The first sight of Irish snowdrops in early spring brings hope of warmer days ahead. I love these little, dainty flowers. They truly lift my spirits after the dark days of winter.
Ireland’s snowdrop crop of 2014 has already bloomed. Tiny flowers, as white as pearls, sway on green-hooked stems, shaped like St. Patrick’s crozier. Daffodils dance in the winds, and crocuses bring color to dormant flower beds.
For those of us who grew up in Ireland in the 1970’s “snowdrops and daffodils” were an important part of our sing along repertoire. Ireland’s first Eurovision Song Contest winner, Dana, was loved by Irish school children. Her winning song brought springtime to mind:
“Snowdrops and daffodils,
Early morning dew…..
….. All kinds of everything
Remind me of you.”
Snowdrops and primroses featured in Ireland’s folk songs. One of the most haunting songs of my childhood is “The Old Bog Road.” These sad lyrics tell the story of an Irish immigrant to New York, yearning for his homeland. This verse brings a tear to my eye:
“My mother died last springtide, when Ireland’s fields were green:
The neighbours said her waking was the finest ever seen.
There were snowdrops and primroses piled up beside her bed,
And Ferns Church was crowded when the funeral Mass was said,
But there was I on Broadway, with building bricks for load,
When they carried out her coffin from the Old Bog Road.”
Listening to my father recite these lines led me to assume the snowdrop is a native Irish plant. I included a description of snowdrops in my historical novel, set in Ireland in the 1840’s. I decided however I better do some snowdrop research to ensure historical accuracy. I soon discovered there probably weren’t many snowdrops to be found in Ireland at the time of the Famine.
What I thought is an-ever-so-Irish plant actually originated in not-so-snowy Turkey. Reluctantly, I deleted my lovely snowdrop descriptions from my novel.
And so I asked the question, how did these precious little flowers find their way across 2000 miles to thrive in the cold, damp soils of my homeland?
Back in 1874 a Victorian botanist, Henry Elwes, collected the plant in Izmir. Before leaving Turkey he established a system for bulb collection and transportation to the British Isles. Millions of snowdrops have been exported ever since.
Snowdrops and daffodils flourish in Ireland, probably because Irish gardeners find them poetically beautiful. Springtime bulbs are planted with care in autumn, with an eager eye kept on the dark soils of winter, watching and waiting for the first spiky green stems of spring to appear.
And once in full bloom we know brighter days are on the way. Here’s hoping sunny spring days will arrive very soon in North America.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom