The Spooky Tradition of Rowan Tree

by: Lauren Boitel
Inspired by: Max Kuniansky

Las Vegas Pipe Band plays the traditional regimental march tune Rowan Tree as the middle in a set of 3 tunes bookended by Scotland The Brave and Wings. It's a beautiful tune and one of the first parade tunes new members learn. We probably play it at least once every practice and I can't think of a time that we didn't start off with a tidbit of historical knowledge or a fun trivia fact about the tune from Max: "Does anyone know what kind of tree the Rowan tree is?" to which the more studious members of the band, or those with decent memories, would reply: "an ash tree." Max would make sure we all knew it was a white ash (or mountain ash) as a matter of fact. Max also told me that the Rowan Tree was thought to ward off evil spirits and witches - so a perfect topic for this time of year!

The belief in the protective nature of the tree gave rise to many traditions, some that still exist today. Rowan wood was carried on ships to avoid storms, kept in houses to guard against lightning, tied to farm animals tails tokeep them safe and milking stools to guard the milk from enchantment. A cross carved from Rowan wood was sometimes placed over the cradle of a new baby to protect it from bewitchment or being stolen by faeries. Highland women would wear necklaces made from the red thread and the red berries (which appear only once every 3 years on each tree) and Rowan trees were planted in church yards to ward off evil and keep the dead in their graves. Others believe that the faeries love the Rowan Tree and its berries carry their magic. Harming the tree, or trying to take advantage of the magic, led to illness or the person never being heard from again.

With so much tradition, and as much of a symbol of Scotland the Rowan Tree is, it is easy to see why a tune was written in its honor. The origin of the melody of Rowan Tree is not known, but the lyrics were written by Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne) in 1822. I have pasted them below. I hope everyone enjoys learning a bit more about this tune, the tree that inspired it, and its spooky traditions and history - thanks to Max for the idea and all of the history lessons imparted during band practice. Happy Halloween!


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.