'Think na on the lang Scots miles... that lie between us': Burns remembered

Scotland awaits thousands of homecoming clansmen

Millions of people around the world will celebrate their Scottish heritage this weekend as they toast the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet Robert Burns. It's a celebration that the Scottish government is marking with the launch of Homecoming Year, a campaign in which it hopes to welcome back up to 100,000 people to what they believe is their ancestral homeland.

And to confirm their links to the Old Country, geneticists are offering the chance to use DNA technology to confirm ancient ties, through a "Blood of the Clans" scheme.

This weekend will see the biggest ever celebrations of Burns Night, with more than 3,000 events around the world in honour of the Scottish poet. And as part of Homecoming Year, there will be more than 300 arts, sporting and cultural events held in Scotland between now and St Andrew's Day on 30 November. History will be made in July, when thousands of representatives from 140 clans will march along Edinburgh's Royal Mile in the biggest clan gathering for 200 years.

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, yesterday issued a rallying cry, quoting Burns, for people to "come home, to the 'birthplace of valour, the country of worth'". He even sought to involve Barack Obama in his campaign. Speaking at a Burns Night supper in Alloway last night, he claimed:

"President Obama joins a distinguished list of American presidents that can claim Scottish lineage – including, among others, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson."

Thousands of people are expected to provide mouth swabs and £180 for the DNA tests to prove their bloodlines to specific clans. Just one clan, the MacDonalds, has some 200,000 direct descendants worldwide, according to Professor Bryan Sykes, a specialist in human genetics at Oxford University, who is masterminding the scheme.

"We are setting up an office in Edinburgh from next week to run the Blood of the Clans project, and I would be disappointed if we did not get more than 10,000 people over the year," Professor Sykes said.

"There's growing interest from people wanting to discover their Scottish roots. I think the clan system is one reason for this, in the sense that you have a well-defined number of groups to which you can belong."

His team of researchers has already constructed DNA profiles for the top 50 clans and he aims to create a database of every single Scottish clan.

Manchester United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, one of many high-profile Scots – along with Sir Sean Connery and Sir Chris Hoy – backing the campaign, said: "I am proud to follow the path of other Scots who have come to England and made a change," he said. "Homecoming Scotland 2009 gives us the opportunity to remind ourselves what a great country we have, and I hope it will be a success and that it brings a sense of unity to Scots all over the world."

But others are more cautious. The musician Bill Drummond, founder of the KLF, warned last night: "Scotland wants to be able to sell itself to the world, but I know that if in 10 years' time it just feels like the way that Ireland has been sold, with an Irish pub serving Guinness in just about every city in the world, I'd find it an insult."

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