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Howff Club Activities and Previous Years

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Hallowe'en Dinner

The first account of a Hallowe'en Dinner is in 1895, when the following paragraph appeared, again in the Standard:

'Thursday was Hallowe'en, and in addition to the masquerading of children about the street and a number of juvenile parties, the Festival of All Saints was marked by the members of the Dumfries Burns Howff Club, in time-honoured social fashion, although they dispensed with the special rites that are associated with it in Scotland, and described in playful verse by Burns. The celebration took the form of a supper held in the Globe Hotel, and it is intended to inaugurate a winter series of monthly meetings. So popular did the event prove, that a company numbering nearly seventy assembled, and they had to sit down to table in two separate parties. Success to the Club was proposed by the Chairman in a speech which evoked great enthusiasm, and a number of toasts followed. Numerous songs were contributed by Mr Prentice, J. Beck, Mr C. Bell, Mr A. Muir, Mr W. Johnstone and Mr James Ramsay. Mr John Rorrison played selections on the concertina with spirit and skill; and recitations were given by Mr Robert Burns, Friars Vennel, and the Chairman. A very merry evening was thus spent.'

Winter Lectures

The winter series of monthly meetings mentioned above was soon introduced, and one finds 'gatherings' of the Club taking place, providing talks with spontaneous harmony, at regular intervals. These carried on for almost fifty years, covering a wide variety of subjects and mainly delivered by Howff Club members. The first evening was recorded as early as 1896. Examples of the variety of subjects of talks include: 'Manners and Customs of Hallowe'en', 'Lady Nairne and her Songs', 'The Power of Scottish Song', 'The Variety Stage', 'Robert Nicol - The Forgotten Genius', 'The Syme Letters', 'The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe', 'Anderson - the Surfaceman Poet', and 'The Life and Work of Roger Quin'.

St Andrews Night

St. Andrew's Night celebrations are first mentioned, as such, in 1934, and St. Patrick's Night, similarly, the previous year. Club Nights had, however, been held on 30th November and 17th March for several years prior to these dates, taking the form of Song and Story Evenings or Irish Nights. Mr J.G. Home of Ruthwell was the guest speaker at the first St. Andrew's Night, when he addressed the company on 'Humour in Song and Story'. Mr Home came to the conclusion that the juxtaposition of incongruities, or, the ludicrous, was the only form of humour that some people could enjoy. The St. Andrew's Night still remains one of the main annual functions of the Club. The 17th of March function, on the other hand, recommenced after the Second World War, with the last recorded meeting held in 1952. Professor McGlynn of Glasgow University, who spoke at the first St. Partrick's Night in 1933, on 'Irish Songs and Stories', set the pattern for the future, where the theme, and often the speaker for that matter, had some Irish connection. Among the notable speakers on such a night, was Sir Patrick Dollan, Lord Provost of Glasgow, who, in 1948, delivered a speech on 'The Freedom Movement in Ireland'.

Ladies Night

The first Ladies' Night arranged by Dumfries clubs was organised by the Howff Club in March, 1924, in the King's Arms. This took the form of a Whist Drive and Dance, with a turn-out of approximately 220, and representatives from the Dumfries and Queensberry Clubs were present on invitation. Dr. Joseph Hunter, the local Liberal Member of Parliament and a General Practitioner in the town, spoke at the end of a successful evening of the 'fine, energetic spirit' shown by the Dumfries Burns Howff Club, and said that if the same enthusiasm and energy were shown in many other clubs, the Burns cult would be more fully developed. He thanked the Club for not only organising the entertainment, but for all their other good work. The annual Ladies' Night is still one of the highlights of the Howff year and, well-supported by the Dumfries Ladies' Burns Club, provides the members with a chance to trip the light fantastic.

A Closing Session or Supper was held from the 1890's up to and including 1959, after which it was coupled with the Ladies' Night. The Closing Supper started with Biscuits and Cheese and then, for many years took the form of a Tatties and Herrin' Night, which entailed a meal as described, together with a talk and the usual harmony. This function could be said to have been replaced, in a way, by a 'testing-for-some' evening at the start of the Executive Committee year, when each member of the Committee must display (or find) his talent, being given no option but to sing a song, give a recitation or tell a story.

Summer Ice Competition and Draffan Cup

Another annual night which has been discontinued is the Summer Ice Competition. This was started in the early 1900s and carried on until the commencement of World War II. Summer Ice was an indoor game played on a board similar to a snooker table. Howff Club members competed annually for two cups, the Draffan Cup and the Kennedy-Robertson Cup. The former trophy is still extant, and a bowling evening is arranged each summer, when the winner receives the coveted cup.

Annual Excursion

The Annual Excursion is another feature of the Howff year. Over the hundred years, the members have elected to travel north, south, east and west - Rothesay, in 1909 and Belfast the following year (both by train and boat) being perhaps the more ambitious ventures - although many a happy day has been spent visiting other areas. Methods of travel have progressed during the years - coach, train, private car and, as numbers increased, omnibus. Often on these outings, the local Burns club would greet the Club and act as couriers and guides.

 

Charitable Work

The charitable generosity of the Howff Club must be worthy of special mention. During its existence, the Club has always beenready and willing to support when it could, any deserving cause, supporting, for example, even a Haggis Race for charity from Dumfries to Bolton in 1980. A recent illustration of this willingness has been the very generous donation which stimulated the fund for the installation of the Burns Window in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. Generous support has also been given to various local appeals and mention must be made of the 600 raised by the Howff Club to have the Arms of Burns matriculated at the Lyon Court on behalf of the Burns Federation. Money is raised in many ways - Cheese and Wine Dances and Fiddlers' Rallies gradually replacing an annual New Year's Draw, which was run for many years by the Club, up to and including as recently as 1984. Club functions are all recorded for the Blind and, over the years, many an enjoyable evening has been spent in Moorheads Hospital, with a Burns Supper for the patients conducted entirely by Howff members. The first account of a visit to Moorheads is mentioned in the Minutes as early as 1947. Plans for the Centenary Year include, among other activities, a donation of seats to both the Dumfries Robert Burns Centre and Moorheads Hospital, commemorative stained glass windows of Robert Burns and Jean Armour in St. Michael's Church, a plaque in Burns House and the landscaping of the area to the east of the Globe Inn.

It will be seen then, that the Burns Howff Club of Dumfries carries on today the traditions of the past - good company, lively conversation, scintillating speeches and excellent harmony, just as one absent and honoured guest would have wished. There has been much in the past that is worth preserving and much to be done in the future that can only be achieved if determination is our watchword. Generation after generation have played their part in building up a fine reputation for the Club among Burns Clubs world-wide - one of friendliness, of generosity, of comradeship. Fortunately, this attitude of fellowship currently prevails in the Club and, as long as humanity aspires to hopes of idealism and equality, Robert Burns's memory will shine with undimming splendour in Dumfries and, in particular, in the Globe, his howff, which once echoed to that voice that sang and still sings in every Scotsman's ear.

 

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