhood of humanity.” Referring to Winston Churchill, who famously said, “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest,” John brought his talk to a close.

Celtic harpist Johanne McInnis, accompanied by piper Christian Haerinck, played a duet that silenced the room. With closed eyes, one might have been transported to an 18th-century Scottish inn. McInnis’ clear, ethereal voice was complemented by the masterfully played instruments. The music was a treat for the heart as much as for the ear. Lovers of Celtic music can hear McInnis at a concert for St. Patrick’s Day at St. Michael’s Church on March 16.
If the entertainment wasn’t enough, executive chef Heinrich Meesen, of the George V catering service at the hotel, created an exquisite menu. Following the haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and Drambuie, the main course consisted of venison medallions served with blackcurrant sauce, rosemary blue potatoes and mixed roasted vegetables.

An important part of any Burns Supper is the Toast to the Lassies, delivered this year by “haggis slayer” Andrew Caddell, followed by the Lassies’ Retort. Milady Shirley Nadeau (with the help of the Lord, in the form of the off-stage voice of Rev. Katherine Burgess), gave the Retort to the Laddies, by divulging an ancient secret.... Eve was the first person on Earth, not Adam, which until that night had remained “just between us women.” Nadeau complimented Caddell on his skewering of the haggis earlier in the evening, but promised not to skewer him too much with her retort.

After some words of appreciation to members of the organization, musicians, guest speakers and the staff of the hotel by Pipe Major Alan Stairs, the evening closed with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.”

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In reply to Andrew Caddell’s Toast to the Lassies, Milady Shirley Nadeau gave the Retort to the Laddies, gently “skewering” the men in the audience. Photo by Mary McCown 

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Johanne McInnis played her beautiful Celtic harp between courses of the Burns Supper, accompanied by Christian Haerinck on the pipes. Photo by Mary McCown