FAYETTEVILLE — It is not entirely unheard of for men to wear skirts on the upper end of Dickson Street in Fayetteville. Plenty of men were showing their knees at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Saturday night, although in the jargon of the local Scottish heritage enthusiasts, they were wearing kilts.
The Ozark Highlanders Pipe Band hosted its 29th annual Burns Night Supper at the church to raise money for their organization and laud the memory of the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns. The tradition of hosting Burns suppers began a few years after the poet’s death in 1796 and has continued in Scottish groups around the world ever since. Celebrations are normally conducted on or around his birthday, which is Jan. 25.
The Ozark Highlanders began the evening with the Presentation of the Haggis —a Scottish dish of a sheep's or calf's offal, suet, oatmeal and seasoning boiled in a bag. The haggis was prepared by band members Charles Kester and Lindsay Pierzga and presented to the room by the Piper of the Haggis, pipe major Harriett Sisson. She was followed by the Defender of the Haggis, band president Tom Bercher.
With a majestic bagpipe number announcing the processional and an intimidating Claymore broadsword bringing up the rear, the presentation of the haggis was impressive but didn’t take away from the bard’s famous wit. Burns’ “Address To A Haggis” was read and pantomimed by Charlie Bledsoe.
Festivities continued with pipe major emeritus Jack McFadyen reading “Selkirk Grace” and the Rev. Doug Simmons’ presentation of “The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.” Ramon Hendricks, an esteemed guest and a co-founder of the pipe band, presented a check to the Ozark Highlanders on behalf of the Scottish Society of Northwest Arkansas.
All participants were clothed in resplendent Scottish traditional attire, each with a unique combination of jaunty tams, sporrans, knee socks and wool sashes. The pipe band members, although usually dressed in their band uniforms for such events, choose rather to wear their family tartans for the Burns Night event.
The meal included portions of the haggis for every table; cock-a-leekie soup, a traditional Scottish broth; brisket; green beans; colcannon, a Scottish dish made of cabbage, potatoes and bacon; and homemade blueberry scones for dessert. Dinner music was provided by various musicians, including the local Celtic band Glas.
The supper acts as the band’s annual fundraiser, the proceeds of which are used to purchase new uniforms and equipment and to send pipers to clinics to improve their musicianship. Event organizer Linda Jones, a piper in the band, explained that a portion of the proceeds will also be given back to the church in gratitude for their support and to fund the Friends of Music and Community Meals programs.
In an evening rife with plaid and fringe, faux Scottish accents are used with reckless abandon. Genealogy enthusiasts showed off their knowledge over a sip of Glenlivet single malt, and clans with histories of rivalry lay down their pride to revel together as a community of Scots.
Although they were several generations removed from their native soil, all in attendance clasped hands at the end of the evening to sing Robert Burns’ famous “Auld Lang Syne” to the accompaniment of bagpipes.