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Tbilisi to Toast Revered Scottish Poet at 7th Annual Burns Supper and Ball

On Saturday 30 January, the great and good of Tbilisi were gathered at the Funicular Restaurant atop Mtatsminda hill to celebrate the life and works of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert (or Rabbie) Burns.

Born in the village of Alloway in the southwestern Scottish region of Ayrshire, Burns lived an eclectic but short life, dying at the age of 37 before the end of the 18th century.

His poems cut across entrenched class divides, as well as borders and seas, with the poems, most notably “To a Mouse”, “Tam o’ Shanter” and “A Man’s a Man for a’ That,” well known across the globe.

It is now a well-worn tradition to revel in his unsurpassed talent with a Burns Supper, which entails plentiful consumption of traditional Scottish fayre and whisky and, providing you haven’t indulged too much in the former, some Scottish dancing. Suppers take place on or near Burns’ birthday, the 25th of January, from Alaska to Invercargill and Tbilisi’s version has been running successfully since 2010 thanks to its organizer, Fiona Coxshall.

Proceeds from the event, which sold out rapidly, will go to three worthy causes, namely the Temi Community in Eastern Georgia – caring for a wide range of vulnerable people, Catharsis - helping Tbilisi’s homeless elderly, and Dog Organization Georgia – providing shelter for stray animals along with sterilization, vaccination and homing programmes. Hopes are high that this year’s total funds raised will surpass last year’s record-breaking 42,000 GEL.

The festivities are punctuated by a handful of toasts, starting with the US Ambassador to Georgia, Ian C. Kelly, whose Scottish heritage should help him to navigate through the four-line Selkirk Grace with some gusto.

From the culinary perspective, the star attraction is the haggis, a staple Scottish dish of spiced sheep’s innards served with tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips). Burns described haggis as “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race” in his poem “Address to a Haggis” the reading of which is a central part of any Burns Supper and will this year be delivered by EUMM’s William Boyd, one of the few Scotsmen in Georgia.

In addition, the Immortal Memory toast, often the highlight of the evening, will be given by Hilton Batumi’s Stuart Nelson before the toasts to the laddies (men) and lassies (women) will be raised by Andrew Coxshall (husband of organizer Fiona) and Luba Protsiva of World Vision respectively.

Once the food, drink and words have been carefully digested, guests take to the floor for some Scottish dancing led by the Glencraig Band composed of the multi-talented all-Scottish trio, Nicol McLaren, Isobelle Hodgson and Maggie Adamson.

Just when the revelling concludes is anyone’s guess, as alluded to in the invitation which states “until the wee hours”.

Alastair Watt

31 January 2016 13:50