Although the shamrock is Ireland’s national emblem, the beautiful wild dog rose, Rosa canina, has a role to play too, especially in poetry.
The Rose of Tralee, a popular Irish ballad from the 1840s, celebrates the poet’s love for Mary, “a shoemaker’s daughter so beautiful, it was said, that William Mulchinock, the young master from the ‘big house’, fell in love with her” (The Irish Times):
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
Lilting Irish tenor Count John Mc Cormack immortalised it in the 1930s film Song o’ my Heart; listen to it here.
On her website, Zoë Devlin of Wildflowers of Ireland says:
“Fragrant and well-loved shrub of our hedgerows, the Dog-rose produces pink or white flowers from June to August. The five-petalled flowers (3-5cm across) are borne on green arching branches with curved thorns and behind the petals, the sepals bend back after the flowers have opened. At the centre of each rose is a cluster of yellow stamens. The pretty pinnate leaves have 5 – 7 broad, hairless leaflets. In autumn, the fruits are red hips which shed their sepals before ripening. This is a native plant which belongs to the family Rosaceae.”
Rosa canina also adorns the cover of her new book called The Wildflowers of Ireland.