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Montbretia blossom - courtesy of

One of the many delights that surprised me during my six weeks in Kilkee last summer, was the exotic beauty of an orange flower that began to make its appearance along the winding rural roads of Loop Head sometime in July. They began slowly, a splash of orange here and there appearing at the top of tall stems with long, green leaves. Perhaps it was the distraction of all the other dramatic sights to behold… breathtaking cliffs, the ever-changing theatrics of the sky, foggy mists in the evening, the lighthouse, crashing waves, the haunted tower house ruin left by the McMahons and ancient graveyards enclosed behind tall walls… that kept me from becoming fully aware of the lovely orange invaders gradually making their appearance. Then, one day, I suddenly realized that many of the roads were now bordered with a thick growth of tall, lush, orange blossoms! The brightness and height of these flowers seemed foreign to the rugged, wind blown terrain and I was fairly certain they weren’t indigenous to the area. But there were so many of them on Loop Head that I wondered how they came to be in such abundance along garden walls and fences.

I am not a gardener so, curious about these exotic blooms and thinking they would be a great addition to the newly formed berm at the front of our property, I paid a visit to the garden shop in Kilrush, armed with a small cutting that I quickly swiped by reaching through my car window after pulling over to the side of a Loop Head road. The friendly gentleman at the garden center knew what I was describing before I even took out my little sample bloom. He told me the name of the flower but my Chicago ears were having trouble understanding the long, foreign sounding word being spoken with a West Clare accent. I asked him once more and understood no better the second time so, not wanting to seem rude, or merely thick, I decided not to ask again. He then added that these flowers spread so profusely that he was sure anyone would be happy to allow me to dig up a few of theirs to start my very own patch of orange. Knowing it was unlikely that I would actually be able to bring myself to knock on a stranger’s door asking for flowers, I decided to buy the last potted version in the store even though it was of a darker, more orange-red variety. Much to my disappointment, the plant did not come with a tag to show me the name I was having such a difficult time understanding, so I resigned myself to perhaps never knowing the name of these lovely flowers but hoping my orange-red version would spread out along the road leading to our cottage with its red half-door. Upon returning home I promptly planted my tall, beautiful bloom in the ground next to the rustic mailbox I was afraid to reach my hand into – for fear of what might be living inside.

Skip ahead to the present and here I am all these months later sitting in the middle of a midwestern snow storm, so far away from a summer in Kilkee and lovely orange blossoms.  However, I recently had the pleasure of stumbling upon a poem on facebook written by Thomas Lynch, Michigan’s undertaker/author/poet who also happens to own a home in the Loop Head area. The poem tells the tale of an evening spent as designated driver of a car full of friends making the rounds of assorted restaurants and pubs on the Loop Head Peninsula. Imagine my delight when I realized the underlying theme of the poem is a reference to the lovely orange flowers found along the roads of Loop Head in July and August – and the name of the poem, Montbretia, is actually the name of my mystery flower! Furthermore, not only does this fine poem solve the mystery of the flower’s name, but it also tells the story of how these bright orange blossoms found their way to this particular rugged peninsula in West Clare.

Montbretia - courtesy of Victorian Resources Online

“Montbretia blooming up the Moveen Road,

never native to the flora hereabouts,

arrived more than a hundred years ago

when sons of the Dutch-born landlord both went out

to fight for the crown in the Boer Wars.

One was killed. One came home with flowers —

this orangey iris from South Africa,

named for a botanist somewhere in France

who was named for the hill that he called home

a century before…”

– excerpt from Montbretia, by Thomas Lynch

Equipped with an exotic name and an equally exotic history, I am warmed on this cold and snowy Chicago night, by visions of an “orangey” border greeting us as we drive up the rough, bumpy road to Teach deBúrca next summer!




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