I love Easter lilies. Even though they are a flower associated with Easter and sometimes death and funerals, I still chose these majestic flowers for my wedding bouquet. Recently I did a bit of reading on Ireland and discovered the noble origins of the Easter lily in Ireland as a symbol of peace and hope.
Over ninety years ago, in 1925, the organization Cumann na mBan was created in Ireland. Its membership consisted of women who joined together in efforts to support the Irish Republican Army. Yes, the IRA, that IRA. The IRA considered by the British to be a terrorist organization. Whatever a person’s feelings are on the subject, which is very controversial, the reality is that these men had their own convictions that they were fighting for their freedom, homes, families, nation and religion. And they all had wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. And that’s what this is about. Not about the controversy of the war.
As devout Catholics, these Irish women would hold Easter as, perhaps, the most important religious holiday of the year. They would gather in front of their churches the Sunday before Easter Sunday and sell Easter lilies. Their earnings would be used to support the families of the Irish soldiers who had died in their war for independence.
A particular event in the war, the Easter Rising of 1916, is of utmost significance where the Easter lily is concerned. This uprising occurred during the spring around the same time Easter lilies are blooming. During the event soldiers of the Irish Republican Army declared Ireland to be an independent republic after taking control of strategic buildings in the capital city of Dublin.
The British Army showed up with crushing force and a five day battle ensued. Sixty-four IRA soldiers were killed along with 254 civilian casualties. Once the British Army regained control, they executed sixteen of IRA soldiers. Rather than be demoralized, the Irish Republican Army reacted with fervor. Over the course of the next few weeks over 130 British soldiers lost their lives at the hands of the IRA.
The funds raised from the sale of the Easter lilies were originally designated for the families of the Irishmen lost at this Easter conflict. The Easter Rising resulted in a full scale war with Great Britain. The Irish War of Independence was a bloody time. More than 550 IRA soldiers died and over 700 civilians were killed.
Eventually the leader of the Irish Republican Army, Michael Collins, would place his signature upon the Anglo-Irish Treaty which granted Ireland freedom and some autonomy but still subjected to British rule. This created great division within the Irish Republican Army. The Irish Civil War ensued among the IRA soldiers who were either pro-treaty or anti-treaty. Eventually, Michael Collins was assassinated.
One reason the Easter lily was selected as the flower to represent Ireland’s struggle for freedom and independence is the significance of its colors. The Republic of Ireland’s flag is green, white, and orange. Green is, of course, the color associated with the entire land of Ireland. The roots of green being associated with Ireland go as deep as the country’s Celtic roots. Orange symbolizes Protestant settlement. White represents peace and respect between the Irish Catholics and Protestants. All of these colors reside in the Easter lily: green stalk and leaves, white petals and orange heart.
Whereas my culture simply displays the potted lilies, the Irish wear them pinned to their breast in honor of a loved one who had died in the war for freedom. It is an act of respect and a noble gesture to wear a lily on Easter Sunday and many wore them throughout the week of Lent. Rather than be considered a symbol of death and mourning, the Easter lily became a symbol of the future the Irish longed for, a future of hope and peace. And now my love for these beautiful flowers is a bit richer.