Celtic star’s contribution to Ayr’s famous Burns Statue

For many Celtic supporters, the only Burns that really matters was the one who twisted and turned. However on a night which celebrates Robert Burns, there is one tale to be told which ties Celtic to the famous poet.

Burns’ links with Ayrshire are well known. Standing since the 1890s, the Burns statue in Ayr is one of the town’s most famous images, indeed the site on which it stands is called ‘Burns Statue Square’.

In order to raise the money to build the monument, various fundraising activities took place. Multiple football games were held, some of them involving local teams and others bringing together select sides.

Celtic players were part of these efforts, in particular those with an Ayrshire background. One such man was Mick McKeown.

Bould Bhoy, Mick McKeown

He was one of Celtic’s early heroes, a hard-tackling full-back who was part of many of the club’s earliest achievements, including the first trophy. The defender was born in Dalmellington in Ayrshire and kept lifelong links with the area.

McKeown was one of the driving forces behind a fixture which pitted an Ayrshire XI against a Glasgow side (the Ayrshireman playing for his host city, rather than his birth home).

The match was held in Glasgow, where it was believed a larger crowd would be drawn, helping to raise more money. It took place at the original Cathkin Park in Glasgow’s southside, home of Third Lanark.

This was a venue where the Celtic would enjoy significant success over the years, winning various cups, notably the 1902 British League Cup, when they beat Rangers 3-2.

On 24 August 1889, starting at 4pm, the Glasgow side faced off against their Ayrshire rivals. Ticket prices were in line with usual costs: 6d (6 pence) for men (and 6d more to sit down) whilst women were allowed in for free.

Despite pre-match promises from many of Glasgow’s most prominent players, the team that played proved to be only a shadow of what had been expected. Still, it did include Celtic’s McKeown along with his fellow Celt, Johnny Coleman.

Bould Bhoy Johnny Coleman

2000 locals attended – but they had no opportunity to truly cheer on the local team. It proved to be an entirely one-sided encounter, with the Ayrshire XI the only ones who had cause to celebrate.

Newspapers at the time described the Ayr men as “monopolising the play”, so much so that by half-time the visitors led by four goals to nil. Celtic’s Coleman was praised for his “splendid attempts” but he suffered due to a lack of support from his teammates.

For those representing the city of St Mungo, the second half was not a great improvement. Ayrshire added one more goal before the conclusion; this was less than they had managed in the first period, but still left the final score as an emphatic 5-0 victory.

Post-match reports did at least credit Mick McKeown’s performance. One journalist noted that the final outcome would have been worse were it not for the Celt’s contribution: “McKeown was in good form for Glasgow, and saved his side from a much heavier defeat.”

Ultimately this game – and all the other fundraising efforts – ensured that a Burns statue would be officially unveiled. This took place on a special gala day in July 1891, drawing crowds from across Ayrshire and the west of Scotland.

It’s a Celtic connection to Robert Burns that few fans know exists. But, to be honest, it is still Tommy Burns that most Hoops fans will be toasting and remembering tonight.

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Matthew Marr – @hailhailhistory


About Author

Matthew Marr first started going to see Celtic in the 1980s and has had a season ticket since 1992. His main Celtic interest is the club's history, especially the early years. In 2023, Matthew published his first Celtic book, telling the story of the Bhoys' first league title. He also runs Celtic history walking tours.

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