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.
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.
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.