EDINBURGH, Scotland — Scottish poet Robert Burns gave the English-speaking world some of its most famous sayings and sentiments, including the New Year’s favorite “Auld Lang Syne” and the rhapsody, “My love is like a red, red rose.”
Now on the 250th anniversary of his birth, the Scottish government hopes worldwide interest in the poet will create a tourism boom. As part of the 250th celebration, the tourism industry has launched Homecoming Scotland 2009 to attract visitors with Scottish roots from around the world, as well as those who are just curious, back to the old country. The schedule of some 300 events includes a huge gathering of the clans in Edinburgh in July.
Burns’ political radicalism, romantic verse and use of Scots’ dialect have made him a heroic figure to many Scottish people, especially to nationalists like members of the Scottish National Party, which governs in Edinburgh.
“Burns is the inspiration behind our yearlong celebration of some of Scotland’s great contributions to the world: golf, whisky, great minds and innovations, our rich culture, wonderful heritage and of course, Robert Burns himself,” said Scottish tourism minister Jim Mather.
The global Scottish diaspora dwarfs Scotland’s population of just over 5 million. More than 4.8 million Americans reported Scottish ancestry in the 2000 census, and more than 4 million Canadians also claim Scottish roots.
Barack Obama is one of a long list of U.S. Presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, who can lay claim to Scottish roots.
According to Gary Boyd Roberts, a senior research scholar at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Obama’s ancestors include William the Lion, who ruled Scotland between 1165 and 1214. His maternal ancestor, Edward FitzRandolph, emigrated to America in the 17th century.
But look in any phone book from North America to Australia and it will be packed with Scottish names. From Charleston, S.C., to Adelaide, Australia, and Kingston, Jamaica, surnames such as Ross, Campbell and Mcdonald are common.
Critics accuse tourism chiefs of preaching to the converted. “Not enough attention has been paid to North America or Australia. There is a great opportunity here to attract the descendants of Scots from around the world but they have not put enough money into the marketing, it has been disappointing,” said Lewis Macdonald, the Labour Party’s tourism and culture spokesman in the Scottish Parliament.
Supporters of the Homecoming campaign say critics underestimate the enthusiasm of Scots around the world.
VisitScotland, the official tourism agency, says around 16 million tourists come to Scotland each year, most from other parts of Britain but a fifth from overseas. The number includes 350,000 American visitors.
“The Scots around the world are passionate about their roots and origins,” said Roddy Martine, author of the book “Scottish Clan and Family Names.”
“I’ve found that the further away you are, the more you care. Often the diaspora is much more caring and enthusiastic of Scotland than those of us left behind.
“A lot of what is said about the clans now is romantic nonsense, but the trick is not to take it too seriously, and I think the clan gathering in July is going to be a very special event,” Martine said.
If You Go…
HOMECOMING SCOTLAND 2009: On the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns, Scotland is hoping to attract tourists from around the world, especially those of Scottish ancestry, for a series of some 300 events, all part of a tourism campaign called Homecoming Scotland 2009. Details at http://www.cometoscotland.com/. The campaign includes gatherings of individual clans throughout the year and a centerpiece event, called The Gathering 2009, July 25-26, in Edinburgh.
Burns fans may also want to visit places he lived, including Ellisland Farm, Dumfries and Mossgiel Farm in Mauchline. “Burns an’ a’ That!” festivals are scheduled for the third week of May in East, North and South Ayrshire. Other events and attractions include whisky tastings and distillery tours and 15 trails across Scotland showcasing castles and other heritage sites. Festivals include StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival, March 18-22 in St. Andrews; a celebration of the invention of a bicycle in 1839, May 12-24; the Edinburgh International Film Festival, June 17-28; the International Genealogy Festival, July 21-24; the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Aug. 7-31; the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Aug. 15-31, and the Edinburgh International Festival, Aug. 14-Sept. 6.