Louth-

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Burns’ monument in the graveyard of Saint Nicholas Church, Dundalk. Photograph by Nev Swift

John Swift, Dundalk, circa 1900;

‘Among them (tombstones in the graveyard) was one that could have been considered relatively modern. That was the one erected over the grave of Robert Burn’s sister.* This monument, erected by the poet’s admirers in the town, stood prominently in the forefront of the cemetery, and through the railings on the low wall between the cemetery and the Church Street, was easily visible to passers by.

For a few years my father (Patrick Swift) and some of his Templar colleagues had, on the poet’s birthday, the 25th of January, made pilgrimage to the hardly substantial mecca in Church Street. Gathered at the railings near the grave, my father would start a recital of Burns’ poems.

Coming towards the end of the rectial the reciter would turn in the direction of the Roden demesne gate declaiming from A Man’s a Man for a’ That, rendered, not in the Burns Doric but in the plainer English –

 

robert-burns-portrait

You see yon birkie, called a lord,

Who struts and stares an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a coof for a’ that,

For an’ that, an’ a that,

His ribband star, an’ a’ that,

The man of independent mind,

He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

 

A prince can make a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest mans above his might,

Good faith he needed for that,

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Their dignities an’ a’ that,

The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth,

Are higher rank than a’ that.

 

Then let us pray that come what may,

(As come it will for a’ that);

That sense and worth o’er all the earth,

Shall make the rank an’ a’ that,

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That man to man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.

 

Told in Toberona, 2008

*Agnes Burns, 1762-1834, was the sister of Robert Burns. In 1817, along with her husband, she moved  near Knockbridge in  County Louth, and was later buried in Saint Nicholas Graveyard in Dundalk.

John Swift 1896-1990 spent the formative years of his life in Dundalk, County Louth, before moving to Dublin in 1912.

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