Orangemen in Co. Antrim have been urged to put their green fingers to work in support of a 2016 Somme floral commemoration.
A record number of Orange lilies look set to be in bloom throughout the Province this summer, including the flowerbeds of north Antrim.
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, the Orange Institution has imported 180,000 lily bulbs to plant across Northern Ireland.
Orangemen with “green” fingers are aiming for their flowers to symbolically bloom on July 1, in a colourful tribute on what will be the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War battle on the Western Front.
Appropriately, the lily bulbs have been imported from Holland and will be packed, labelled and bagged in the coming days by a team of volunteers for distribution throughout the Institution and the wider community. Recipients will then be encouraged to plant the bulbs in early April so their blooming corresponds with the actual summer centenary.
The Orange lily bulbs, available in packs of six bulbs for £5, can be pre-ordered through relevant District lodges, or alternatively by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or contacting 07555 576489.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, insisted the Orange lily bulb project, whilst one of the most ambitious and vibrant tributes ever undertaken by the Institution would also be one of the most poignant.
The senior Orangeman said: “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 Orange lily 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 and their courage and sacrifice must always be remembered, and we trust the Orange lilies will be a fitting tribute.”
Mr Cummings added that he expected lilies to also be planted in other Orange jurisdictions, including the border counties of the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England and further afield.
As well as the Orange lily initiative, the Loyal Institution will also be marking the Somme centenary through a number of official events.
Special commemoration parades and church services are planned to take place across Northern Ireland 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 to mark the 100th anniversary. Later in the month, Belfast County Grand Orange Lodge will host a commemoration service at St Anne’s Cathedral in the city.
There are also plans for an exhibition at the Museum of Orange Heritage, Belfast, to showcase various artefacts in relation to the First World War and to highlight the contribution and sacrifice of Orangemen at the Somme and other battlefields.