An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 61THE BURRY MAN
At South Queensferry, near Edinburgh, a strange annual ceremony took place, the chief actor in which was known locally as 'the Burry Man,' It was supposed to commemorate the passage of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret to and from Edinburgh and Dunfermline, but this is local surmise and nothing more. It can be traced back at least to the period of the last battle of Falkirk, for an old woman of eighty, whose mother was thirteen years of age at the date of that battle (1746), stated that the observance had been unaltered from that time till her own old age. It took place on the day preceding the annual fair, usually about the second week in August, and was long upheld by the boys of Queensferry. On the day preceding the fair the Burry Man, always a stout fellow or a robust lad, was dressed in loosely fitting flannels, and his face, arms, and legs thickly covered with burrs. He carried two staves at arm's-length, and these, as well as his hands, were beautifully adorned with flowers. Thus accoutred, he was led from door to door by two attendants, who assisted him in upholding his arms by grasping the staves. As each successive door was reached a[Pg 136] shout was raised and the inhabitants came out to bestow greetings and money on the Burry Man, the amount collected being equally divided and spent at the fair by the youths who kept up the custom. On some occasions two persons were thus selected and led in procession from door to door—the one being styled the 'King' and the other the 'Queen,' it is thought in allusion to the passage of the royal couple through the borough. It used to be a popular belief that when this quaint custom was abandoned misfortune would befall the town.
Now what did the Burry Man represent? The custom was certainly a relic of a most ancient festival.