Well, I found out more about the tune Lament for the Rowan Tree, courtesy of the Bob Dunsire Bagpipe Forums.
Turns out it was inspired by the abandoned cottages of crofters who had left the highlands. Here is what the composer, Donald MacLeod, wrote about the tune in his book of piobaireachd:
Traveling through the Highlands, one often sees the ruins of crofterâ€™s cottages, left derelict when the occupants sailed away to begin a new life in a new country.
At the gable end of each ruin stands the Rowan Tree, planted so long a go as a defense against evil spirits. It has witnessed the joys and sorrows of family life and listened to the laughter of children, as they played around the house. The lonely Rowan now stands sentinel, as if awaiting the long absent familyâ€™s return.
Interestingly, another Donald MacLeod, over a century earlier, was a witness to the forced removal of the highland crofters from their land during what is now known as the Highland Clearances. The earlier MacLeod was a stonemason on the estate of Strathnavar. Here is how he described the scene (repeated all over the Highlands during this period), as the residents were evicted from their crofts and the crofts were burned:
Nothing but the sword was wanting to make the scene one of as great barbarity as the earth ever witnessed. The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description.
We are a homeschooling family, and my children and I have been studying the period of forced removal of the Indian Nations of North America to reservations during roughly this time period. It seems that many of the evicted Highlanders ultimately forced to emigrate could have witnessed scenes in the new continent similar to those they left behind.
No doubt the depradations suffered by the native peoples of this continent are recalled in their laments too.