Bloom for the Somme

Maurice Devenney, Orange bulbs

Maurice Devenney, Orange bulbs

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In a creative bid to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, and to commemorate the heavy losses suffered by the 36th Ulster Division, Independent Unionist Maurice Devenney, right, has called on Orange Brethren and Sisters to support an initiative by the Orange Institution to plant and grow 180,000 lily bulbs in the Province.

The aim is to aim to have flowers bloom on July 1 in a colourful tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war on the Western Front.

Appropriately, the lily bulbs have been imported from Holland and are being packed and distributed by a team of volunteers, with a view to planting in early April so their blooming corresponds with the actual summer centenary.

Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, said the project, one of the most ambitious and vibrant tributes ever undertaken by the Institution, was also be one of the most poignant.

“The Orange lily is synonymous with the Twelfth of July, however, in 2016 we very much hope that flower beds across the Province will be bedecked with our flowers in a striking memorial tribute to those brave servicemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

“I would encourage all members of the Orange fraternity, families, friends and supporters to show their support, and recognise the heroism and selfless service of the 36th Ulster Division and the Allied Forces at the Somme, by planting a bulb on their behalf.”

Chairman of the organising committee, Robert Cummings, said the project would have a particular personal significance for many members of the Institution.

“The Battle of the Somme will forever be seared into the psyche of the Orange family. A phenomenal number of Orangemen served their King and country, with many wearing their colours as they went over the top. In my own private lodge, 18 members left for the battle fields, and only 10 returned. Indeed, the then worshipful master was killed on the first day at the Somme.

“Many brethren will have relatives who answered the call of duty, and fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy today. Their courage and sacrifice must always be remembered, and we trust the Orange lilies will be a fitting tribute.”

Lilies are also being planted along the border counties of the Republic of Ireland, as well as in Scotland, England and further afield.

Other Orange Order event to mark the Somme Centenary will include commemoration parades and church services in late May.

In June, the Orange Institution will join other Loyal Orders at Bannerfest in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in a unique gathering of banners, bannerettes, standards and flags and later in the month, Belfast County Grand Orange Lodge will host a commemoration service at St Anne’s Cathedral.

There are plans for an exhibition at the Museum of Orange Heritage, Belfast, to showcase various WWI artefacts and highlight the contribution and sacrifice of Orangemen at the Somme and other battlefields.

The Orange lily bulbs, available in packs of six bulbs for £5, can be pre-ordered through relevant District lodges, or alternatively by emailing sommeorangelilies@aol.com or contacting 07555 576489.