John Mathers: remembering the much-loved ‘wee mouse man’

John Mathers: remembering the much-loved ‘wee mouse man’

John Mathers, better known as the “wee mouse man”, in tribute to his famous renditions of To a Mouse, complete with a real-life mouse in hand, was a regular contributor to Burns night celebrations across Scotland and beyond.

East Lothian Courier: John Mathers with 'Rabbie' the mouse..

One of his regular haunts was Tantallon Golf Club in North Berwick, where his renditions of the works of Robert Burns alongside his real-life mouse were legendary.

John passed away peacefully on May 26 last year after a accident on North Berwick High Street, with his presence being a great loss to the Burns club traditions he played a key part in.

Born in 1936 in Netherley, Kincardineshire, John’s early life led him to Balerno as an apprentice joiner aged 15. Arriving in Midlothian he soon met Jean Shand, whom he later married.

Together they had four children: Yvonne, Brenda, John, and Sandra.

His family spent much time in Currie and Balerno, where after his early career in construction, John set up his own company, the Pentland Building Company, in 1963.

In 1973 he entered the licensed trade, operating several public houses and restaurants around the area, as well as a number of shops on Balerno High Street.

His daughter Yvonne said: “As much as anything, dad’s entrepreneurship stemmed from a desire to employ local people and – if possible – help them make something of their lives.”

Throughout his life, John was an avid follower of politics, taking up the role as organiser for the North Berwick Coastal branch of the SNP where he devoted much of his time.

Surrounded by family and friends, John was laid to rest next to his wife, Jean, who passed away in 2009 shortly after she and John had moved to North Berwick.

During his funeral, his daughter Brenda, who also lives in North Berwick, spoke about those years: “Dad quickly integrated into North Berwick life, adapting and changing after his many many happy years in Balerno, but still following his great passions in life: family, politics, Robbie Burns and golf, the peak of his golfing career being his hole-in-one on the famous 13th hole at The Glen.”

His love for Burns was clear to all who listened, never more so than his famed reading of To A Mouse, during which he would produce a living, breathing timorous beastie which would scurry up and down his arms.

East Lothian Courier: John Mathers with 'Rabbie' the mouse..

Yvonne recalled: “Only once that I know off in the 50 years did the mouse bite dad mid-performance. But like a true professional, it carried on to the end, blood dripping from his sair finger!”

Brenda Symon, daughter of John, thanked Tantallon Golf Club for remembering her father and stressed how much he was “sorely missed”.

She said: “This year, our ‘wee mouse man’ as John became fondly known as, was sorely missed on the Burns circuit in North Berwick, Balerno and Perth, Western Australia for more than 50 years!

“Tantallon Golf Club in North Berwick paid tribute to John and in remembrance for all the enjoyable evenings he had contributed to over the years!”

“Covid had highlighted to us all experiences of isolation and loneliness, and what better a time than a dark dreich night in January to host a social gathering.

Aidan Strange, one of John’s good friends, said: “He was anything but a ‘wee’ man neither was he Sleekit, Cowrin or Tim’rous!

“He was a larger than life character loving to his family, generous with his friendship, firm in his convictions and courageous in his business and political activism.”

A spokesperson for Tantallon Golf Club said: “Another vibrant Tantallon evening; after a three-year gap the Burns Supper returned to the clubroom.

“Indeed! It was the 25th edition of the event.

“Laughter rang out, as did song and verse; a top table of talent provided a range of Burns verse and thought.

“It was wonderful to be back and we will meet to do it all again on Friday 26 January 2024 – one for your diary.

East Lothian Courier: Rob Campbell giving the address to the haggis at Tantallon Burns SuperRob Campbell giving the address to the haggis at Tantallon Burns Super

Acknowledgements were made to the “wonderful” entertainers over a number of years who very died since the club’s last gathering in 2020.

The spokesperson added: “John Mathers was a Burns specialist who entertained our club for many years with his wonderful renditions.”

John’s family are also raising funds for the East Lothian Foodbank. Donations can be made by visiting

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East Lothian Courier
Gregor Millar

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