My history is a little rough, but I am aware that Ireland's past, particularly that of North Ireland, is wrought with conflict. I know there are multiple causes, but that -- whether as cause or excuse -- the fact that the English and Scottish colonists were Protestant while the rest of the island was predominantly Catholic. Through generations of conflict many atrocities were committed by both sides.

I was recently listening to some Irish folk songs, one of which is a lament of the blind nature of this rift and the lives lost in revenge killings in both directions. At the end there is an unidentified reference to "Roses", as if that symbolized something in the conflict between religious traditions. In fact the name of the song is "There Were Roses" (youtube), but it is entirely about Catholic vs. Protestant relations.

Did the rose symbolize something religious during the North Ireland conflicts or would this be a reference back to the War of the Roses (which was more a struggle for power between two related houses not an extension of Catholic/Protestant aggression).

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    I was going to ask this on Christianity, but without knowing whether the symbolism I'm looking for is even religious or just a historical reference, this seemed like a better place to track it down. Google has been quite unhelpful in this regard.
    – Caleb
    Sep 12, 2012 at 8:21
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    I think its a reference to the War of The Roses. As the war was a civil war, and the conflict in Ireland had traits of a civil war, but only wasn't a war.
    – Russell
    Sep 12, 2012 at 9:21
  • +1 Nice to see you on the History site, Caleb. I would like to know the answer to this too, as my ancestors are from Southern Ireland.
    – Daniel
    Sep 12, 2012 at 11:37
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    This is certianly the right stack for this question.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 12, 2012 at 13:31
  • In the War of the Roses, the red rose stood for Lancaster, and the white rose for the house of York. Not sure how this tied into Catholic and Protestant.
    – Tom Au
    May 1, 2013 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


The róisín dubh, “little dark rose” or “little black rose,” is a symbol of Ireland, and has been used as a term of endearment for Ireland by Yeats and other poets.

The 15th-century folk song “Róisín Dubh” is a love song in which Ireland is personified as a woman nicknamed Róisín Dubh, not unlike the way France is “Marianne” or the United States is “Columbia.” It is not related to the use of the rose as a symbol for the Lancastrians and Yorkists, which anyway predates Henry VIII's Reformation as well as the English plantations in Ireland by some years.

The poet James Clarence Mangan wrote a more explicitly nationalistic translation entitled “Dark Rosaleen” in the early 19th century.

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