The Deil's Awa Wi The Exciseman
The deil cam fiddlin thro’ the toon, and danc’d awa wi the Exciseman,
And ilka wife cries, ‘Auld Mahoun, I wish you luck o’ the prize, man!'
The deil’s awa, the deil’s awa, the deil’s awa wi’ the Exciseman,
He’s danc’d awa, he’s danc’d awa, he’s danc’d awa wi’ the Exciseman!
We’ll mak our maut, and we’ll brew our drink, we’ll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And monie braw thanks to the meikle black Deil, that danc’d awa wi’ the Exciseman.
‘There’s threesome reels, there’s foursome reels, there’s hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ae best dance ere cam to the land was The Deil’s Awa wi’ the Exciseman’
This song by Robert Burns says that excisemen, who collected taxes on alcohol and chased smugglers, were bad people, who deserved to be taken away by the Devil, and everyone would be so happy they would dance! But at the time he wrote the song Burns was himself an exciseman.
Like many other talented people Robert Burns did not make
his living from his art. One job he had
was as an exciseman, collecting tax on whisky and other goods.
He and some other excisemen were sent to watch a suspicious looking boat that arrived in the Solway Firth in south-west Scotland. The excisemen saw that this was indeed a smugglers’ vessel and that the crew were many, armed and likely to be dangerous. The excisemen would need more men to catch those on board the boat, so they sent to Dumfries for reinforcements. Burns was left with some men to try to prevent the boat landing or the crew escaping, but he knew they were too few to do this.
The messenger to Dumfries took a very long time to come back. One of Burns' friends suggested that he write a song to pass the time. Burns went for a walk on the shingle. When he came back he recited this song.
When the reinforcements eventually arrived from Dumfries, Burns was the first to board the smugglers’ boat, sword in hand. The crew were captured and all the arms and stores of the vessel were sold at Dumfries.