21 years after last supper, city Burns club to rise again

THE Burns club attended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan has reformed and will hold its first supper in more than 20 years tomorrow night.

The Edinburgh Burns Supper Club was formed 160 years ago by a close friend and publisher of the Ayrshire bard himself, before being disbanded in the 1980s.

Professor David Purdie, a retired physician and lifelong enthusiast of the poet's work, has helped resurrect the society.

And he will follow in the footsteps of authors Conan Doyle and Buchan when he proposes the Toast to the Immortal Memory at the New Club in Princes Street.

Lord Provost Lesley Hinds and her husband will be guests of honour, joining 110 new members to celebrate the poet's life and work on Burns Night. Prof Purdie said the club was originally formed in 1848, and is 22nd on the Federation Roll of Burns Clubs throughout the world.

But in later years membership dwindled and - probably following a disagreement among members - they held their last supper in 1986.

He explained: "[The club] was set up by one of the poet's great friends, his publisher George Thomson. The city of Edinburgh was vitally important to Burns' work, and it's very appropriate that we remember him.

"He did most of his work here, although he travelled all over Scotland collecting songs, which would otherwise have been lost. We were approached by the Burns Federation, which brings together all the clubs worldwide.

"They said it was such a pity it was no longer running, and we thought it was high time it was brought back to life."

Prof Purdie, an expert in osteoporosis, was born and brought up in Prestwick, just a few miles from Burns' own birthplace, and his interest in Scottish literature began when he was still at school.

He has been invited to speak at Burns Suppers as far away as Australia, Russia and the United States. In 2000, he was asked to propose a toast at the Millennium Burns Supper in the National Museum, with the late First Minister, Donald Dewar.

Prof Purdie and his friend Tom McIlwraith formed the new committee of the Edinburgh Burns Supper Club last year. They helped stage a successful Fringe show, featuring some of the poet's songs. After that, news of the club spread by word of mouth and the 110 tickets to the supper sold out within days. Prof Purdie said he did not know exactly why the club had disbanded, adding: "We assume there was some kind of disagreement. We would like to find out what happened. Sometimes these things just need some new blood. It's a completely new group of people now."

Tomorrow's event will be a very traditional Burns supper, with cock-a-leekie soup, haggis and neeps and tatties.

Professor Purdie will illustrate his toast with slides from the national archives on the poet's life and work.

Moira and Douglas Burke, from the St Giles' Cathedral choir, will be singing songs including Ae Fond Kiss and My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose.

Lesley Hinds, who will be replying to the Toast to the City of Edinburgh, said: "I am honoured and delighted to help usher in a new era for the Edinburgh Burns Supper Club.

"This club has a long history of celebrating Burns' life and works."

As well as the annual supper, the club plans to hold a seminar on the poet's life and work this spring, inviting scholars from around the world.