Monday, August 22, 2011

Roses are (well) Re(a)d

The Rose of Tralee is an annual international event that culminates in a week-long festival in Tralee, Co. Kerry. The festival, according to the official website, "celebrates modern young women in terms of their aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage". The final is televised over two nights, and is repeatedly one of RTE's highest-viewed television events.

There are "Rose Centres" all over the world - applicants can choose to represent their local area or one with which they have a strong connection. Regional Finals are then held, with the ultimate winners of these Finals progressing on to Ireland for the International Final (the final Final). There are rules for all contestants: Girls must be between 18 and 28 years old, never married, be born in Ireland (or have an Irish ancestor), never been a Rose before, and be available for all Rose-related events. Even looking at the application form, you can plainly see that this is much more than your standard Pageant - the questions are all geared towards where the girl sees herself in the future and how she feels she can contribute to society and make a difference.

All the applicants are either students, graduates, or professional young women who have many other interests. There are no Miss Congeniality style "world peace" answers here - last years winner, Clare Kambamettu from Athy (representing London) had a Masters Degree in Psychology.

There is another unique factor to the Rose of Tralee - each girl is accompanied by an Escort throughout the duration of the Festival - Escort applicants must also abide by a rule set - they must be between 21 and 30 years old, never married, Irish, and available for all events. The Escort application form also states (this is the truth) that if you do not know how to waltz, it is highly advisory to learn before the festival. There is a prize awarded for the best Escort during the televised final nights (there have been some well-known Irish Escorts - Alan Shortt and Royston Brady were both Escorts).

I think that much like the Eurovision, the televised final is one of those events that is ingrained into every Irish person. I have to confess, I probably do err more on the superficial side of things - my sister and I were always allowed to stay up late to watch all the pretty girls and see what the dresses were like. I'll still do that tonight, even though I'll probably be watching it on my own because nobody else in the house can stand it! What I didn't know about was the history of the festival, and I think it's a really sweet story, so I'm going to share it with you (if you're not totally bored by now).

The story goes that a man named William Mulchinock fell completely in awe of his sister's nursemaid Mary O'Connor. Mary was a very beautiful girl, a maid, with long dark hair and delicate skin. William and Mary began to meet every day, and eventually William asked Mary to marry him. William's parents did not approve - they were well-off, and Mary, a shoemakers daughter, had come from a small peasant house. Mary knew this and did not want William's family to turn against him, so she declined. William wrote a song for Mary to try and convince her, but Mary still refused.

One evening, William attended a political rally in town. He went to visit Mary afterwards and gave her a ring. Suddenly, a friend of William's burst in and informed William that he was going to be accused of the murder of a man at the rally - there was now a price on his head. William kissed Mary goodbye, promised to return when it was safe to do so, and boarded a wine ship that night.

William went to India, where he became a war correspondent. There he met a Limerick man who promised to help William return to Tralee a free man. In 1849, six years after leaving, William returned. He stopped off at a pub for a drink before visiting Mary. The landlord drew the curtains as a mark of respect for a funeral passing by the pub. When William asked who the funeral was for, the landlord told him it was for a local girl from Brogue Lane - a lovely and fair young woman named Mary O'Connor - the Rose of Tralee.

William was devastated and heartbroken - the famine was rampant in Ireland at the time and the population was dwindling quickly. William moved with his family to New York, and returned to Tralee 6 years later to live out his life until his death at age 44 in 1864. At his request, he was buried at the graveyard in Clogherbrien next to his true love, Mary.

The song William wrote for Mary is the one that inspired this festival - the winner of the competition will be a girl who possesses all the qualities that William loved so much in Mary. The song is still sang every year at the end of the festival, after the winner is announced.

The first half of the final will be televised tonight on RTE One at 8:00pm. I would like to wish Leitrim Rose Brenda Stenson and Longford Rose Nikki O'Byrne the best of luck, but good luck to all the girls competing.

Go on, watch it, you know you want to.

S xx


  1. Never knew the history behind the Rose of Tralee festival, so thanks for that, but then I'm one of the ones that has never seen an entire show. And the bits that I have seen haven't made me want to watch anymore of it.

    And don't even get me started on Daithi O Se...I assume he's hosting again this year.

  2. Cornflakegirl, you're not alone, NOBODY I know watches the entire thing. Me & my Sis used to do an awful lot of sketching, and we used to love this because we'd get dress ideas for sketches, I still tune in to see the gĂșnas :)
    It's Daithi again alright, NOT a fan of his either, but then again I'd be happy for Marty Whelan to present and comment on every single RTE programme. Thank you for reading & commenting! x


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