A Róisín Dubh – Dark Rosaleen.

Those who grow and those who see Primula ‘Dark Rosaleen’ are unfailingly cheered to see it come into flower – as I was to see it do so in my own garden today. The dark purple flowers with their yellow stripes match beautifully with the bronze foliage making it a delightful plant.

It was raised by Joe Kennedy, the famed primula breeder who lives in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, though he does unfailingly point out that he is a native of Co. Carlow. Joe is now more widely known since the release from Fitzgerald Nurseries of “The Kennedy Irish Primulas”, a wonderful series mainly featuring bright flowers against a dark foliage – an aim of Joe’s breeding for many years.

Primula 'Dark Rosaleen'

One primula, which everybody who has seen it thinks is simply beautiful, but which did not fit in with Joe’s aims in his breeding programme was Primula ‘Dark Rosaleen’. It was, in effect, a reject from Joe – one of many hundreds of such rejects each year.

It is now widely available and there have been various comments as to its origin. Barnhaven Primulas, for example, say that it was named for the James Clarence Mangan poem, “Dark Rosaleen”, a poem certainly well known to people of my generation in its English and Irish versions. However, this was not the case. Joe had given the primula to a lady in Limavady and she, in turn, as is so often the way with good garden plants passed a piece on to Gordon Toner. Indeed, Gordon showed it at the Belfast Spring Show on a number of occasions, under the name “Joe Kennedy Hybrid” winning first in its class.

Primula 'Dark Rosaleen' (1)

When Joe visited Gordon’s garden he was surprised and delighted to see how well it was growing and agreed that it deserved to be named and this he did calling it “Dark Rosaleen” for Gordon’s wife, Rosaleen!

Of course, the name will always recall James Clarence Mangan’s poem and I copy it here for you and below it an instrumental rendition of the Irish version, A Róisín Dubh.

Dark Rosaleen

O my dark Rosaleen,
    Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
    They march along the deep.
There’s wine from the royal Pope,
    Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
Over hills, and thro’ dales,
    Have I roam’d for your sake;
All yesterday I sail’d with sails
    On river and on lake.
The Erne, at its highest flood,
    I dash’d across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
O, there was lightning in my blood,
Red lighten’d thro’ my blood.
    My Dark Rosaleen!
All day long, in unrest,
    To and fro, do I move.
The very soul within my breast
    Is wasted for you, love!
The heart in my bosom faints
    To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
Woe and pain, pain and woe,
    Are my lot, night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
    Like to the mournful moon.
But yet will I rear your throne
    Again in golden sheen;
‘Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
‘Tis you shall have the golden throne,
‘Tis you shall reign, and reign alone,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
Over dews, over sands,
    Will I fly, for your weal:
Your holy delicate white hands
    Shall girdle me with steel.
At home, in your emerald bowers,
    From morning’s dawn till e’en,
You’ll pray for me, my flower of flowers,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My fond Rosaleen!
You’ll think of me through daylight hours
My virgin flower, my flower of flowers,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
I could scale the blue air,
    I could plough the high hills,
Oh, I could kneel all night in prayer,
    To heal your many ills!
And one beamy smile from you
    Would float like light between
My toils and me, my own, my true,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My fond Rosaleen!
Would give me life and soul anew,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
O, the Erne shall run red,
    With redundance of blood,
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,
    And flames wrap hill and wood,
And gun-peal and slogan-cry
    Wake many a glen serene,
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
    My own Rosaleen!
The Judgement Hour must first be nigh,
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,
    My Dark Rosaleen!
And I hope this link will bring you to a rendering of A Róisín Dubh



6 thoughts on “A Róisín Dubh – Dark Rosaleen.

    1. The Irish version comes more quickly to me as I learned that first. And I like the music to the Irish version


  1. For some strange reason this plant leaves me quite cold??? Which is never my reaction to Tobin choices. That flute solo was lovely.er -Mangan is inclined to go on a bit isnt he ? What a quarrelsome person is Scrubber this morning! Ungrateful sod!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darker foliage is a good foil for the lighter coloured flowers – as in many of the “Kennedy Irish Primulas” but, after flowering, the foliage, I feel, blends too well with the soil so that, visually, it can appear as a gap in the planting. Variety is the spice of life, I suppose, and one will suit one person and another someone else. They are certainly obliging plants for our gardens.


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