By Jason Michael

“It’s Scotland’s answer to Carnival or Mardi Gras,” I like to explain to the Wilde Irish I live among who don’t quite get our annual fetish for an late eighteenth century poet we can barely understand, “because he made sex cool in a dreary climate.” As an Ayrshire lad I was reared on the words of the Bard. That doesn’t mean I always understand what he was saying, and coming from a family of Kilmarnock printers – the toon where his famous first edition was printed – there was no escaping the connection with Scotland’s most famous philanderer until Tommy Sheridan.

Every year on Burns Night, like many a Scot from Russia to Nova Scotia, I boil me up some neeps and tatties, and if the spirit moves me I’ll add to that a wee dram. We are a sentimental people, but fond memory can’t quite move me to go hunting for a haggis. It’s hard to come by here in Dublin, largely on account of the Dubliners having a more refined palate – and even if I knew a butcher daring enough, I still think I would stick to the neeps and a nice cut of beef. The food and traditional music associated with Burns Night never quite moved me, but his words always have.

It would be nice to say that I love him because his love for Caledonia’s cause inspired my own sense of national pride. It didn’t. I always knew he despised the Union, but I grew to become an independentista for other reasons. It was his humanism and his curious love of the little things of nature that tickled me the most. Seriously, who else writes of mice and lice with such tender and hilarious affection? Few others have shaped my passion for human dignity and worth the way that Rabbie Burns’ words have:

A prince can mak a belted knight, 
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that; 
But an honest man’s abon his might, 
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!

A long time before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, before the abolition of slavery and serfdom, Scots were proud to say that We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns. That has stuck with me my entire life, and because of that wee bit of culture – probably the only real cul’ure I ever picked up in school – I can still see that the likes of Murdo Fraser and Theresa May aren’t really hiding horns under their hair. Not that Murdo has much of that. Other than the fair chance that most of us are descended from him, Burns is one of those great Scots we are right to celebrate.


Ode To A Mouse

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