TRAVERSE CITY — Robert Burns will have not one or two but three nights to his name this year in northern Michigan.
Scotland’s national poet will be celebrated Jan. 24 at Sleder’s Family Tavern in Traverse City by the St. Andrews Society of Northwestern Michigan, Jan. 25 at the Little Traverse Inn in Maple City, and Jan. 26 at City Park Grill in Petoskey by the Robert Emmet Society.
“Robert Burns Night” is a new event for the Robert Emmet Society, which was founded in 1990 to bring a statue of the Irish nationalist and poet, Robert Emmet, to his namesake, Emmet County. Society chairman Ed Karmann said celebrating Emmet’s “Celtic cousin” this year is another way to raise money for the society’s pet project, sending North Central Michigan College students to Galway, Ireland, for a semester of study.
“To the best of our knowledge, no one in the Petoskey area has done a Robert Burns Night,” said Karmann, owner of County Emmet Celtic Shop in Petoskey. “It doesn’t revolve around Emmet, but the Irish are Celts, the Scots are Celts, so it’s kind of like the same family, so to speak.”
The Burns events will feature Scottish music, highland dancing, poetry readings and, of course, haggis. The traditionally Scottish dish consists of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep or a calf minced with suet, onions, oatmeal and seasonings and boiled in the animal’s stomach.
“It’s always interesting to see the look on people’s faces,” said Karmann, who serves canned haggis from his store at Petoskey’s downtown open house in December.
The “piping in” of the haggis, followed by a recitation of Burns’ humorous “Address to a Haggis,” are highlights of Robert Burns Night events worldwide.
“A traditional Burns Supper follows a structure,” said Graeme Leask, the Scottish-born owner of Little Traverse Inn, which is hosting its second annual event on the poet’s birthday. “There’s a call to eat, a grace, the haggis is paraded through the building by a bagpiper, there’s an address to the haggis. Post-meal is an address called ‘Immortal Memory’ and then you close the night out with two toasts: one the gents toast to the ladies in great reverence, and then the lassies retort to the gents in great disdain.”
Haggis isn’t the only Scottish food celebrated on Burns Night.
This year’s event at Sleder’s includes tastes of five traditionally Scottish side dishes including a vegetable medley of turnips or rutabagas boiled and mashed with carrots or sweet potatoes. The Little Traverse Bay supper features four-courses including cranachan, a Scottish cream dessert that traditionally uses whipped cream, honey, raspberries and whiskey-soaked oats.
And City Park Grill Chef Erin Conger will prepare a special menu of cheddar ale dip, smoked salmon mousse, cock-a-leekie soup (chicken, leek, barley and prune), meat pie, steak with peppered whiskey sauce, fish and chips, Scottish deviled chicken breast, apple stuffed duck breast, sticky toffee pudding and whiskey cake. A variety of fine Scotches also will be available.
The more area events that celebrate Burns, the merrier, said Alan McColl, vice-president of the St. Andrews Society of Northwestern Michigan, a small social group founded in 1997 with the intent of ‘promulgating the Scottish heritage.’ In years past, group members attended both their own Burns Night and one hosted by Betsie Bay Inn in Frankfort.
McColl said the group’s Robert Burns Night — one of the longest-running Burns events in the region — also has attracted participants from as far away as Flint, including members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
McColl credits the popularity of Burns events to Burns himself. The prolific poet, who was born in Scotland in 1759 and died 37 years later, is most famous for the poems and songs, “A Red, Red Rose,” “Tam o’ Shanter” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
“Basically Burns was a man of the people. Everyone loved him then and they love him now,” said McColl, who was born in Scotland and lived in St. Andrews for about 10 years before coming to the U.S. “As a man, he was constantly getting into trouble with the ladies. At the same time, he was in the pubs telling all these bawdy poems and songs to the guys.”
If you go Petoskey Jan. 24, 6-9 p.m., City Park Grill Reservations: 231-347-0101 Traverse City Jan. 26, 5 p.m., Sleder's Family Tavern Reservations: 231-947-3902 Maple City Jan. 25, 6:30 p.m., Little Traverse Inn Reservations: 231-228-2560