How to Catch a Haggis

Have you ever wondered how the elusive haggis are captured? Islay has some of the most tastiest haggi, and with just a short window in the haggis hunting season it can be quite challenging to catch a haggis. This haggis hunting season was no exception, with the very wet start to the year. Read on as I guide you through the very best of haggis hunting adventures, Islay style.

Girl walking on pebble beach with dog

Lifting the Spirits with a Good Dash of Burn’s

There must have been a few sore heads going around, as Hogmanay was celebrated, repeated, and celebrated again.

The dawning of the Old New Year in mid-January, and those farmers were out to play.  Some headed to the celebratory hearty annual Farmer’s Dinner in Bridgend. Some absconded, and were out with the wives, hidden away in a wee alcove at the back of the Port Charlotte Hotel. There was the gathering of ‘visiting farmers’, socialising, and celebrating, in those cosy holiday cottages at Ballymeanach, in Portnahaven, and I am sure many more were enjoying parties across the island.

A time of celebrations, dinners, and illicit gatherings happening in every corner. As finally, with the hunting season almost passed, and a with good catch of haggi, the revelry and partying could commence in earnest. What better time, than the Old New Year for those celebrations?

Bottle of Ardbeg whisky and a plate of haggis and neaps and potato

It had been a particularly slow start to the haggis season, early expeditions on the hillside had proved fruitless throughout December and on into early January. With just a small window in the season to catch those haggi, the weather at the beginning of the month was set against the huntsmen. Of course, the slow start meant more delicate strategies and tactical decisions had to be discussed. This in turn led to more pre-hunt meetings. More gatherings on the part of the farmers, leading to increasing frustration on the part of the farmer’s wives. Haggis hunting is traditionally a male sport, shrouded in great secrecy. There were many aborted attempts, long nights, out on the hill in torrential rain, with the hunters returning, a little worse for wear, with empty pockets, and not a haggis or happy wife in sight.

January began with the ground awash. Biblical downpours brought a deluge of floods across the island. Rivers burst their banks. Burns across the farms became rivers, with several new lochs appearing in the course of the day. Downpours of epic proportions and, unbeknown to the farmers, those haggi were flushed from their cosy burrows. Swept along in raging torrents, leaving their nests on the Persabus hill far behind. They were carried off down to the roughest of seas into the Sound of Islay and beyond.

A field with snow on the ground and pink clouds in the sky

Luckily for most, the hills of the neighbouring Isle served as a huge buffer. An almighty wave swept those haggi from the bubbling seas, tossing them upwards, high into the air, before they landed in a huge pile. Stacked like peats, neatly resting against the Paps of Jura. Sadly, those haggi could only look longingly at the blinking of the huntsmen’s torches, far away, in the distance. Scouring the Persabus hillside.  as those farmers and gamekeepers, stillmen and stalkers, were busy slipping and sliding on their bellies in deep mud and rain, searching in vain.

The haggi began to weep and wail, and such were their tears, the water levels even rose an inch or two higher. They were saddened at the very real prospect of missing out on those hearty Burn’s Suppers. The craic of the party, the bagpipes, that cheering procession. The absolute burning pride, and honour, of being formally addressed, undressed, relished, and revered, before finally being slathered in the delights of a delicious whisky sauce.

Slowly the haggi stumbled and leap-frogged down from the huge stack they had gathered in. A quick head count and with heavy hearts, they realised that some were missing, presumed dead. It is however rumoured those missing haggi had in fact been washed up on the shores of Portpatrick, where they enjoyed a very warm reception indeed. Being Islay haggi, though, they unfortunately couldn’t stay for the Portpatrick Burn’s Supper. They needed home to their island shores.

Dog in snow as sun rises

The race was on to get home before the haggis hunting season closed. As to enjoy a good Burn’s Supper, they do need to be captured! At this point it would of course have been a huge help if the Citylink bus service could actually meet with the Calmac ferry. Luckily haggi are incredibly patient creatures, as with those timetables all to pot, they had to come up with a plan B. Thankfully Mr Mundell and one of his fleet of lorries stepped in. Transporting the missing haggi home to Islay. Some even arrived, bursting with pride, neatly packaged, in new shiny McSween’s wrappers.

The stranded haggi on Jura had a bit more of a challenge to get home to their island shores in time to be hunted and captured, prepared, and packaged ready for Burn’s Night. Rolling and stumbling their way down the rocky, grassy slope to Feolin, the race was on to catch those hunters. Their Jura cousins had warned them that it would be hopeless trying to negotiate with the Jura ferrymen to coax them into working out of hours. A stern captain and islanders know that ferry service stops promptly. Adhering strictly to timetables with absolutely no favours, no leeway, no let-up, not even for emergencies such as stranded haggi, for whom the clock was ticking, as time was running out.

When January delivered freezing temperatures at last, and a snowy white landscape, the hunt was on in earnest. The Persabus hillside was finally alive with haggi, proudly parading in their new cool t-shirts. Gifts from their Portpatrick cousins, boldly emblazoned with slogans such as ‘I Am A Haggis’, ‘Catch Me Now’. Finally, those Islay hunters could see what they were stalking. Finally, they could return to their homes, their pockets bulging with the goodies of a successful hunt, and finally even their wives showed a fleeting glimpse of a smile, almost looking happy at last.

We will never know the real story of how those haggi made it back to their island shores. If rumours are to be believed the captain of the Jura ferry is actually a big softie, and very partial to a little haggis. There are whispers that the crew worked long and hard into the wee small hours, ferrying those haggi home, but please don’t share these whispers with the Jura locals!

Finally on Burn’s Night, with the haggis slipping onto a warm plate, whiskers twitching at the delicious vapours of the home-made whisky sauce at Ballygrant Inn, he knew he was home on Islay and in heaven once more.

Which just leaves me to add this article is served to you with a good deal of humour, and a small dash of truth. I hope you all had a fantastic and hearty Burn’s celebration.