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Cleveland Scots Celebrate Robert Burns

On Saturday, January 31st, we only had one event to attend but the annual Robert Burns Dinner put on by the Scottish Heritage Association of Northeast Ohio (SHANO) at the Croatian Lodge in Eastlake was a memorable one indeed. The Scottish Heritage Association of Northeast Ohio "promotes and the supports the culture, arts, and crafts of Scotland by sponsoring or supporting such activities" as this annual dinner, Scottish dancing schools and different charities throughout the year. Tonight we were celebrating what would have been the 256th birthday of Robert Burns, who was born in 1759 and died in 1796, and is "widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide." Ms. Dorothea Kingsbury, the Master of Ceremonies, said that Robert Burns lived for 37 years and produced 300 songs and poems that were recognized for their lyricism and beauty. In fact, in 2009 a poll conducted by the Scottish TV channel STV selected Robert Burns as the "Greatest Scot" who ever lived. Ms. Michelle Bozeman, the Chaplin of SHANO, told us that there were probably 400 people present at this event and Ms. Kingsbury said that it was her job to make sure all of us had a good time; a goal for the evening shared by Mr. Kona Gant, the Chief of SHANO, who recalled that a recently deceased friend of his had said that he always loved this dinner because "it isn't just a bunch of stuffy guys reading Burns to each other."

Although some of Robert Burns poems were certainly read, the party was a combination of good food and fellowship; Scottish dancers; awards to deserving; the singing of four national anthems which were those of the United States, England, Canada, and Scotland; beautiful music played by a band named Plaid Sabbath when we first arrived; beautiful dance music played by a small orchestra named Clansmen II; occasional marching and dancing by the attendees including us; and three pipe bands who played music that was wonderfully sonorous.

At the beginning of the evening, the men drank a toast to the women and said, "to the women in our lives, let them tolerate our childish behavior" and the women drank a toast to the men and said, "to celebrate our gentlemen for sharing their Scottish heritage, knobby needs, and we love you."

Mr. Kona Gant, the Chief of SHANO, and his wife Kathi, invited us to sit with them so we spoke to them quite a bit during the course of the evening. We got to meet Ms. Kathy Dawson who had Ms. Margaret W. Wong as a guest on her TV show, "Can You Relate?" back in 2011 and thought Ms. Wong was "delightful."

We talked to Ms. Margaret Frost, who is the Scottish Ambassador for Ms. Frost told us that it was she who nominated Ms. Margaret Callendar to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. We walked over to where Ms. Callendar, herself, was sitting and talked with her for a moment. Ms. Callendar, was the first Scot to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and she told us that she couldn't believe the news when she heard that she was selected. We both agreed to meet at the 2015 ceremony coming up in April.

We then walked across the room to congratulate the person who had read the Robert Burns poems and found that he was no longer at his table but sitting there instead was Mr. Kevin McGinty who hosts the radio show, "The British Hour" on WCBN-90.3. Mr. McGinty immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1960 and worked for years as a construction worker. He became a United States citizen in 1966 and has been involved with the radio show for 30 years. He told us that he believes that Ms. Margaret W. Wong is "good" and encouraged us to seek out Mr. Allister Wright, Pipe Major, with the Lochaber Pipe Band because he too was foreign born and had seen a lot in his 93 years.

We soon found Mr. Wright who told us that he married his wife in April, 1947 and they both immigrated to the United States from Ireland in August, 1947 on a ship named "Media." His trade was carpentry and he helped refurbish the "Queen Mary" after World War II. He even worked in the same shipyard where the "Titanic" was built. He and his wife became citizens in 1952 but he told us that he really doesn't understand how the immigration system works these days because before he could come here from Europe he had to have a clean criminal record, be checked out and cleared by the Belfast police, show that he could sustain a job, and get a smallpox vaccination. We told him that we supported immigration reform and he agreed that the system was broken and "something needs to be done." When we asked him if he was glad that he immigrated here, Mr. Wright told us that he was 93 now and came here when he was 26 so his history was more with the United States than it was with Europe and, accordingly, the United States is his home.

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The evening came to a stunning conclusion around 10:30pm as all three of the pipe bands gathered together at the front of the banquet hall and started to play "Amazing Grace" when, quietly, the blinds were opened on a small section of the upper balcony in the back of the hall and there stood Mr. Robert Durrach, the Clan Piper, who played sections of the haunting melody in solo.

It was a very dramatic conclusion but not quite the end which finally happened when everyone came forward and held hands as we formed a circle and sang "Auld Lang Syne" a song that had been written by...Robert Burns! We suddenly realized that we had been singing that song every New Year's Eve as long as we can remember but never stopped to inquire as to who wrote it. Be that as it may, on this particular evening we found out and we will remember next December 31st.

Thank you Robert Burns!!!

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