Cold Lang Syne! Antarctica hosts its biggest-ever Burns supper

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Meteorologist Mairi Simms and site agent Rob Kerr organised the Burns supper at the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station.

Around 140 people, including 50 Scots, gathered for the biggest-ever Burns supper held in Antarctica.

Workers at the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station in Antarctica celebrated the life of Robert Burns at what is believed to be the world’s most southerly knees-up on Saturday 21 January.

Haggis had been transported aboard the UK’s state-of-the-art exploration ship RRS Sir David Attenborough to help mark Scotland’s national bard’s birthday.

Kilt-wearing Rob Kerr was one of the Burns bash organisers and enjoyed playing some traditional Scottish reels on his accordion to get the after-dinner ceilidh in full swing.

Site agent Rob, 33, from Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, said:

We might be in one of the remotest places on Earth, but nothing can stop Scots from celebrating Burns Night.

There are about 50 Scots on site and 140 people here in total. You’d be hard pushed to find a busier Burns supper.

My father is accordionist at Newton Stewart Burns Club and I am sure he will be proud of the continued family involvement in celebrating Burns.

Dad-of-two Rob was deployed to Antarctica in November and says the Burns supper is the perfect morale booster for those spending long periods away from loved ones. He said:

It’s been strange being away for Christmas and New Year. It was a bitter-sweet experience because it’s amazing to get a chance to work in a place like this.

Events like this are so important because they help break up the long season into wee milestones to look forward to.

Rothera has a diverse culture, and it is nice to share these traditions with those who have not experienced it before.

People were really looking forward to this, although they probably changed their mind when they heard me on the accordion.

I was proud to be wearing my kilt, although I’ll be staying indoors as much as possible as it can be a bit nippy outside.

Rothera Research Station is part of a UK Government polar infrastructure investment programme which is keeping Britain at the forefront of world-leading climate change research in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Last Wednesday, 17 January, marked the 250th anniversary of British polar exploration, after Captain James Cook on HMS Resolution became the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773.

Today, in stark contrast to Captain Cook’s all-male crew, the UK’s presence in the polar regions is dominated by female leadership.

Jane Rumble, is head of the Polar Regions Department at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Dame Jane Francis is Director of the British Antarctic Survey, Captain Maryla Ingham commands the Royal Navy’s only Ice patrol Ship HMS Protector, and Camilla Nichol is Chief Executive of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Scots meteorologist Mairi Simms is on her 11th deployment to Rothera Research Station as Science Coordinator and was chief organiser of the Burns supper.

Mairi, 39, from Pitlochry, Perthshire, said:

The haggis was shipped over a while ago on RRS Sir David Attenborough. Once we’d defrosted it, we had plenty for 140 guests.

We had everything you’d expect from a Burns supper, including the address to the haggis, the immortal memory, address to the lassies and reply to the laddies and lots of people reciting poems and singing.

There were a few Scottish people who hadn’t been to a Burns supper before, never mind in Antarctica. The thought really tickles people.

But these social events are so important when people are away from all their friends and family for such a long time.

She added:

My parents get a little worried sometimes but they’ve got loads better now that I have a few deployments under my belt. The communications have improved so much over the years. We are able to call home and WhatsApp so keeping in touch is much easier.

When I first came down here in 2012, it was going to be a one-off adventure of a lifetime before I settled back into ‘normal’ life but I absolutely fell in love with the place.

Everyone here is passionate about supporting research is crucial as we tackle the effects of climate change.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said:

I’d like to toast Scots celebrating Burns Night across the world, even in Antarctica.

The UK Government is proud to support British scientists at the forefront of polar research, as we lead the world on getting to grips with climate change.

Our ongoing investment in science demonstrates our determination to build on the legacy of COP26 in Glasgow to drive forward a greener future to save our planet.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which employs over 16,000 staff in 179 countries and territories, is using Burns Night to promote Scotland internationally across the world.

Diplomats at Posts including Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, South Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela are all flying the flag for Scotland by hosting Burns suppers.

The British High Commission in Accra is hosting the centenary Burns supper of the Caledonian Society of Ghana on Saturday February 4.

The society was formed in 1920 by Scottish-Canadian architect and building contractor William Galloway, who played a leading role in building the Ghanaian capital Accra.

The group has been unable to celebrate its landmark 100th birthday Burns supper until now because of COVID lockdown restrictions.

Proud Scot Mark Crawford, 61, who like exciseman Robert Burns is a tax and customs adviser at the British High Commission, is Chieftain of the event for 90 people. He said:

Everyone is really excited about this belated centenary Burns supper, which will very much put the Caledonian Society of Ghana back on the map. It is one of the oldest in Africa and has a proud tradition.

We are very thankful to have secured our haggis from Macsweens and we’re looking forward to introducing Robert Burns and Scotland to more people here in Ghana. People here are always intrigued about our culture.

A couple of my Scottish colleagues have even had a kilt made from the traditional Ghanaian Kente cloth, which is different! The sporran seems to also cause a lot of interest and questions by Ghanaians.

It will be great to finally celebrate our centenary in the proper manner as we recover from the restrictions and limitations brought about by the COVID pandemic. It will be a special event.

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