GO in to any Irish pub from Aberdeen to Adelaide, Clydebank to Chicago or Dundee to Dunedin and it won’t be long before the haunting strains of Dirty Old Town waft out from the jukebox or sound system.

The archetypal Irish ballad, you might think, and a hugely popular one at that, thanks to the efforts over the years of groups like the Clancy Brothers, the ­Dubliners and the Pogues.

But Dirty Old Town wasn’t written about Dublin and it wasn’t written by an Irishman. It was the creation of proud and dedicated Scottish Independence supporter Ewan MacColl, who might have been born in the northern English industrial city of Salford but was ­Scottish through and through – a fact of life he never tired of emphasising.

In fact, an approved and authorised biography of MacColl published 18 years after his death in 1989 reveals how the man born on Burns’ Night 106 years ago changed his name from plain ­Jimmie Miller to underline his Scottishness; regularly lied about his place of birth and even concocted an imaginary ­Glasgow childhood when he recorded an album of street songs from Dublin, Salford and Glasgow with the iconic Irishman, ­Dominic Behan.

Class Act: The Cultural and Political Life of Ewan MacColl, by Ben Harker and published by Pluto Press, tells how Jimmie Miller, the son of Scottish ­parents and brought up in an emphatically ­Scottish environment, enthusiastically adopted the anglicised version of 19th century Gaelic poet Eoghan MacColla of Lochfyneside.

“It was a question of the name sounding sonorously Scottish and carrying appropriate political and literary overtones,” suggests Harker. But there was another darker reason for the change – a desire to start afresh after deserting from the British Army during the war.

So MacColl, when asked about his place of birth, always replied: “Auchterarder” – which was where his mother came from – a lie that was even repeated in that ­august volume, the Guinness Who’s Who of Folk Music.

Like his hero Burns, MacColl was an avid collector of Scottish ballads and songs and among his early recordings were Scots Street Songs, Scots Folk Songs and the Songs of Robert Burns.

His friends and contemporaries ­included fellow communist and Scottish nationalist poet, Hugh MacDiarmid and well known Scottish folklorist Hamish Henderson, who tried unsuccessfully to obtain the funding to enable MacColl to move his left-wing Theatre Workshop company to Scotland on a permanent basis.

MacColl named his first son after the redoubtable Henderson, but had a more complicated relationship with MacDiarmid who described MacColl at one stage as “the most important living Scottish playwright”. But, according to his biographer, MacColl fretted that his mentor and comrade would discover that he had actually originated from what was then Lancashire and is now part of Greater Manchester.

MacColl, who was constantly monitored by MI5 because of his support for left-wing causes and his communist/Marxist-Leninist/Maoist sympathies, wrote around 300 songs in his lifetime – including of course Dirty Old Town and the First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, ­recorded by Roberta Flack, Johnny Cash and others.

The royalties from those two compositions enabled MacColl and his third wife, Peggy Seeger, to enjoy a comfortable ­middle class lifestyle in Beckenham, Kent, and a holiday home in Eskdalemuir in the Borders.

His other well known compositions included The Manchester Rambler, based on the communist-led mass trespass in Derbyshire in 1932, which led to the opening up of the hills to ordinary ­people, and Shoals of Herring, his epic tale of the North Sea fishing industry.

WHILE MacColl’s left-wing views have been well documented over the years, his support for Scottish independence has received little coverage, but it’s there in black and white in Class Act, albeit without fanfares and any explanation or elaboration: “Like MacDiarmid, MacColl now dreamed of an independent Scottish Workers’ Republic.”

The book also recalls that MacColl sat on the advisory board of the ­Dunedin Society, an organisation dedicated to promoting Scottish arts, and Harker says that MacColl’s cultural nationalism “flourished unabated”.

Nevertheless, there is a constant theme running through Class Act that MacColl was never fully accepted as a true Scot - just because he happened to have been born and raised in England - and, ­surprisingly, Harker adds fuel to the fire by referring to MacColl’s “dubious ­Scottishness” and to him as “an ­honorary Scot”.

The author writes that as MacColl’s life ebbed away in a London hospital in 1989, his children, and wife and soulmate, Peggy Seeger, gathered by his bedside and sang some of Ewan’s favourite songs, including the famous anti-Union Burns song Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.

But, even in death, Ben Harker ­reveals that Ewan MacColl’s final pitch for ­Scottishness was rebuffed when his ­family’s plans to scatter his ashes on Suilven or Stac Pollaidh in the west Highlands and erect a small plaque to mark the spot were turned down on the grounds that it would attract too many visitors.

So a few months later, the ashes of avid hill walker MacColl were consigned to the Derbyshire hills that inspired his first-ever song.

Harker does not say how news of ­MacColl’s death was received in ­Scotland generally, though he quotes iconic ­Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan as saying that MacColl had a significance in his life exceeded only by his parents.

And Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote: “MacColl’s influence on the culture we live through now is so ­pervasive as to be almost invisible – so much taken for granted that we hardly bother to see it.”

What’s that old saying about a prophet not being recognised in his own country?