Saturday, 25 January 2014


Well folks, here we are, getting ready for Burns Night. Time to check the kilt, brush the sporran and make sure that the Sgian Dubh has none of last year's haggis on the blade.

Only kidding there, because although my best Sgian Dubh has been used in the address to the haggis on many Burns Nights it is always washed thoroughly as such a respected dagger should be.

Sgian Dubh is Gaelic for the 'black dagger'  (sgian, meaning dagger and dubh, meaning black.) This is pronounced skee-an-doo. It was called this because it was traditionally made from black bog oak. The one on the right in the picture is made of bog oak and the one on the left is made from deer horn. Note the jewels on the ends and the ornamentation. This was because the highlanders apparently distrusted paper money so carried their valuables on their person, as on the sgian dubh and in the form of their silver belt buckles and sporrans.

In the old days the sgian dubh would be concealed, except when visiting friendly neighbours. Then it would be removed from its concealed place and put somewhere visible - but still accessible - usually in the top of the stocking. On the right for a right sided man and on the left if you were left handed, hence its place there in traditional highland dress.

And so, in anticipation of tonight, you might have a glass of good Glen Corlan, or whatever your favourite malt whisky may be, and we wish you  slĂ inte math! This means 'good health'. (It is pronounced as 'slaancha vaa').

Friday, 24 January 2014



It is Burns Night on the 25th January. Here on West Uist we'll be having a Burns supper and undoubtedly will be raising a glass or two in honour of Scotland's national bard.

The Padre will most likely be addressing the haggis:

‘Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm;
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.’

A life well lived

Burns’ life was all too short. He died in 1796 at the age of 37, from a mixture of rheumatic heart disease and probable endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, thanks in part to dubious medical advice to bathe in the Solway Firth. Many biographers have said that his dissolute lifestyle caught up with him. In fact, it is likely that a Streptococcal infection entered his blood after he had a dental extraction in the winter of 1795. Poor nutrition was also a probable factor, for there were three months of food riots until March 1796. On the day of his funeral, which drew a crowd of many thousands, his widow, was giving birth to his fifth child, his son Maxwell. She was literally without a shilling to her name.

The poet’s lumps and bumps
Robert Burns was originally buried in St Michael's Churchyard, Dumfries, in a simple grave, but his body was removed in 1817 and placed in a mausoleum built by public subscription. When his wife Jean died in 1834 the mausoleum was opened so that she could be laid beside him. Bizarrely, a plaster cast of his skull was then made to see whether phrenology could show where the genius of Robert Burns was located in his brain.

Phrenology was the name given to a school of thought devised by a certain Dr Gall in 1800. Essentially, it attempted to associate faculties of the mind with anatomical areas of the brain. It was at that time thought that the contours of the brain were mirrored by the contours and bumps on the skull. Interestingly, the phrenologist who did the examination, George Combe, one of the foremost practitioners commented that he had a remarkable degree of ‘philoprogenitiveness.’ This was a Victorian way of saying that he had a high sex drive. 

In this conclusion George Combe seems to have been correct, for Burns was known to have had a remarkably  active love life. Of course, phrenology is now known to be utter nonsense, yet if you are interested in the bizarre, if you go to the Robert Burns centre in Dumfries you will still see this curious exhibit.

Happy Burns Night.