Blane Valley Burns Club

village activities

The club’s own painting of Robert Burns, by local artist Norrie Barclay. Itself a copy of the famous Alexander Nasmyth portrait (above), mysteriously disappeared in the mid-1990s. (National Portrait Gallery)

 Picture the scene: a snowy January evening at the Edmonstone Hall in Blanefield. An expectant audience of 130 at the village’s annual Burns Supper awaits the traditional piping-in of The Haggis. The chef and piper make their way through the snow from the kitchen at the rear, around the outside of the building to the front door carrying the steaming haggis, ready for parading through the hall to the top table.

Suddenly the chef slips, the haggis – a muckle specimen – rolls off the platter and disappears into the snow on the car park……..and for a moment the Supper hangs in the balance. The errant beast is swiftly recovered, the snow is brushed off and, and borne aloft proudly through the crowd to the top table where the knife awaits. After the Address, the haggis is returned to the kitchen for serving.  A guest was later heard to say “quite a gritty haggis”.

Piping in the Haggis involved not only negotiating a sometimes icy car park but also squeezing between the rows of tightly-packed guests in the Edmonstone Hall, led by local piper Archie Campbell.

Blane Valley Burns Club was founded in 1980 by Alan Morris, who was already involved in the Burns scene. Albert Johnstone, Alan McCormick and Malcom Maclean joined in with all four being recorded in the Minutes as founder members. The first Burns Supper was held at the Edmonstone Hall in January 1981. Although organised on the proverbial shoestring budget, a high standard was set in detail, presentation and table decoration and the Edmonstone Hall looked splendid after setting up was completed. The first Burns Supper proved an immediate sell-out and an enlarged committee was soon formed – such was the enthusiasm. Although different people served on the committee from time to time, there was a hard-core of committee members who remained for most of the club’s 40 years. From the outset it was determined the Club would not be the exclusive preserve of males,  and the ladies have made a valuable contribution to the success of the club in a variety of ways including recitations, as speakers and serving on the committee.

Programme for the BVBC’s inaugural Burns Supper in 1981

At this inaugural Burns Supper in 1981, the audience heard Albert Johnstone’s rendition of Tam O’Shanter which was extremely well received. Albert became a prominent ambassador for BVBC and a regular performer on the Burns circuit. Some choose to deliver Tam O’Shanter as a tale to be told and it is the style of delivery which makes each rendering distinctive. Over the years Albert honed his style into a memorable performance. Dressed in period costume, he would gallop round the hall astride his grey mare Meg, in the shape of a hobby horse, whilst reciting the poem to an enthralled audience.

Another memorable performer was Murray O’Donnell of Strathblane Heritage Society who was a practised Burns performer. Murray’s delivery of Tam O’ Shanter was always exceptional and very amusing. On one occasion he treated us to his own poem “The Great Muckle Spider” which was hilarious and his last line in the poem was “to be continued”. Sadly, that did not come about.

In addition to the founder members, long serving members of the committee included George Eastcroft, Gordon Posnett, Keith Hyam, Alan Robertson, John Donohoe, Alastair Smith, John McEwan and Brian Crofts.  All did their turn as president of the club while also serving in a variety of office bearer positions.

All set up and ready to go: Gordon Posnett, John McEwan, Keith Hyam, Brian Crofts, Alan Morris (President), Albert Johnstone, George Eastcroft

The Club has played a distinctive role in the local appreciation of Scotland’s National Bard and Scottish culture and music generally. Its success owes much to its focus on organising local events through the year, and not just the traditional January bash. The combined Folk Nights and Ceilidh Dances were hugely popular and also attracted people from outwith the village. In the first part of the evening, entertainment was provided by visiting folk groups including  over the years The Clydesiders, Gaberlunzie, The MacCalmans, Battlefield Band, Country Girls from Buchlyvie plus many others. Music for the ceilidh dancing was provided by a number of popular bands, including Neil MacMillan from Balmaha. Although these nights were very expensive to put on, ticket prices were kept as low as possible and always included a fish supper at the interval – the aroma of which lingered into the dancing.

In 1983 BVBC joined the Burns Federation and became a Chartered Member. This extended the club’s connections with other Burns clubs and created opportunities to attend World Federation events when held in Scotland. Interest in Burns was tested to the extreme on one occasion at a formal dinner in Ingliston. Everyone having taken their seats for dinner with drinks not yet served, we were treated to a special surprise by one of the top table honoured guests from Japan. Now, Tam o’Shanter is a long poem and best delivered at reasonable pace, ideally to a well sated and fortified audience. Hearing it with a slow delivery in Japanese, certainly tested the fortitude of the hungry and thirsty guests.

Charity raffles were always held at the Burns Supper and Folk nights which, thanks to local generosity and sponsors, raised more than £10,000.  Over the years the Burns Club has made annual donations to local charities and causes such as Strathcarron Hospice, Mugdock Children’s Home, Strathblane Children’s Home Hospital, Eastpark Home, Beatson Cancer Appeal, Erskine and Macmillan Cancer Care, as well as individual cases.

Some of the committee members worked hard to encourage two generations of Strathblane Primary pupils to understand and appreciate the worldwide movement that sustains the memory of the Bard’s life and works. This took the form of encouraging pupils to take part in an annual Burns Competition of poetry and drawings which were then judged by Club members, with prizes awarded accordingly. These events were mainly organised by John and Marie Donohoe and Ella Hyam.

As a follow up to the competition, each year the Burns Club takes a class of pupils (usually P6) and parents down to Ayrshire to visit Burns Cottage and Museum, Alloway Kirk and the famous Brig o’Doon, using the surpluses generated from its events. In 2015 the Club presented Strathblane Library with its own copy of the famous Kilmarnock first edition of Burns poetry, and a selection of children’s books translated into Old Scots.

Reflecting the Club’s determination to preserve tradition, the annual Burns Supper has over its 40 years been organised to the same formula and timetable devised by Alan Morris for that first 1981 event. That incorporates the Immortal Memory address, delivered over the years by a wide range of experienced Burns Supper practitioners including the Rev James Currie, minister of Dunlop Kirk in Ayrshire and probably the most sought-after exponent of this particular form of the after-dinner speaker’s art.

Rev James Currie delivers The Immortal Memory

 The wonderful Tam o’Shanter’s Tale is told, often with exciting action around the hall, and then the Toast to the Lassies is offered, complete with sly and sometimes more open innuendos, followed by an often blunt response from a suitably enraged lady. The proceedings are enhanced by regular music intervals featuring singers and musicians – local and further afield.

The Suppers started off at the Edmonstone Hall, which could sit 120 plus top table if everyone held in their breath. In the 1990s because of popular demand, Suppers, Folk Nights and dances moved over to the larger Strathblane Primary school hall. Burns Supper meals were prepared by the school catering staff under the supervision of Alice Gibson, with the local Scout Group members serving the food.………as far as memories go, no-one was served their haggis in their laps!  This happy arrangement ended in the early 2000s when new health and safety regulations made it impossible for the school kitchens to be used by outside parties, so the Supper reverted to the Edmonstone Hall until the last one, in 2020.

But also over these years some of the Club’s memorabilia has disappeared, as committee members have come and gone. One notable such loss that is still mourned is of the club’s own painting of Robert Burns, by local artist Norman Barclay (Norrie). Itself a copy of the famous Alexander Nasmyth portrait of Burns, it was a feature at every Burns Supper until the mid-1990s when it disappeared after a clear up. To this day its whereabouts remain a mystery.

BVBC Burns Supper 2006: Iain Peddie, Rosemary Morris, Malcolm McLean, Lynne James. The club’s Burns portrait, by local artist Norrie Barclay, had mysteriously disappeared during the 1990s.

Through the Club’s extended connections in the Burns community, it was receiving requests from hotels mainly in the Aberfoyle area who wished to organise a Burns Night for paying guests. For a few years, members of its committee staged mini-Burns Suppers in these hotels, involving several functions and recitations on the night. Payment was in kind – dinner, bed & breakfast and perhaps a drink on the house.

Alan Morris remembers that on one occasion they were put up in an external bunkhouse on the coldest night of the year and, having shivered through the night, found themselves paddling about in freezing water in the morning as a result of burst pipes.

These excursions came to a natural end when one hotel had invited guests from the neighbouring Forest Hills complex to “a memorable Scottish night”. Most of these guests came furth of Scotland with no idea what a traditional Burns Supper involved. The evening was not a major success, inscrutable faces staring at the performers without a clue about the goings-on – talking in an incomprehensible language whilst “stabbing the food with a dagger” followed by someone in a “goonie” wielding a candle and ranting on about various misdeeds. Afterwards, one lady volunteered she had not heard the Gaelic before!

George Eastcroft in full flow at one of the earlier Burns Suppers, along with Sue Rand, Alan Morris and Dennis Pattenden

When the club was formed, it coincided with a general revival in Scottish culture but after some years, it’s no secret that the Club’s organising committee has consistently struggled to attract new blood to share the substantial load involved in staging these events each year. From as early as the mid-1990s, there were regular appeals for support, often unanswered. Indeed, the same few names crop up consistently in the Club’s administrative records over its 40 years. In addition to Alan Morris, who has served three stints as president, George Eastcroft has been in that post solidly since 2013 and, after ten years, is still the Club’s main driving force.

George Eastcroft, now grey-haired (!), welcomes guests to the 2014 Burns Supper. Alastair Smith on the left

What’s the future for this popular village association which is still being run by three of its original committee members, President George Eastcroft, Secretary John Donohoe and Treasurer Keith Hyam? George reports that since the relaxation of the 2021-22 Covid lockdowns, which effectively shut the Club down, a successful re-entry into village life has come with the organisation of lower-key Burns dinners at the Kirkhouse Hotel for members and friends. The 2023 event attracted 35 people and George is hopeful of new members being recruited to the committee.

Let’s hope that Robert Burns’ familiar words……..”we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit…..” will once again ring out at a village Supper.

2015 Burns Supper

Do you have a photograph of Albert Johnstone or Murray O’Donnell performing Tam o’Shanter at one of the Burns suppers? If you would be prepared to share it with us, please get in touch.


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