Burns Supper 2001

Rabbie Burns would have been proud. Scotland’s most famous poet was introduced at the annual party that commemorates his birth as a self-confessed sinner (a lover of women and drink, often to access). But he was also a great humanitarian.

The anniversary of Robert Burn’s birth was marked for the fourth year in Budapest on Saturday 27 January 2001, this time at the InterContinental’s refurbished ball room, and the almost 400 guests raised a record HUF 7 million for the Second Department of Paediatrics at Semmelweis University Hospital, Budapest.

The money, which by the end of the evening seemed to be pouring in left, right and centre, will be used to buy a mobile X-ray machine. The target had been HUF 5 million.

Over the years, the Burns Supper (organized by the Hungarian Scottish Society with help and support from the British Embassy, the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary and the British Council) has raised millions of forints for Semmelweis, enabling the university hospital to buy a new operating table and equipment and re-open a closed operating theatre.

Jock Mackenzie chaired all three previous events. This year fellow Scot Mark Muss, of international moving company Interdean, was chairman. There was a tribute paid to Mackenzie for all his past efforts, and news of an attempt to spread the charitable aspect of Burns Night throughout the region.

Next week, for example, Muss will fly to the Ukraine to join an annual Burns Supper there. About 300 guests pay $150 each for a ticket and no money is raised for charity. Muss will advise the organising committee on how Budapest manages to keep prices much lower (tickets here cost HUF 12,000) while bringing in much needed cash for charity.

This year, for example, saw HUF 2.2 million forints raised on ticket sales alone. A raffle raised a further HUF 400,000 and an impromptu auction of a signed photo of pop star Robbie Williams had raised a further HUF 300,000 by the time the SCI table eventually won the bidding war.

The money didn’t stop there either. Tesco was the principal sponsor of the evening, which prompted Cora to pledge HUF 2 million of its own money. BT offered HUF 500,000. And just as the event was drawing towards a close, Pepsi offered a further HUF 2 million, by which time Muss was nearly beside himself with joy.

The evening featured all the usual traditions, the piping in of the haggis (this being Hungary, a hurka, a special type of sausage, was also escorted in by a Hungarian bag piper), the Selkirk Grace, loyal toasts, the Immortal Memory and the Appreciation, the Toast to the Lassies by British Ambassador Nigel Thorpe, and the Reply of the Lassies by Tina Giles.

There was also a brief speech by Professor György Fekete of the Semmelweis University Hospital, ending simply with the words, “Thank you for your support and understanding for children.”

Yes, Rabbie Burns would have been very pleased.

By Robin Marshall