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When asked to name a tree associated with Scotland the Rowan tree spring to mind. It grows throughout northern Europe (Sorbus Aucuparia) as well as in the northeast part of North America (Sorbus Americanus). It is a relatively small tree which grows to about 50 feet tall. It is also a tough, dense tree, striving in poor soil and other areas where land has been overworked. The Rowan is noted for having lovely white flowers in May and, every third year, berries that turn bright red in winter.
The name "rowan" is derived from the Old Norse name for the tree, raun. Linguists believe that the Norse name is ultimately derived from a proto-Germanic word *raudnian meaning "getting red" and which referred to the red foliage and red berries in the autumn. In Gaelic, it is caorann, or Rudha-an (red one, pronounced quite similarly to English "rowan").


According to the Celtic tradition the Rowan tree would provide protection against evil spirits. To have one at home would bring good luck and to cut it would bring unhappiness ... which explains its relative proliferation in Scotland.

Many traditions have evolved from the belief common among many Celtic people that the Rowan tree could offer protection from evil spirits. The density of the rowan wood makes it very usable for walking sticks and magician’s or druid’s staves. Rowan was carried on vessels to avoid storms, kept in houses to guard against lightning. On Beltane (the night before May Day, which in some places was called Rowan Tree Day), sprigs of Rowan were often tied with string dyed red from the Rowan berries to cows’ tails and horses’ halters to protect them, and sheep were made to jump through hoops made from Rowan. Crossed branches of Rowan were often placed in cowsheds and stables for the same purpose, and milking stools and pails were sometimes made of Rowan wood. Rowan trees were commonly planted near the doors of houses, or Rowan twigs placed over the door or under a bed, to ward off evil spirits. A cross carved from Rowan was sometimes placed above a child’s cradle to protect it from bewitchment or from being stolen by faeries. These crosses were traditionally renewed each May Day. It was believed that the power of the Rowan was particularly potent if the person making the charm had never seen the tree before cutting the wood. Necklaces of Rowan berries with red thread were often worn for protection by Highland women. Rowan trees were often planted in churchyards to send away evil spirits and to keep the unquiet dead from leaving their graves. In Wales, it was common for people to wear a cross carved from Rowan. Corpses prior to burial and coffins in transit to graveyards were often placed under Rowan trees to protect the souls from evil spirits.

Although the Rowan was considered by some as protection from faeries, others say that faeries love the tree and will go out of their way to seek it out. Some even say that anyone harming a Rowan tree runs the risk of faeries seeking revenge by causing illness. In Sligo, Ireland, a legend tells of the "Forest of Dooros" where the faeries who dwelt there loved to eat Rowan berries brought over from Fairyland. One of the berries fell to the ground, and out of this grew a huge Rowan tree. It was said that eating one of this tree’s berries, which tasted of sweet honey, would make a person drunk. Eating two berries would ensure that the person would live to be a hundred years old. Eating three would make the person thirty years old again, to stay that way for a hundred years. To protect their magic, the faeries asked a giant named Sharvan who lived in the forest to guard the Rowan tree, so those few who attempted to take advantage of the Rowan’s magic were usually never heard of again.

Finally, one approach to astrology identifies 21 trees as being considered sacred by ancient Celts, with each tree representing a 9-day period during the cycle of the moon. The Rowan represents those born between April 1st-10th and October 4th-13th. According to one source, "Rowan (the Sensitivity) Full of charm, cheerful, gifted, without egoism, likes to draw attention, loves life, motion, unrest and even complications, is both dependent and independent, good taste, artistic, passionate, emotional, good company, does not forgive."

This so loved tree has given its name to one of the most renowned traditional regimental march.

The origin of the melody is unknown but the lyrics are from 1822 and were written by Carolina Oliphant, also known as Lady Nairne (1766-1845).
Lady Nairne was born Carolina Oliphant, at Gask House, Perthshire on 16th August 1766. She had three sisters and two brothers, and fortunately, her father was a progressive thinker for his time as he believed in education for girls as well as boys. Her father, Laurence Oliphant, and her mother’s family, the Robertsons of Struan, were fierce supporters of the Jacobite movement. She was named Carolina (feminine form of Charles) in memory of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Both her father and grandfather had to leave Scotland after Culloden. Their lands were bought by relatives in the ensuing sales of forfeited estates.
In memory of this period she composed Jacobite songs and set them to old tunes. Charlie is my Darling, Will Ye no Come Back Again, and The Hundred Pipers are examples of this.

In her younger years, she was pretty, energetic, and had a keen fondness for dancing. Niel Gow, the famous fiddler, was a contemporary, and they no doubt crossed paths. It was at this time that she adapted popular melodies with new lyrics. The original lyrics would have been considered much too crude for society folk.

On June 2nd, 1806, at age 41, she married her second cousin, Major William Murray Nairne, and they remained in Edinburgh until his death in 1830. It was upon coming to Edinburgh that she became involved in her lifelong project to preserve and foster the songs of Scotland. In those days, it was not considered proper for ladies of her place in society to dabble in what she herself called "this queer trade of song-writing". Her attempts at keeping her hobby a secret included not telling her husband, publishing her books anonymously, or under the nom-de-plume: BB (Mrs. Bogan of Bogan).

In 1824 the Parliament restored the forfeited Jacobite peerages and Major Nairne regained the family Barony, and she and her husband became Baron and Baroness Nairne. Baron Nairne died in 1830, and from then on, she travelled quite extensively with her invalid son, who was born in 1808, and her great niece. She travelled widely on the Continent. Her son died in Brussels in 1837, and she finally relented to her relatives’ pleas to return to Scotland in 1845. Tired and sick, she came back to her home in Gask to die on October 26, 1845, at age 79.
Two years after her death, a posthumous collection of verse, Lays of Strathearn, was prepared by her sister, but this time her name subscribed to the book. Altogether, she wrote or adapted 87 songs and poems in her lifelong endeavor.

Lady Nairne was an astute collector of song and wrote some of Scotland’s best-known songs, yet today there are few people that are familiar with her work. It doesn’t help that some of her songs and prose have been attributed to Robert Burns, James Hogg or Walter Scott.
Although many people may not recognize her name, Carolina Oliphant’s songs are second only in popularity to Burns. Following the example set by the poet, Lady Nairne undertook to bring out a collection of national airs set to appropriate words.
Her creative ability, the secret part of her life, never interfered with her position as a society lady. Lady Carolina Nairne has been sadly neglected, but to her we owe immense gratitude, for, without her, much of the Scottish musical heritage would have been lost.


Oh rowan tree, oh rowan tree,
Thou’lt aye be dear to me
Entwined thou art wi’ mony ties
O’ hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first of spring
Thy flowers the simmer’s pride
There wasna sich a bonnie tree
In a’ the country side.
Oh! Rowan tree.

How fair wert thou in simmer time
Wi’ a’ thy clusters white;
How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi’ berries red and bright!
On thy fair stem were mony names
Which now nae mair I see,
But they’re engraven on my heart,
Forgot they ne’er can be.
Oh! Rowan tree.

We sat aneath thy spreadin’ shade,
The bairnies round thee ran,
They pu’d thy bonnie berries red,
and necklaces they strang;
My mother, oh! I see her still
She smil’d our sports to see,
Wi’ little Jeannie on her lap,
and Jamie at her knee.
Oh! Rowan tree.

And there arose my father’s pray’r
In holy ev’ning’s calm,
How sweet was then my mother’s voice,
In the Martyrs’ psalm!
Now a’ are gone! we meet nae mair
Aneath the rowan tree,
But hallow’d thoughts around thee twine,
O’ hame and infancy.
Oh! Rowan tree.


  Oh arbre de Rowan, Oh arbre de Rowan
  Comme tu es cher à mes yeux.
  Tes branches tissées avec art
  Tu fus ma maison, mon enfance.
  Du printemps tes feuilles sont les premières
  Tes fleurs font la fierté de l’été
  Il n’y a pas de plus bel arbre
  Dans toute la campagne
  Oh arbre de Rowan !

  Comme ta compagnie est agréable l’été
  avec des grappes blanches ;
  Comme est riche et gaie ta parure d’automne,
  Avec toutes ces baies rouges et brillantes !
  Sur ton joli tronc il y a tant de noms
  Qu’aujourd’hui je ne peux plus voir
  mais qui restent gravés dans mon coeur
  Et que jamais je n’oublierai
  Oh arbre de Rowan !

  Nous étions assis sous ton ombre propagée,
  Les enfants faisaient la ronde autour de toi,
  Ils cueillaient tes belles baies rouges,
  pour s’en tresser des colliers.
  Ma mere, oh ! Je la vois encore
  sourire de nous voir jouer,
  avec la petite Jeanne sur ses genoux
  Et Jamie à ses genoux
  Oh arbre de Rowan !

  C’est d’ici que s’élevait la prière de mon père.
  Dans le calme de la sainte nuit
  comme douce était la voix de ma mère
  récitant les psaumes des martyrs !
  Maintenant tout a disparu ! Nous ne nous réunirons
  plus tous ensemble sous l’arbre de Rowan,
  sinon par la pensée
  Tu fus ma maison, mon enfance
  Oh arbre de Rowan !


Rowan Tree - Music
Rowan Tree - Panpipe

Rowan Tree - Multitrack
Rowan Tree - A Capella

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